Friday, September 22, 2006

Standing on their shoulders

Saw Spielberg's Amistad last night, very moving. It's the story of African slaves who manage to take over their captor's ship, but then wind up on American soil and on trial for their lives. Stellar performances, especially I thought, from Anthony Hopkins, who just channeled "old man-ness." He plays the former President John Quincy Adams at the twilight of his career, just brilliantly.

One scene in particular spoke to me. Adams is meeting with Sengbe, the one who led the onboard insurrection, to prepare him for their final battle in the Supreme Court. He tells the African that the battle ahead will be difficult. Sengbe replies (through his translator) that they won't be alone. He says he will call on his ancestors to be with them:

I will call into the past, far back until the beginning of time, and bring them to come and help me. I will reach back and draw them into me, and they must come. For at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.

Adams (Hopkins) sits pondering this for a long moment. You can just feel his growing determination to do the same with his own father, John Adams, second President of the United States, the man in whose shadow he'd lived his whole life. You can see him make the choice to stop trying to come out from that shadow and instead call on that legacy to support his actions now.

This touched me personally, because I've often been grateful for those who have gone before me and hewed "the rough granite." Divorced women and single mothers of a generation ago, women who fought for equality in the workplace, women who fought for the right to vote. These all made the road so much easier for me today. If they hadn't paved the way, I would never have been able to come as far as I have.

And I also think with love and gratitude on spiritual mentors. I've had many. Mary Baker Eddy, of course. My own teacher in Christian Science gave his life to the healing system he loved from early manhood. The fact that he rose through the ranks to the highest positions means less to me now than his cultivated ability to heal quickly and effectively. I used to aspire to the former, but as I mature it's the latter that I'm striving for. I met with another spiritual mentor yesterday, one who also has also given her best effort and inspired vision to the teaching she loves. She continues to inspire me.

These are the giants on whose shoulders we stand. What better gift of gratitude can we give than to continue their work, and make their struggles and sacrifice worthwhile?


It is the task of the sturdy pioneer to hew the tall oak and to cut the rough granite. Future ages must declare what the pioneer has accomplished.


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