On days when I’m reminded that life is a gift and not a right, gratitude feels strong and interwoven, like burlap. It holds all my hopes; hopes that are indelibly entwined with my battle with a chronic illness.
Gratitude’s texture is thick and coarse, its fabric worn and heavy, having survived years of sweaty, hot days with high humidity.
It is woven together by the stories it captures, like a cotton-picking sack. It has been drug along miles of cotton rows and knows the terrain by feel, like practiced hands that feel the cotton bolls. The dirty burlap holds and protects the cotton, keeping it safe from sweat, dirt, and blood.
Gratitude can be trusted. It’s been through the story, or at least enough of the story, to continue down the lengthy remainder of the row.
My white privilege was earned off the sweaty, bloody backs and shoulders of black men and women—many of them mere children—and my family’s stories are woven deeply with theirs. This awareness tells me that black lives more than simply “matter.” In fact, black lives “matter” is the minimum. Black lives are beloved. Black lives are heroic. Black lives are wise beyond their years.
I’ve been once to my mother’s childhood home: a traditional southern plantation situated deep in Louisiana, where rows and rows of cotton grow on acres of farmland. These cotton fields sit adjacent to the main house, which is surrounded by oak trees draped with thick Spanish moss.
My mom’s house help was a big black man named Blood. When he first started cotton picking in my grandfather’s field, he was around five years old. Blood couldn’t see well, so when he would grab the nettle, he would prick his small fingers and smear blood on the cotton. As a result, Grandad sent him to work inside the house where he helped my mom.
The more I remember about Blood’s story, and others like him, the more my memories evoke gratitude. The more I learn, the deeper my gratitude grows.
Slaves carried thick burlap sacks to fill with cotton as they walked the acres of long rows, field after field, in southern Louisiana. I imagine black practiced hands, coarse and well-calloused, accustomed to the prickly bolls that hold tight to the cotton prize. I think about how light a cotton boll really is and how many thousands of them were needed to fill the burlap sack that dragged on the ground behind each slave. The sack showed its tire and strain, but it never broke under the weight of the cotton or the rub of the ground.
At the end of the day, the slaves would drag their sacks to the front porch of the house, where the flat scale stood waiting in judgment. The sacks usually weighed between 100 to 150 pounds each. My great-great grandfather stood behind the scales, taking notes in his ledger of each man, woman, and child’s daily haul. His father and grandfather before him had farmed these same fields and calculated the crop’s daily harvest in much the same way.
As I recall these memories, I sense each story woven into the enduring fabric of gratitude. I notice that its texture—thick, heavy, and grounding—is shaped by these stories, and the threads of my stories are there too. Its strength allows it to hold the strain of what weighs me down, like the tightness of isolation, the prick of loneliness, or the hypervigilance of anxiety.
I get to release my stories in gratitude, and my heart rests at redemption’s feet.
After my reunion with long-forgotten stories that have forged my faith, I rediscover that if I am searching for hope, I can find it by holding tightly onto to gratitude. Insofar as I can begin to own and hold the interwoven and complex nature of my gratitude and shame for the many black lives and slaves who bore the weight of so much indignity and pain that ultimately brought me the white privilege I know today, then I am promised to know and experience more of my story’s redemption.
I believe my storytelling will continue to praise the Voice of the One who calls me, and that Love is better than anything this life offers.
AJ Keller is a confessed Allender Center groupie who has a crush on her dog and hopes to become the person he seems to think she is. She loves taking long walks with Picasso, reading, writing, and listening to friends’ stories. nbsp