Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sotterley Plantation On The Bay: Part 2 (The Healing)


I honestly had no expectations as we approached the Sotterley Plantation visitor center, but suddenly there was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I stopped to hold my stomach, and to try and detect what the problem could be. My wife was ahead of me; she turned around and asked if I was ok? I didn’t want to worry her, so I said that I was fine. I started walking again and the sick feeling increased. “I have to find a restroom!” My wife turned around and, again, asked me what was wrong? I admitted to her that I felt sick. She looked around, saw a restroom, and pointed in its direction. I made a quick dash. I came out of the restroom not long after and I felt a little better. I blamed it on the breakfast that we had an hour before at Bob Evans.

Well, we finally reached the visitor center. I went in and purchased two tickets for the tour that would begin at approximately 1 p.m. We had almost an hour to kill, so we looked around at some of the artifacts and buildings that were on display around Sotterley. There was a Smoke House and a barn that was used to dry out the Tobacco (Tobacco was the main crop on Sotterley). There was also a place to store and grind corn. There was a colonial style garden that we saw from a distance, and one remaining slave cabin that sat along the trail leading to the river. We looked over the valley, and we could see the other side of the Patuxent River -- It was beautiful! I tried to make sense of the sickness that I felt as I witnessed the beauty of the plantation, but I could not. My wife was staring over quiet acres trying to make sense of it as well. This was all very interesting and peculiar to us both. It was interesting for me because it connected me to my ancestors. It was interesting to my wife, a native South African because it connected her to the Africans who were captured and brought there as slaves. The experience, therefore, connected us.

I saw a picnic table across the field that was positioned perfectly under this beautifully majestic tree. I suggested that we go there to rest and wait for the tour to start. She agreed so we walked over. She’s a country girl so she found a spot on the grass to relax. Before she sat on the grass she snapped a photo of me (seen above) as I looked around.  I’m only part country, so I sat on the bench. It was so quiet and the only sound I could hear was the wind and the distant chirping of birds. I sat there and I looked around. I could see almost the entire plantation from where I sat. Again, I looked around, and as I stared into the beautiful distance towards the field I was griped with this enormous feeling of trepidation. I began to panic. I took a deep breath, and still I panicked. An overwhelming feeling of sadness and pain came over me. Tears began to roll down my face. I wiped them away and still more came. My wife looked over at me from the lawn and noticed that I was crying. She jumped up to see what was wrong. I told her about the pain that I felt, and she held me tightly to her chest. The healing started and the tears began to flow.

I don’t believe that I have ever wept so hard and so loud. This wailing cry shot from my belly, and I sobbed as I held her close to me. I would go on to cry for another 5 minutes before I was able to pull myself together. Afterwards, the sick feeling I felt in the beginning seemed to go away. I looked into my wife’s eyes (partially ashamed because I had never cried that way in front of her) as she wiped her tears away. She began to comfort me as I tried to make sense of my reaction to this experience. She felt there was connection between me and the spirits on that plantation. She felt there was also a connection with the spirits of my own ancestors. This is not some romantic post about me being so in touch with my African past. There are some of you who may not believe in a connection with the ancestors. This is something that I have always believed in. Besides, I had no other explanation.

25 comments:

urban butterfly said...

Wow Stephen! You are really moving me today. I don't think that a man should be ashamed to cry, especially in front of his wife!! If there's any woman you should cry with, it is her. I could imagine her comforting you and that is a beautiful imagination! You are blessed to have her in your life!

I've never been on a plantation before and I don't know if I would have the same reaction as you. I can only guess or imagine how I would feel. After reading this post, I'm going to make a trip to the Sotterley planataion. I feel like it would be a learning and growing experience for me because Slavery is something I don't like to talk about or think about. I've read about it before, watched movies and documentaries about it and it always tugs at my heart and sometimes I even cry. It's a sensitive subject for me, definitely. So in that respect, I can identify with your feelings.

Thanks so much for sharing this. You have no idea how grateful I am for being able to read about your experience. Much love!!

~UbFly

Stephen Bess said...

ubfly-
I know. I should be able to cry in front of my wife and I did. I was a little ashamed because of the wailing. I don't recall wailing in recent memory. :) Anyway, I think that it would be a great experience...just to see. I didn't expect that reaction. I was just going to see and explore. I had no idea that it would bring forth tears. For you, I guess that there is only one way to find out. Thanks for taking time to read this. Peace~ :)

Michael J. West said...

A beautiful and sad piece. I wish I knew what else to say...

Stephen Bess said...

mjw-
It was very sad at first, but healing in the end. I'm glad that you were able to read it and appreciate it.

Dancewithme2 said...

Ache'!
Beautiful, honest, innocent, and rejuvenating. That is what I think about when I read this post. Of course you connected with the ancestors. Their spirits are strong and so are ours because we come from them. Your physical body was overwhelmed. It is a blessing that you were able to feel emotion in a world that restricts it. Stephen - you are IN TOUCH (not with your feminine side - another discussion entirely) but with those who came before you and you are very much aware of the pain that they suffered. You feel it in your CORE. They are not forgotten.....Thats all they ask.
I love that you shared that with us. N'SA.
Thanks.

Stephen Bess said...

dance-
Thank you! You explained how I was feeling so well. I appreciate that.
I do feel that connection. I often pray to God to bless the souls of my ancestors and to tell them that I love and honor them. Thanks!

ToastedSuzy said...

This is beautiful.

TS

Stephen Bess said...

