The sweetness of sugarcane stalks above,
numbs me to their anguish below.
Unlike my Father, I am slow to hear them, and quick to snap a selfie.
Beneath the canopy of ancient oaks.
Blanketed in crimson-pink azalea beds.
Shadowed by the Big House with her cascading cream columns . . .
Are the voices of their blood.
Crying out from the ground.
One last picture with the oaks, the azaleas, and the columns
before my kids get too cranky . . .
“Look at ME! Hands to yourself. Normal smile—not like you’re constipated.”
This may just be a family Christmas card contender.
A breeze tickles leaves in the oak branches who’ve lived to see their stories. “Are not you your sisters’ and your brothers’ keeper?” She whispers to ears deafened in denial.
The ghosts of before stir here, among the shacks that crudely sheltered their physical frames. They call out a past, protest a present and forebode a future: Humanity born, shackled, and buried.
Unlike my Father, I am slow to see. And quick to trample past their pain, dodging the crimson-pink azaleas, in my haste to be first in line.
The mansion house doors are now open. I am blinded by her beauty, enchanted by what I’ll find inside.
“She looks up at him and sees the vacuum where curiosity ought to lodge. And something more. The total absence of human recognition—the glazed separateness.”
“He cannot see her view—the angle of his vision, the slant of her finger, makes it incomprehensible to him.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
The Big House does not disappoint—at least not at first. From the balcony, I peer across manicured grounds, once flanked by sugarcane fields. I breathe in the smoky-sweetness of pre-burn harvests gone by. I follow the camera clad crowd through the grand entryway past its elegant staircase. We stroll through whitewashed rooms with canopy beds, crafted hearths, and a dining room readied to receive royalty. Every space—a feast for our eyes.
Until the shackle.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .’”*
Through the antebellum corridors, tucked away, is the artifacts room. I’m spellbound by the antiquated photographs of the plantation elite, who strolled these halls and ate in the royal dining room. I admire their beautiful correspondence, monogrammed silverware, and strain to read the etchings of an engraved wedding invitation. I revel in the charm of it all, and imagine life for those who held what I see now.
It screams to me from across the room: A crudely fashioned crab shackle—so out-of-place, juxtaposed with all the rest. Its curves are coated in history and rust, but neither muffle its voice to ears that will hear. I wake from my sugar-coated slumber and my eyes trace its side pockets, full of small metal balls. These, to announce the footsteps of its wearer. I trace the ruddy, protruding links with which to chain its prisoner. These, to prevent another escape.
For a moment I see the ankle, then the leg, and then the body of God’s image-bearer, bound: Chained by the sins of humanity who refused to recognize it in their own brothers and sisters.
Chained by me.
Suddenly, the sweetness of this place is swallowed up by the voices of their blood, crying from the ground.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”**
Months gone, and now I sit with pictures etched in my brain: The oaks, the azaleas, the columns—the shackle—and this prompt on my laptop. It prods me to “confirm humanity,” AGAIN. I grumble at this; such an inconvenient speed bump on my way to something more beautiful, like . . . Instagram.
This time, it’s as easy as checking a box, that vouchsafes for what I am not: Inhuman, a robot, spam. (And yet . . .) At least today there is not more required of me, like the pointless hide and seek for stoplights, crosswalks, and road signs that somehow declare my personhood.
Annoyed, I am quick to click their boxes, so I can move on with my life. But I am slow to see the shackles clamped to my brothers’ and sisters’ feet. Humanity is bound, every time we fail to see His image in His image-bearers. Shackles are fastened, whenever humanity fails to confirm humanity.
To the God, who sees and hears the voices of their blood crying from the ground—
To those from whose veins it flows —
And to Jesus who is ever both . . .
Image Credit: Kaley Dykstra