Coping with Horror

With a three-day weekend and a sore mouth that inhibits communication, I have settled into several hours worth of postponed reading this evening. I started Alex Haley's Roots weeks ago, but had not progressed very far. I am now about 1/3 finished (it's quite a long novel) and have stopped to assimilate.

I am feeling a deep and justified horror. It is not the same horror as when I read Richard Wright's Native Son a couple months ago. . .the horror that drove me to tears of revulsion and disbelief during a sleepless night. I will not share the too-vivid images that caused my insomnia; I will only say that I knew the general events of the book, but was not in the least prepared for the specific and brutal depiction. It was days before I recovered, and I have not before now visited the memories to evaluate what I took away from the book. Thinking about that for the first time, I want to claim a deep--as in deeply rooted, not profound--understanding of the consciousness of an oppressed people, even as I know there is no outside understanding of such a thing. I sense and pity the bewilderment and confused anger that created Wright's main character, even as I am reviled by the result. I blanch from the idea of a similar working upon any of my students, even with mitigated circumstances and outcomes. The horror is still very real--real enough to draw tears now.

This horror, however, is somehow different. It is still characterized by some revulsion, but the main parts are shame, disgust, and pure grief. I have reached the point in the story where Kunta, the main character, has been captured by slave traders, has survived the hellish voyage to America, has recovered through the punishment of 2 failed escapes, and is recovering from the permanent punishment of a 3rd. His punishment? He had a choice. . .to lose a foot or what, at least in his eyes, makes him a man by enabling him to father sons. He is only 17. Now, without his right foot, he is struggling to learn the use of crude crutches on a strange farm (he did escape a good distance from his owner), still unable to communicate anything of substance in English. The author is graphic in his recounting of the voyage over. The images and sensory details are horrific--more so, I believe, than they would be in a movie. I find my muscles tensing as I read and hold back tears of anger and grief. How, in the sight of God whom they claimed to serve, could these men treat other men as they did? What kind of man takes a sadistic pleasure in offering such a choice to a teenager already frightened out of all reason? I cannot find it in me to admit I am connected in any way to these creatures. I know I am man, and therefore I am depraved, but I shudder at such a clear picture of man's depravity. I shudder with the unadmitted knowledge that, inevitably, there is such a story somewhere in my bloodline. Whatever form it may have taken, there is such sin somewhere behind me. And, God forbid, even in my own life. Was I so different as a child, when I painfully remember joining 4 of my peers in making one poor boy's life miserable for an entire school year? Was I any better, because I did not have a knife or a whip in my hand?

Faced with the horrors of the past (blissfully ignoring the similar ongoing horrors of many places today), I am without excuse or ability to deny the overwhelming consciousness of my own fallen humanity. I am. . .awed. . .by a grace that reaches so far and stoops so low to save any wretch born thus.
Amazing Grace
How sweet the sound

1 comment:

Naomi Joy said...