‘Roots and wings’ has been a common way of thinking about UU spiritual community: We support one another in growing roots of connection, meaning and authenticity, developing passions and skills, sharing them to make a difference in the world, enabling ourselves and others to soar.
During pandemic, to maintain inner balance, I’ve limited exposure to murder-and-mayhem videos, currently ‘rooted’ in the PBS TV series, ‘FindingYour Roots,’ with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Perhaps like me you’ve been less than enthusiastic about genealogical research. Times have changed. Science and historical archives have grown exponentially. But the real reason to tune in is for witnessing and being touched by the real-life human dramas that Gates uncovers. His guests are all prominent in their field, from science to art to media. All asked him to uncover mysteries in their family trees. And every week his staff dives deep into American and world history through the eyes of family.
They explore not just when did your ancestor arrive on American shores but why and how did they get here? What was going on in this country or in their country of origin? What terrible choices did their ancestors face? How did they survive? What happened to those left behind?
Guests are told of ancestors impelled by famine or war, leaving families, sending for families, enduring the brutality of slavery, and of those who persevered without family support. Ancestors who beat the odds. (We are, after all, watching the stories of those whose lines survived.)
Most powerfully in this time of pandemic, Gates doesn’t sugar-coat human history. His staff finds pictures and records documenting unimaginable and widespread human suffering, revealing how simplistically we face the challenges in our own time. Guest after guest, Gates reveals what their ancestors faced and how they survived. We who bear witness come through with compassion for the depth of suffering faced by those who made it possible for us to be here. And with renewed humility and awe at the tenacious human spirit, reminded of the depth of human cruelty even as we marvel at the resilience of families and individuals who survive.
It doesn’t make light of our struggles today, but reminds us that we are not alone. Our ancestors too faced uncertainty and immeasurably deep challenges. Some survived. We grieve and remember the others, so that we may lessen the cruelty and find ways to reach across divides to those who do not share our beliefs, ethnicity, or political assumptions.
Last month I pondered my commitment and our commitment to helping to strengthen democracy. Watching ‘Finding Your Roots’ has kept me from becoming discouraged by the challenges our country and world faces today.
I hope you too are finding ways to let our shared history, our roots, strengthen you for this time of peril and possibility.