|Sunset Over The Dead Sea in Israel|
I recently read Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying for a seminary class. In this book the author unleashed a gripping and symbolic work on a host of enduring challenges as transformation hovered. In the novel’s various scenes, themes of love, family, faith, and expectations pierce the pages with lessons displayed in courage and testimony, then ultimately degrees of transformation for each character. From reading the actions of Grant, tortured teacher, to Jefferson who anxiously awaits execution, or Reverend Ambrose, conflicted support provider, the relevant question emerging for me is: How many learn what they’re supposed to learn between their sunrise and sunset? Taking place in the backdrop of familiar segments of racial realities, the African American journey around human identity and dignity, transcends place and time in Gaines’s words.
What struck me the most in this book, weaving in these segments and themes, shows up in a conversation between Grant and Jefferson on p. 193 as Gaines writes, “And that's all we are Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood, until we - each one of us, individually- decide to become something else. I am still that piece of drifting wood, and those out there are no better. But you can be better. Because we need you to be and want you to be. ” At this point I cried as Jefferson cried: a transformative moment for reader, character and work with rich symbolism appeared. I thought about a conversation with my late favorite uncle about five years ago on the topic of family challenges, especially during crisis, where some don’t step up but instead rest in their ‘ this is how I am’ stance. My uncle’s statement was, “Sometimes it’s time to be something else.” A situation now calls for this new posture as was the case for Jefferson, to walk to his earthly finality as a man, for his godmother Miss Emma, the community and himself, and not take on the hog label which his persecutors attached to him. Throughout his imprisonment, Jefferson had many drifting thoughts, one noteworthy as the context for the time of his execution led up to the Easter holiday, as he repeated the phrase, “And he never said a mumbling word.” In the end Jefferson had learned to be strong in the Lord, modeling certainty in his identity as a man and the bravery of Jesus on his journey to Calvary, to fulfill the expectations of his Father. Actions which left transformation for those on the edge of this narrative such as the deputy Paul as a witness to Jefferson’s execution, ‘saw the light’ in the jail’s own ‘Damascus Road’ experience, and shared Jefferson’s bravery in the end with Grant. Then the ultimate story for the preaching and believing community emerged.
On a death bed or tragic accident or sudden illness, has one grasped the totality of those Believers Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE)? The inevitable journey after our drifting days, we can only hope we learn the critical ones that God has for us to learn, packaged for us; being open to the process.