Whenever I am feeling petty about minor things in life, I often step back and take a look at life in other places or other times. It helps put life in perspective. When you look at what people went through to make a better life for future generations, it is hard not to be humble and appreciative.
February is a good month for getting such inspiration because it is Black History Month. (And – duh! What moron didn’t catch the irony of giving them the shortest month of the year? I mean, really!) Anyway, it is a month when interesting and inspirational stories about the struggle for human freedom are more plentiful, and I always look forward to it.
Take for example the story of Sidney Steel, a woman enslaved in Maryland in the early 1800’s. Her husband, Levin, had escaped some years earlier and she had attempted to join him, fleeing with her four young children. Unfortunately, they were caught and returned. Sidney realized that escaping with all four children would be next to impossible (like escaping in the first place wasn’t hard enough!) and she made an almost unbearable choice. One night in 1807 she left, taking her two little girls but leaving her two little boys in care of their grandmother. She kissed her sleeping boys goodbye, consigning their fate to God, and following the North Star, she ran.
Can you imagine being that mother?
Sidney and the girls made it to freedom and they were reunited with Levin. He had changed their last name to Still and they then changed Sidney’s name to Charity to conceal her true identity. Only a few trusted friends knew that Charity Still had been the slave Sidney Steel. Sidney and Levin went on and had another sixteen children, and their youngest, William Still, became involved with the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society and worked tirelessly helping slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
The unimaginable courage of these people! We complain about a long walk across a parking lot – this woman and her children walked from Maryland to Philadelphia! Being pursued by people who might kill them, running from tortures and degradation we can barely comprehend. And anyone helping them put their own life at risk. But they helped anyway.
William Still helped so many people that he became known as the Father of the Underground Railroad. He was, naturally, inspired by his mother and how, despite having sixteen other children, never forgot the two boys she left behind.
One day in the summer of 1850, a man named Peter Freedman from Alabama arrived in Philadelphia and was directed to seek out William Still for assistance in finding his lost family. As he always did, William asked Peter to tell him his story. Peter knew that before he lived in Alabama that he had lived in Kentucky and somewhere else before that where he and his brother had been kidnapped and sold. William asked for any other information Peter could remember.
You guessed, right?
Peter remembered that his father’s name was Levin and his mother’s name was Sidney! :’) And William Still realized that he was sitting across the table from his own long-lost brother. And – yay! – even though it was 43 years later, Sidney was still alive.
Can you imagine that reunion?
Despite everything, mother and son found each other again. Despite suppression and slavery. Despite the fact that an angry master had sold her children south so she could never find them in retaliation for her escaping. Despite the fact that she had changed her name and almost no one knew her real identity. Somehow, Peter Freedman Still ended up in the right city sitting across from one of the few people who knew the truth and could help him find his mother – his own brother, William.
I was sitting here trying to figure out how to end this post and everything sounded a bit too preachy. Let’s just say that life is good and precious and worth living. We’re so lucky to be here in this place and these times, difficult as the past few years have been economically. And sunnier days are ahead.