When I was a kid, I hated Lent, because my birthday always fell during it, and we always gave up dessert for Lent. My parents had to make up these weird elaborate rules to allow me to still have a birthday cake even though we were supposed to be suffering to fulfill some holy purpose. (I took my Roman Catholic faith very seriously as a child, but in my eyes this was suffering, indeed!)
Lent is the 40 days before Easter, celebrated as a time of preparation, sacrifice, and reflection in the Christian tradition (minus Sundays – that was one of the workarounds we used for birthday cake).
A few years ago, Unitarian Universalists started honoring this period of time in a thoroughly modern way: using the hashtag #UULent on various social media platforms. There is a guide published every year giving one word per day. The idea is to look at the chart, think about that day’s word, and keep returning to it throughout the day. It’s a neat idea, and I’d never done it before. I would often forget until well after Lent had started, or I would look ahead on the list and see a word like “dance” and become intimidated. But this year, I was going for it. I was curious to see what the word would be on my birthday and excited to find it was “truth.”
For my birthday this year, I got up very early in the morning to be online to get a same-day ticket to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which I hadn’t visited since it opened in September 2016. I’m profoundly grateful that I did, though it quickly became obvious that one winter afternoon would be nowhere near enough time to spend at this rich, challenging, enlightening, sorrowful, joyous place. As I worked my way up and up from the crowded bottom levels, I arrived in the first large open hall and stared for long silent minutes at this quote on the wall: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” – Ida B. Wells.
In that place, dedicated to stories too long overlooked, untold, lost in the cruel history and the passage of time, there could be no other choice that day for a reflection on truth. In the time since, I have thought a lot about the stories we don’t know. The voices that have been silenced, forgotten, buried. During Anthony’s powerful service on the Middle Passage, I considered all the stories lost with those who chose to remove their own voice from the ongoing story of humanity because of the inhuman cruelty visited upon them.
As the country has moved from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, I’ve reflected that my aspiration is a time when those are not valid distinctions, when the voices of the silenced are once again recognized for what they are: OUR history. OUR story. Our triumph, our shame, our joy, our downfall.
The New York Times has begun a project called “Overlooked.” The paper looked at the thousands of obituaries it has published since 1851; the overwhelming majority of the subjects were men. (Even in the last two years, only one in five obituaries appearing in the NYTimes was honoring a female decedent.) I would invite you to consider this as a starting place for unheard stories…The New York Times extraordinarily belated obituary of Ida B. Wells.