Sometimes History Bears Repeating by Fran Salone-Pelletier

It was 1983 when I wrote this piece. It was a handout to be used for the 27th Sunday in the family-centered intergenerational religious education program I directed. Additionally, it was published in the parish bulletin for the remainder of the parishioners to peruse . . . or not.

Here I am, some 36 years later, rereading, even scrutinizing, my work. In wonderment, I enjoyed seeing thoughts concretized in words about an event which occurred another 20 years before! Even more amazingly, I felt as if time had been standing still for those five-plus decades. It seemed as if we are yet fighting the same prejudicial stances, the same biases, the same hatred of all that is not identical to our lives, thoughts, feelings, and stances regarding politics and religion. Worse yet, it is a dismissal of all who are not in step with our choices and lifestyles. Might I call it a denial of life?

Lest I prattle on with my latest “take” on the ills of our universe, may I offer my past wisdom and leave it up to the readership to opine whether or not some history bears repeating. At the very least, I believe it bears reliving to evoke reforming.

Here goes!

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It was a hot, humid August day in Washington, DC. It was a good day to relax beside a town pool or in an air-conditioned place. However, neither was the choice made by thousands of individuals. Old and young, black and white, employed and jobless, they chose to travel on foot, by plane, train, bus or car.

They came to celebrate a memory, to evoke a dream, to rekindle a reality. They came to the country’s capital from near and far in order to tell a story of slavery and freedom, violence and vigilance, casualties and causes. They came because it was their story.

They came with a certain sense of interrelatedness and interdependency. They came to support and encourage; to build hopes and strengthen hearts. They came for themselves and for others. They came because one man dared to have a dream. One man dared to live that dream. One man dared to die giving that dream as his legacy to others.

The March on Washington of 1963 was peopled by the many who lived the words of the prophet Habakkuk and felt the sting of enslavement and relentless punishments. They dared to demand that right be done. Their beaten bodies and whipped spirits strained with the pleading, “How long, O God? I cry for help and you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and clamorous discord” (Hab. 1:2–3).

They marched with the pain of that prayer. However, they marched as well with the power of their prayerfulness. They marched stubbornly onward—refusing to let their pain or fear paralyze them. They marched as believers, believers who embraced their mustard-seed-sized faith. Yet they knew in their hearts there is an additional reality. They knew they could really say to the sycamore tree of slavery, “Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea.” They knew it would obey them. They believed the ringing words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They sang out their “Amens” as he raised his hands to the victorious crescendo: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Twenty years later, the marchers returned. Their children and their children’s children came with them. Sadly, the cries of freedom had not echoed in the ghettos where they made their homes. But the matchers stubbornly refused to let the fire of their dream die. Twenty years later, they marched once again to the Lincoln Memorial. Twenty years later, they dared to stir into flame the gift God had bestowed on them. Twenty years later, they remembered—and dared to dream once more.

That’s the saga of oppressed black people, people of color. How about us? Where do we fit in? What is our story and how are we telling it?

Each of us individually and all of us together share the daring dream that right will be done. Perhaps ours is not a marching song. Perhaps ours is more akin to the stubborn refusal to quit when a principle is at stake. Perhaps we are somewhat like Arthur Winslow in Terence Rattigan’s play The Winslow Boy.

Arthur Winslow is determined to see justice for his son, wrongly accused of a theft, served no matter the cost to him. His words are spoken bravely and easily as the opening scene of the play evolves. The battle is newly begun, and everyone is strong with the strength of the newness. Everyone knows sacrifices will have to be made, but the length and depth of those sacrifices has yet to be felt as real.

Time soon tears at Winslow’s determination. It takes its toll physically. Yet he remains fiercely adamant. He clings to his dream. Then, by turn, the cause for right begins to affect every other member of the household. His eldest son is asked to relinquish his enjoyable academic play time at Oxford. His wife begins to feel the hurt and social stigma of being different. His daughter’s marriage plans are first postponed and finally cancelled.

The notoriety of being foolish for a cause was beyond the understanding of all but the truly brave. Arthur Winslow sacrificed even what he was not certain he had the right to sacrifice because he dared to dream. He dared to believe that right would be done. He dared to write down that vision clearly upon the table of his life. He did so in order for his family, his neighborhood, his business associates, indeed the whole country of England to be able to read it easily.

Arthur Winslow gave his time and energy totally because he had the faith of a mustard seed. He believed against all odds and all peoples. He believed that “the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint” (Hab. 2:3). His hope was in its fruition.

The waiting was not easy. Waiting for dreams to become realities is never easy. Arthur Winslow suffered as he waited. His family suffered with him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. waited patiently and was killed as he did so.

To dare to dream is no cowardly task, “but rather one that makes us strong, loving, and wise” (2 Tim. 1:7). To dare to dream and to act on our vision is to be challenged to seek beyond our reach. It is to have the courage to stand before God’s truth.

To dare to dream and to live the dream is not solely or simply to ask for an increase of faith. It is to take the faith we have, just that, and to look directly into the face of personal—perhaps universal—sycamore trees of injustice, cruelty, prejudice, and bias. It is then to command their uprooting. It is to do no more than our duty. Or, as Arthur Winslow put it, “In the face of injustice and tyranny perhaps brute stubbornness is not a bad idea.”

We could call that kind of stubbornness faith.

Yes, indeed, sometimes, history bears repeating.

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives (a trilogy of scriptural meditations), lead volunteer chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at hope5@atmc.net.

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