There is an old African Proverb that says, “If I stand tall, I’m standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.” Booker T. Washington put it this way: “We are standing on the bones of those who have gone before us. It sometimes behooves us to examine those bones.”
Examine the Bones. Bones tell us where they come from and how long the owner of the bones has been gone. The tale of the bones can chronicle the journey the owner traveled, their approximate weight, their height, the burdens they carried, what they ate, and any illnesses from childhood on into adult hood. The bones speak to us. They tell us how the owner both lived and died.
This is what the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” There are those who have gone before us, who have forged the path, lain the groundwork and pave the way. The burdens they carried we no longer have to carry. We can live in cities we did not build, live in houses full of good things, drink from wells we did not dig. We can eat and be satisfied of the fruit we did not plant.
To disdain the bones of those who have gone before us is to disdain those who carry us upon their shoulders, those who’ve provided the world in which we now live. Sure, there are times that we take the chance and forge ahead on a path that has not been cleared or perhaps take the road less traveled; but do not consider unworthy or despise those who did the same in the past.
I know this-I stand on the shoulders of many: the ancient prophets, kings and queens, cooks and scullery maids, plantation owners, sharecroppers and slaves, ministers and rapscallions; each a piece of my history, an ancestor, men and women of faith, hope, and determination, who forged the path and made a way, those who left the comforts, or most often the discomforts, of home to colonize a new land. Those who slowly migrated across the country to seek new lands or even to run away. Those even who were forced to leave a land they loved. I am here today because of them.
I stand tall upon the shoulders of my strong, full of faith mother. I stand tall upon the steel magnolias that are my grandmother and aunts who are independent and fiery, yet gentle and loving and loved-loved by men who are just as strong-strong enough to understand us, to “get” us and love us regardless of the steely exterior, and perhaps a little, or much, because of it. I know the things I know today because of these women. Because of them, and the men with them, I’ve been given opportunities to know more than they knew, learn more than they had opportunities to learn, travel farther that they were able to travel, experience more freedoms and liberties than they possessed.
I know this-I look upon the shoulders upon which I stand. I gaze upon the bones that provide my platform and I am proud! I am proud of where I came from, whether that legacy be of saints, outlaws, vagabonds, rapscallions or just plain regular folk. And to each and every one whose DNA runs through my bones and the bones of my children, I say, “Thank you.”