A Pilgrimage to The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Definition of a pilgrimage (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary)

  1. a journey of a pilgrim especially: one to a shrine or a sacred place
  2. the course of life on earth
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The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Yesterday, I went on my first official pilgrimage with my interim rector Father Tom Momberg and six other parishioners from The Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama. We went to the Legacy Museum together, and later, on my own, I went to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

The morning started in the chapel where Father Momberg handed out a leaflet aptly named In Search of a Church that Heals. Last week, was the celebration of the Feast of St. Luke. The feast day was on October 18th, but feast days are transferable to other days. St. Luke was a physician and a great healer.

Father Momberg did a short service, and delivered the gospel Luke 4:14-21 (from The Message). Here is an excerpt:

“God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, 

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!'”

What more powerful words to prepare for our journey.

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We caravanned to the museum. The Legacy Museum located on 115 Coosa Street, about 6 minutes away from our church. We did not walk as pilgrims usually do. Coosa Street is in the heart of old downtown Montgomery. The Legacy Museum exist in the location of a warehouse that once housed slaves before they were to be sold at what is now Court Square).

There are no photographs allowed in the Legacy Museum, which is why all my photographs are from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. When you enter the museum, you immediately go to the left. There you learn about the slave trade and how Montgomery became the hub going from 40,000 slaves to over 450,000 slaves in only a matter of years.

You listen to the stories of the slaves, read their narratives on the wall, and you learn that the stories you learned in 6th grade or 7th grade about benevolent, kind, compassionate plantation owners were false narrative, a way to help guilty white people come to terms to their past, perhaps, or to keep perpetuating racism. After you read these stories, you go down a long black hallway and turn to your right. There are holograms in cages. They, too, tell you their story. Children separated from their parents, people beaten, anguish, pain.

As you enter the main room, you read a timeline with pictures. The timeline shows you how the United States went from slavery, to Jim Crow, to Mass Incarceration of black people while continuing to perpetuate the myth that black (wo)men were intelligently inferior to white people and that black people are dangerous.

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There is a block with Supreme Court cases showing the cases in which racist policies were either struck down or held up by our Supreme Court from the 1800s until 2013.

Did you know that integration has yet to have been ratified in Alabama?

There is a section on mass incarceration where you hear Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was falsely accused of murder and put on death row for 30 years, tell his story. You listen to him over the phone as if you are visiting him in jail. Thirty years taken away from this man, because of our flawed justice system. Let that sink in.

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Drowning with their hands up. (Police Brutality)

Yesterday, as I walked through this museum on my pilgrimage, surrounded by other pilgrims and tourists, I felt so alone. I read and absorbed with new eyes. I had been to the museum in the summer with my sister, but this experience was different. I thought about the Gospel according to Luke and the phrase, “set your burdened and battered free.” I thought about how my family was complicit in these acts. I felt guilt from my ancestors and pain and anguish, and like I’m not doing enough to help change the way things are and the way things SHOULD be.

By the time I made it over to the jars I felt raw and weary. The jars contain soil from the sites of lynching victims. They are labeled with their names or read Unknown. I stood reading, on a scrolling screen, about the people who had been lynched for “sins” such as talking to a white woman or looking at a white person the wrong way. There’s the story of Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, who was lynched for protesting her husband, Hayes Turner’s, lynching. She was eight months pregnant, and her unborn child was also brutally murdered. Then the lynchers went on a killing rampage murdering 11 people in a brutal mob. As I watched the names scroll, two African American women stood at another screen, pushing a button that says WARNING: Graphic Content, this screen will blur in 10 seconds. The screen shows pictures of the lynchings, people being burned alive, hung from trees, mutilated as they died, with hundreds or thousands of white onlookers. Postcards of the lynchings printed and sold afterwards. And you wonder how someone could be so cruel?

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Names of lynching victims

I completely broke down. I walked to the bathroom sobbing, crying for our past, and trying to reconcile how to fix it or how to move forward. On the way a woman stopped me, touched my shoulder, and said, “It’s going to be alright. Things will get better.” Hope. 

After I broke down, I went back into the museum and watched the movies about incarceration, about the need for prison reform, about the slave trade, and about the lynchings. I thought about the questions on the back of the leaflet Father Tom Momberg gave us and the one that read:

Have you received a message of Good News?

