“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
― Harriet Tubman
History is filled with tales of amazing journeys — like those of the runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.*
These stories are taught in American classrooms as examples of exceptional courage by a few brave souls who had perilous adventures 200 years ago. But there are universal and timeless lessons that can resonate with all of us on a deeper level. After all, the fugitive slave’s journey to freedom is ultimately a story about the heart. And whether you are a young girl slaving in the fields of Mississippi in 1818 or a mid-level corporate manager in 2018, any journey of the heart is courageous.
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Our slave’s transformational journey began the day she realized the long-told narrative about her was false, when she recognized the lie that she was simply an object to be bought and sold. Chattel. Property. It started when she remembered she was so much more than a slave. There was an instant she knew she was human - she was born free.
It’s often true about journeys that they begin long before we start to move. And so it is also true that this slave’s journey began before the night she eventually escaped from the plantation under the cover of a moonless sky. The runaway’s journey to freedom began in her heart, with quiet certainty.
As the fugitive dared to break away from the known to the unknown, she was continuously conflicted. Each hurried step was filled with both doubt and hope. She was both mentally determined and physically exhausted. She was simultaneously running away and running towards. The tension never eased.
Dueling voices continuously filled her head whether she was fleeing or hiding from the slave catchers. Her limited beliefs continued to echo in her mind. “Turn back. You belong there enslaved. You have no future. There is only danger ahead.” But she dared to only listen to the voice that her heart knew to be true: “Keep going. Freedom lies ahead.”
Night after night, she simply followed the North Star. She had few mileposts to measure her progress along the railroad. Our heroine was amazed and relieved when she miraculously found a safe house along her journey. She was surrounded by station masters - kindred spirits and kind souls. They did not chastise her for leaving the safety of the plantation. They did not judge her ragged appearance. They did not lecture her regarding her poor planning. They did not see her as a slave. They did not see her as a fugitive, an illegal. They saw her as a fellow human, born in the image of God.
Many of the station masters had undergone a transition in their own hearts from slaves to free people. As a result, they dedicated their lives to helping others on the same arduous journey. By providing shelter, food, safety and listening ear, they gave respite to passengers on the underground railroad. Our runaway shared her tale of transformation and heard the healing words “Me too,” and “Tell me more.”
The station masters’ unexpected kindness filled her with encouragement and hope for what lay ahead. They could not provide her a detailed schedule of what would happen next on her journey. They simply pointed her north, mentioning signs to keep an eye open for; signs that would assure her that she was staying on course.
And she kept going. Northward.
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As sojourners, we recognize the state of tension that is inherent in any journey of the heart. We respect the courage that is required for any of us to transition into our True Self. We stand in solidarity with others on their pilgrimage. No matter whether the journey is a thousand miles or only 18 inches (from your heart to your mind), we keep going. Northward.
*If you think the Underground Railroad involved an actual underground railroad, please Google immediately.
You can find Susan at Imago on Sunday mornings at the Breakfast Club as she scoops scrambled eggs on 100 plates that she will shortly thereafter be (somewhat resentfully) washing. Otherwise, you can find Susan by looking for a frumpy, middle-aged, Midwestern mom who is completely unable to limit her use of self-deprecating humor.