Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2 years a mourner

“I know it’s a hard day,” Cathy said when I met her at my dad’s house for dinner Monday night. I immediately teared up. You don’t really expect your family to remember what would be your miscarried twins’ second birthday. It hadn’t been a particularly hard day, but I’d thought about them, definitely. As always, the voice of move on, move on was strong in my head.

She noticed I was wearing my pea pod necklace she gave me for my thirty-fourth birthday, the one birthday I was pregnant (although I guess no one but an elephant is pregnant for two birthdays). Twin green pearls representing the little peas in my pod.

I guess if an elephant did miscarry, she would never forget it.
“Thanks,” I said, all choked up. I was walking around our dad’s kitchen. I opened the fridge. “Hey! Pudding!”

Cathy laughed. I was still sad, but not as hard to distract as I once was.

Later AK and I held onto each other and devoted a moment to them, in bed, both of us exhausted, an old John Sayles lesbian movie called Lianna playing on my laptop in the background, me coughing and waiting for the NyQuil to kick in. I was glad for her and for my health (cold aside), and I hoped awesome things would happen this year.

On Friday we saw 12 Years a Slave at the Landmark in Westwood; I knew I’d immediately be shamed re: my own stupid problems.

It was a really good movie in all kinds of big and little ways, but my favorite moment, the one I want to write about, is when Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a musician kidnapped from the North and sold into slavery in Louisiana, attends a makeshift funeral for a man who drops dead picking cotton. At this point he’s no stranger to the brutality and—almost worse—the bizarre, ever-shifting politics of plantation life. He knows what he must do to survive. During his most fortunate moments, he’s been able to play the violin for pleasure, for pay or for a diabolical slave master who loves to make his exhausted field hands dance in the middle of the night.

Changing his tune.
But the slaves are unfamiliar with his brand of music. At the funeral, they sing a spiritual a cappella, and Solomon stands silent and alone. Then something shifts on his sad, angry face, and he begins singing along with them. Roll, Jordan, roll. He is still sad and angry, but he’s no longer alone. The shift is an act of surrender, but not, this time, to a slave owner. He looks skyward. This is what people mean when they say “Let go and let God.”

To some, that phrase might mean “God’s in control. I don’t know what his plan is, but I’ll accept it.” I have a personal beef with that interpretation, because I don’t think God is that mean or that powerful. To me the phrase, and the moment in the movie, mean “I’m not in control, but all is not lost. I still have God and love.”

This is the moment Solomon becomes free. This is the moment he accepts that he is a slave—not in the sense of being owned (because no one ever can be, truly), but in the sense that he is no different from his fellow workers. Until now, he has understandably held himself apart from this group of uneducated people who’ve never contemplated freedom as more than a pipe dream. Who look the other way when one of their friends is beaten, because they have to.

But as he begins to sing with them, Solomon seems to understand that he is not better than them, and they are not worse than him. They know something that he will benefit from learning. They support each other in ways he can access only if he gets down in the river with them, in their low throaty vocals, their happy-sad swaying. Roll, Jordan, roll.

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