I felt confused by this question, but then realized that The Legacy Museum is bringing us together. It’s a step in the right direction. With awareness, change can occur. As the stranger in the bathroom said to me, “things will get better,” but I’d like to add the words: if we make them better. If we fight for change, we can begin the long arduous process of healing the wounds, of claiming our racist past and making amends for it. We can tell people we are sorry for what our ancestors did to them, and we can start making the necessary changes in the prisons, in the schools, in the churches, and in society to help our brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters, and we should treat each other as such.

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Looking Forward

I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction yesterday, but sometimes I think when we are experiencing a moment like that we need to embrace the feeling. At that moment, I felt so overwhelmed by the past, but afterwards I felt relief and a sense of peace.

When I arrived at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice after lunch and communion, I felt calm spread over me. I touched the names etched into the columns. I spoke to a man who had traveled from Georgia, and I told him I was sorry for what my ancestors had done, and he said, “We all have a place here.” Wisdom. Forgiveness. Grace.

The second meaning of pilgrimage is “the course of life on earth.” What will you do with yours?

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In the words of Toni Morrison, “Love your heart,” and use that heart to make change. 

 

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Lost and Found

I wrote this story for Terrible Minds, yet again! The assignment only had one requirement: must contain a map.

Lost and found

(873 words)

Harlan didn’t trust GPS. The first time he used it he had ended up somewhere in bum-fuck-Egypt. At that point, he had been infinitely grateful for the stacks of fold up maps stuck in his glove compartment. Back then, everyone had maps. Most people used them. People understood geography and how routes connected to state highways, interstates, connecting all the states to make us somehow unified even from thousands of miles away. Now they summoned Siri and asked her to take them to a location. How did they know she’d comply? That’s what Harlan wanted to ask them.

Cheree thought he was ridiculous. A few years after GPS came out she’d bought him a TomTom. It sat in the box under the wilting tree for a few days. Then one day it magically appeared in the front seat of Harlan’s car, still in its box. It sat there too, until Cheree had to borrow Harlan’s car because hers needed an oil change. When she came back from work that evening the TomTom had been installed. Harlan had never so much as pushed the power button.

Which is why at this point, he was ticked off. The map open in front of him did not show the road he had been driving down. He knew he had made a wrong turn somewhere, but he couldn’t figure out where. And he sat, air conditioner blaring, needle precariously close to Empty, on the side of the road with his finger on an empty space in the middle of nowhere where clearly, in real life, there was an actual road. The TomTom glared at him, willing him to push the little power button. But he felt in this predicament the TomTom would have no idea the road existed either. Plus, it might drain his gas reserves even further. And it was the principle of the matter after all. All these years, the maps had always been right. This was not the time to change his firmly held beliefs, damn-it.

He turned off the engine and stepped out of the car. The heat beat down on him with its blaring desert-force. He kicked the tire to his 2009 BMW, because that was helpful. He stood in the breakdown lane with his arms over head and sweat stains spreading out on the new Oxford shirt Cheree bought for him. The heat played in dancing waves over the desert surrounding him.

He walked around to the other side of the car, opened the passenger side and took out the stack of maps. Nevada. He had two other maps for Nevada. They looked older than the one he had been using. He opened one up and laid it out on the hood of the car, then planted his hands on the black paint before realizing this was a mistake. The sun-heated metal burned the palms of his hand.

“Shit,” he said, shaking his hands in the dusty air.

He stared at the map, placing his finger at the location that looked like an undeveloped piece of land in the middle of the desert. He looked around, and sure enough that’s what it was, with a goddamn no-name, no-route road running through it that he’d been lucky enough to turn onto somehow.

Cheree would be worried by now. He knew she was sitting at the bar at the Bellagio having a gin and tonic and checking her iPhone for the time. God, he wished he had one of those too. Then he could call her if he could get reception out here. They had tickets for Cirque du Soleil at 7 PM. He knew he’d never make it if he didn’t find his way out of this place. He just couldn’t remember if he’d taken a right or left, then another right or left, and it was a horrible time for his memory to fail him. Or his sense of direction.

Cheree always joked that for someone who loved maps he got lost an awful lot. He always smiled and nodded when she said it in front of other people, but in reality the statement pissed him off. But now he knew she was right and that if he didn’t find his way out of this nowhere road he’d die of thirst and hunger in the middle of the desert.

“Stupid no-good maps,” he said.

He folded them up, stuck them in the glove department, slammed the passenger’s side door then walked around to the driver’s side. He started the car then powered on the TomTom. His first thought would be that it would need updating, and he’d still be lost, but to his surprise it had been updated and there were even addresses loaded into the machine. God love, Cheree. Always there for him. He pulled out his notepad with the address scrawled on it—3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South—and plugged it into the machine.

