Monday, February 19, 2007

THE RUNAWAY QUILT

Today, 2/19/07, I finished a book by Jennifer Chiaverini entitled, THE RUNAWAY QUILT. I suspect it was begging to be read because the day before I finished TRUTH, about Sojourner Truth's story, and the energies of the topic, like microwave beams, kept bouncing around and through me. (See previous post about TRUTH.)

The book began at a slow pace and I wondered if I would have to put it down. I always give myself four chapters to decide; by chapter four I was hooked and read it almost in a single setting.

For me there were notable passages which I have taken the time to write in a specially designated book. Here's one from THE RUNAWAY QUILT which completely tied into the story of Sojourner Truth and her role in history: "....I began to see how inextricably intertwined were the rights of women and the rights of slaves, simultaneous battles in the same war." She not only fought slavery after she was freed, she also fought for the rights of women.

The quilt story bounces back and forth from a present day scenario to the events in the mid 1800's; a descendant seeking knowledge of her roots and the legends of the quilts which held the messages of safe stations for the runaway slaves.

The book also is about quilts and patterns and the wonderful craft of quilt making. I have come away with a new appreciation for the tireless labor and the artistic value these heirlooms have. At one point in my reading, I had to stop and go examine a quilt given to me by my Grandmother Hendrix. It was made by her mother, my great grandmother, and great great grandmother of JoDee, Amy, Mandi, and Megan. As far as I can figure it must be near to or over 100 years old, but it looks new, having never been used.

When I read that quilters often sewed their name and date in a corner of the quilt, I quickly searched for my great grandmother's information. I guess she didn't get the memo, but what I have received from this is a greater appreciation not only for those who risked their very lives for the freedom of the runaways, but also for the art of quilting.

Here's a passage that felt significant enough for me to record:

"In l850, as part of a compromise meant to placate Southern states angered by measures to check the spread of slavery elsewhere in the growing nation, Congress passed The Fugitive Slave Law. It proclaimed that runaways, even those who managed to reach Free States, must be returned to their owners, and that federal and state officials and even private citizens must assist in their recapture. Moreover, anyone freeman or fugitive - suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without a warrant and, once apprehended, could neither request a jury trial nor testify on his own behalf.''

"This Jonathan told me, indignantly adding, "I cannot and will not submit to any law that compels me to act against the dictates of my conscience and my God!"

Today is President's Day. I so appreciated what Amy wrote in honor of our Founders, and I want to add my gratitude as well. The reading of these two books makes me feel particularly tender towards President Abraham Lincoln who faced such sorrowful times in the nation as he pressed forward to free the slaves. I know there were a lot of other factors involved in this, but reading these two stories has reigned in my maternal fierceness for protecting my children as I've witnessed what the slave mother's had to endure and what they had to witness happen to their children, and see them carted off as tiny little slaves, merchandies of the highest bidder, never to be seen again. It's simply incomprehensible to me.

In TRUTH she has a special place which is her own "cathedral," her "God house," the place where she goes to talk to God. At this time she is known as Isabella (she later takes the name of Sojourner Truth) and she says, "I stood in the midst of three white birch trees, grown from the same root..."

I couldn't help thinking how all of us are grown from the same root of the human family. We're individual like the separate trees, but we're connected at the soul of the family; and then I read in THE RUNAWAY QUILT, Gerda says, "...I saw quite plainly a sameness linking all of us entangled in this great conflict, so that I felt at once both guardian and fugitive, both slave and freeborn. slavery made slaves of us all, it seemed to me, imprisoning those with dark skin in the iron shackles of injustice, those who owned slaves in chains of sin, and those of us complacent in our freedom with the heavy yoke of obligation to help our enslaved brethren..."

All through these two books the words of a poem by James Russell Lowell, one of our great American poets, have been going through my mind. He lived during these times and championed the cause of freedom, and called this particular poem, "Stanzas on Freedom," and it echoes the thoughts of the character, Gerda.

Read it carefully and with feeling to get the full meaning of his message:

“Stanzas on Freedom"

Men! whose boast it is that ye
Come of fathers brave and free,
If there breathe on earth a slave,
Are ye truly free and brave?
If ye do not feel the chain,
When it works a brother’s pain,
Are ye not base slaves indeed,
Slaves unworthy to be freed?

Women! who shall one day bear,
Sons to breathe New England air,
If ye hear, without a blush,
Deeds to make the roused blood rush
Like red lava through your veins,
For your sisters now in chains—
Answer! are ye fit to be
Mothers of the brave and free?

Is true Freedom but to break
Fetters for our own dear sake,
And, with leathern hearts, forget
That we owe mankind a debt?
No! true Freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear,
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!

They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing, and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.

by James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

I want to take the world into my arms and free all who are enslaved and wash away their sorrows with my tears, and heal the wounds with my touch, and soothe the broken hearts with my song, but of course, I can't, so with hope I'll send my tears, my touch, and my song on the wings of the wind to carry to those who have gone before, to those who remain behind, to the gathering clouds of the future to rain a measure of sweetness, like cleansing rain, upon those who have yet to come. If only that could be possible, perhaps the burden on Mother Earth could be lightened and she would not grieve as she now does.

Sometime, when the spring appears and the grass has returned, go lie upon Mother's breast and tell her you love her. Thank her for sustaining your home. Tell her that for your little plot of ground there will be love and kindness, charity and devotion, righteousness and right living. Tell her she need not worry for you because you will lift her burden by your acts of kindness both in and out of your family. Let her know of your devotion to her as the footstool of our Heavenly Father and Mother. I've done this before and words cannot explain the moment nor the tears which flowed from my eyes to her bosom. There is so much for which to be grateful.

These past few days have been rich in reading for me, and if anyone made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. I'll end with the words which my dear friend, Jill Homer always uses at the end of her emails: - Live in Gratitude. :)

4 comments:

Amy said...

Beautiful post. More books to add to my ever-growing list...now I just need to find the time to digest them all!

Tiffani said...

Hello, Judy! This is Tiffani Harris from Heritage. I LOVE Stanzas on Freedom. I just read it a few days ago to my family. I pull out my old tattered folder of poetry and quotes from your classes and make my husband and babies listen to me read several times a week. If we go hiking, I bring a poem along to read at the top. I have a poem/quote for every occassion and share with everyone who will listen. If I don't have my poetry file on me, I have plenty in my head, still memorized. Heather and I like to challenge ourselves by trying to recite them together from memory. I have added thoughtful essays that I've written to the pile. You gave me such a gift that enriches my life and I am truly grateful for it.

Molly said...

Hey! It's Molly (Pyne), another from Heritage! I found you after following about 5 other blogs....kind of creepy, I know. :) Beatiful post, thanks! I remember many of the beautiful lessons you gave while I was in your class.

Holly Janeen said...

hi Mrs. Naegle!
doubt it if you remember me... but i just wanted to say Hi from one of your "precious lambs"!!
you wouldve been proud, i used one of your notorious poems in a talk at church...
when america is good, america is great- and if america ever ceases to be good america will cease to be GREAT!
:)