TS-
Thank you. :)

Michelle said...

dancewithme2 said it perfectly!

i'm so sensitive and I imagine i would be a blubbering idiot the whole time if i visited a plantation! But yet this is an experience I feel I must have sometime in my lifetime.

thanks for sharing this powerful emotion and connection with us!

btw -- i definitely believe in our connection with our ancestors. In my writing room at home, I've surrounded myself by b&w photos of great black writers before me who helped paved the way including Maya, Alice, Langston, Nora, and James. Sometimes, when I'm really in a writing groove, I know it's their spirits carrying me!

blessings to you...

NML said...

What a fantastic post! I felt your raw emotions and was greatly moved. You clearly felt a deep connection to the place, the history, and the pain of the past. I can totally understand your outpour of emotion.

Stephen Bess said...

michelle-
That's cool! I like your list of inspiration. :)

nml-
Yes, there was much outpouring! It was definitely a cathartic experience in so many ways. Thanks!

black feline said...

no photos are required here...the words communicate so clearly...it's definitely a spiritual connection...awesome!

Cergie said...

I believe too in connections with ancestors. How not ?
It was the price to pay for your grandparents to come as slaves and then to get freedom for their grandchidren.
Most of time the first comers had a crual life and homesickness, their children are fine in the country and then the family belongs to the country.
Your ancestors did not chose to come in USA, but the fact is that their grandchildren are quite American. And they must honour their memory.
And don't forget, African civilisation was great in the past before consumer society, and the first Humans were walking there when in America there were only bisons. Be proud of that. And be happy.

Stephen Bess said...

blkfeline-
Thanks for reading this. I enjoyed writing it and revisiting those feelings.

cergie-
Thanks for reminding us of that. Those memories (good or bad) are important because it does define who we are as a people. I would be disrespecting the memory of Ezekiel Roberson (great-great grandfather) if I forgot about who he was and what he accomplished. Thank you!

Maxjulian said...

Powerful!

When I was a kid, we took field trips to Jamestown and Williamsburg and a few other "plantations." I couldn't feel the pain cuz I was too busy feeling embarassed being with white classmates. I look forward to crying somewhere like that.

My crying secret: sometimes I can feel the need to cry coming on, but I know I can't. When I get to this point, I pull out 'Kramer Vs Kramer.' Its a sure fire cry movie. Also, the scene in 'Glory' when Denzel gets whipped never fails to make me cry.

barbie said...

Stephen My Brother, My Friend...Thank you first and foremost for the enlightenment and truth you so generously share. I am convinced the ONLY healing African Americans will ever obtain is through connection with the long gone spirits of our ancestors. Until then, we are lost.

Xavier said...

Stephen, crying is the last thing I want right now... [sigh] It's been a hard day. A day full of tears. You are an awesome writer. I guess what I need is not always what I want. So much suffering! When does it end. When we should be enjoying freedom, we become slavemasters to our own children! When does it end. :-(

Professor Zero said...

Yes (on writing, and catharsis, etc.) the ancestor connection is real!!!

Naro% said...

Stephen you blew up the spot for real bro!! I had to drop some love over at ghetto gold cuz, your thoughts, your wordz, were so on point...
Thats gangsta!
Holla

UARIDI said...

I am sure you have a different perspective on plantations and slavery after that visit. Not good or bad, but different. I hope you will be healed completely and work on FORGIVENESS.

I went to Gore Island in Senegal several years back and even now, the memory causes pain.Unfortunately, I could not weep "I was being strong".

Glad you are back, loved the previous posts.

Stephen Bess said...

max-
That scene in Glory will have a brother on his back crying! I feel you. Thanks!

barbie-
Hello! Thanks for stopping in. I appreciate your comment. I try to maintain that connection through prayer.

xavier-
*smile* I guess there is a fine line between parenting and slavery. I try to be fair in my wielding of power. I also pray for wisdom.

profzero-
I knew that you would understand. Thanks!

naro%-
Good to see you! Thanks!

ausi uaridi-
Yes, that word Forgiveness is a big one. I truly do not hold any personal grudges against whites for slavery. I do hold a grudge against our government for not acknowledging that it ever happened. This is evident in the legislation, laws and absence of information our schools and textbooks. Thank you sis!

faith said...

Wow, Stephen, that was really touching. I mean it dragged me in and as usual I was not reading your post, I was a part of your post. Seeing it.

Now, I believe in connecting with Spirts of our ancestors 1000%. I would love to visit a plantation sometime, I think it would be very powerful, even for a white girl from MN.

Lastly, but equally as important... I am a BIG believer that it takes a stronger man to be able to cry and a weaker man to hide his tears!

Stephen Bess said...

faith-
I think that a visit to a plantation would be great for you. I think that every American should see a plantation that held slaves, but I also think that the tour guide should be qualified to speak about what really happened. I don't think our guide did or he wasn't comfortable talking about it. Always a pleasure. :)

Guyana-Gyal said...

This is truly a powerful post. I understand that connection. We go through daily life, take it for granted, but it's there. Everytime you hear a certain drumbeat, a strain of music, a certain word...something inside connects.

Our ancestors are in our genes, our skin.
I sometimes wonder what talent I got from them, what mood, what part of me.

Stephen Bess said...

guyana-
I embrace that connection with all my heart. Perhaps, they passed on to you the gift of words. Enjoy your weekend. Peace~

Rhiannon Giddens- "Julie"

Rhiannon Giddens' music is based on a collective number of slave narratives. This is an absolutely beautiful way to preserve the his...