12 Years A Slave and The Will to Survive

It was Thanksgiving Day in the USA this week and I have just finished watching the movie 12 years a slave. In keeping with the thanksgiving theme of being grateful – I am grateful for having seen this movie; despite my swollen eyes and that headache that you get from crying too much. Yes rivers of tears were shed during the viewing of this film, not even one hour ago. I am also profoundly grateful for the actors who put themselves through such a devastatingly emotional experience, as well as, of course for Mr. Steve McQueen, visionary director extraordinaire.

I was not even three minutes into this movie before I started to cry and at times I found myself shaking with emotions. However, there was one constant question that kept going through my mind as I watched – How am I here?

To say that it’s been a few years since I have watched a truly realistic view of slavery is an understatement. Yes, I saw Django Unchained, but I was too distracted to really focus on the horrors of slavery for more than a few minutes before some joke or other absurdity blunted the emotional blow. This movie gave me no quarter, no cover-ups and no fancy cinematic element – just the powerful gritty performances of the actors.

How am I here? Yes, I have seen the pictures of slavery’s torture machinery; I have even touched them in the Jamaican National Gallery’s Displays. Yet, somehow I must have shielded myself – distanced myself from what those tools were made to do.

How am I HERE? In this life, in this future? How do I exist? When my ancestors were beaten, mutilated, tormented and raped during nearly 200 years of slavery. How did my ancestors survive? What gave them the will to survive?

I kept asking because I would have gladly chosen to welcome death’s embrace by very own hands. I would have chosen not to live. Slavery was unbearable and I cannot fathom how my ancestor survived 200 years of bondage.

At the end of it all, after the tears and the anger, comes the pride. We did survive and I will never truly understand how or why. Yet my race not only survived, but we thrived and it’s only going to get better. Indeed, I am overwhelmingly grateful to my ancestors for possessing the will to live, despite their adversaries.


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