Juneteenth is a celebration of hope, freedom, and emancipation. It should also be a time of reflection. A time to stop our busy worlds and express deep gratitude for the value and blessing of freedom – a priceless gift that many of us take for granted. A time to step out of our skins and truly understand the pain and suffering we cause others when, in our desire to show ourselves as superior, we deny them their freedoms.
To help us stop and reflect, may I suggest poetry. Why poems? Because they are wise, they deal in eternal truths; they are news that stay news. They are mirrors that help us see sides to ourselves that we didn’t know existed. And because poems and I enjoy a strong kinship.
Let’s begin with May Angelou’s poem, “Caged Bird.” Cage is an apt metaphor for lack of freedom. Where else can a caged bird stand on but on the grave of dreams? What else can it sing for, but for freedom?
…a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream…
… for the caged bird
sings of freedom
No matter how much we may empathize with another’s pain, can we truly…truly…experience their pain as they do? And if we are surrounded by pain, do we truly have peace? Dennis Brutus, the famous South African anti-apartheid activist poet doesn’t think so. An untitled poem in his book, “A Simple Lust,” reads:
You have your private griefs,
Peace is not indifference
Peace comes from inner certitude,
Assurance about one’s worth
One’s status, talents, labors
When a group of people, any group, takes it upon themselves to show other people, “Who’s Boss,” peace dies. Peace is not just the absence of war between countries. At a deeper level, peace is the absence of war we wage in our minds and hearts against other people.
Finally, let the lines from Langston Hughes’s poem, “I Look At The World,” take our blinders off and lead us to a new home.
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
Yes, let’s hurry to this new home where we can remake our minds and write new histories of hope, freedom, and emancipation.