The little dots swirled around in a circle: Calculating.

And sure enough the road appeared. Continue for 35 miles, take a left. Clear cut directions on a road that did exist even though every single map he owned said it shouldn’t be there.

Maybe Cheree was right after all. GPS had its benefits.

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Lifestyle Changes

This weekend, I had little time to myself. On Saturday, every kid had something going on. I spent most of my day driving around town. When you have three young kids, you really do feel like a Taxi cab sometimes. My mom made up for my long hellish day in the car by making Cosmos in the evening. What a great way to relax after running around all day.

But on Sunday I was looking for some time to myself. About four years ago, I decided to get into shape. I had spent a few years popping out babies and sitting on the couch. I loved television and not much else. I had no friends, besides people at work, and I ate Mexican food every day (or so it seemed). I started by taking Taekwondo. We did high intensity interval classes there that kicked my butt, but also helped me drop the pounds. I learned how to have fun and exercise at the same time. While I lost weight I also lost my hair, but I gained confidence in myself too, and I started finding out what it took to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And before I knew it I lost 60 pounds.

I don’t really have a lot of before photos of my whole body. But here’s one I found from 2011, and directly below it is one from just the other day. You can tell such a difference just from my face:

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Lauren 2015

Making a lifestyle change is hard. I backslide often. I have days I don’t want to get off the couch. But more often than not, I feel bad if I don’t exercise. I push myself to exercise so I have energy and feel healthier and better about my body and myself. The better I feel, the better my writing is, the more I can give to my husband, my children, and my job.

On Sunday, I decided to go for a run. (I just took up jogging again, and I’ve been building up slowly). Usually I get super bored on runs, but because of my lack of me- time, I had a lot to think about. As I ran, I solved problems regarding my main character in the book I’m editing. I thought about each one of the kids. I figured out what I had to do this week, and I exercised. Exercise is a great way to give yourself some time to just be by yourself. We’re so overwhelmed in this world by electronics, other people, and busy schedules that we rarely have time to just be. Creative minds need time to reflect and meditate in order to create. And I’ve found running to be a great time to do that.

About once a week, I’m going to do a weight loss/exercise/healthy living post. I’ll tell you all ways I’ve found that have helped me to lose weight and keep it off. I’ll let you know how to climb onto the wagon when you fall off. I’ll let you know what’s worked well for me and what hasn’t. I hope you’ll enjoy these posts!

What are your goal regarding your lifestyle?

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Wondrous Writing

About four years ago, I was in a serious funk. I felt like I had lost my way. I felt like the world had risen on so many days without my true presence. I was going through the motions–taking care of my three kids. But mostly, I was sitting on the couch watching T.V. or playing on my computer for endless hours.

I was absorbed with the kids, and not much else. In essence, I felt like I’d completely lost my identity. I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t living my calling. I was too focused on what I was supposed to be doing. I dutifully went through my day, going to work, diapering kids, making dinner, and then plopped into a chair to partake in mind-numbing activities.

I woke up one day and realized the larger than normal alopecia patch had turned to total hair loss–alopecia universalis. It was a wake up call. I felt unhappy. Intensely. I was a balding, fat, thirty year old, with nothing to show in her life except for her children’s accomplishments. At first, I sort of went off the deep end. (Okay–there’s no sort of about it–I really went off the deep end).

I needed to recreate myself. I joined Taekwondo, because I needed to feel alive and refreshed, and exercise can do that.  Through Taekwondo, I found the confidence inside me I didn’t think existed anymore. I made a lot of new friends who encouraged me. And I also realized I had abandoned my innate talent and needed to resurrect it from the dead.

I started writing. Slowly at first. My first goal was to start and finish a book. Before that point, I started lots of works but never finished them, and I hadn’t put pen to paper in ten year years when I decided to write “No Turning Back.” When I started writing, I realized it was cathartic. I could pour my emotions into the characters. I could torture them, and treat them horribly, and play out family dynamics with them. I could make them dance and sing and fall in love. I could give them everything or nothing. I could set them up in all sorts of disgusting situations just to see what would happen.  Writing made me whole again. When I started writing every day, my mood soared. I had regained a part of me that was missing.

I think about the tortured writer, and I know that person exists inside of me. I definitely had a lot of ups and downs. I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. I used to be the happy person with a sad heart.  But when I write I truly feel happy, as long as words are filling up the paper, I have a sense of fulfillment.  And that’s what life is all about.