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“No! Not that! No way! I’ve no time for this! I’m outa here!”

Most squirm in the face of suffering as denial stomps with one-hundred-pound boots. Heart racing, breathing labored, shoulders tensed, the escape into palliatives, of whatever kind, is underway, until the distress is dulled within a soporific. Few are the individuals who explore their setbacks and learn from them.

One of these is Karen Armstrong, British author, world lecturer, and winner of the 2008 TED Prize. Her memoir, The Spiral Staircase – My Climb out of Darkness (2004) weaves thirteen years of daunting reversals within the first verse of T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday:” it reveals the paradox of progress from circular stairs that appear to go nowhere.

What seemed like missteps in Karen’s beginnings—leaving the convent, failing her doctoral orals at Oxford, researching and writing scripts on Christianity and Islam and interviewing notables for BBC television in the Holy Land, teaching college and high school students, flipping out with an undiagnosed frontal lobe epilepsy—were, in fact, priming her psyche toward compassion, a discovery that wrought her conversion to the God of her understanding. It became the lens through which she viewed her God, inherent within all religions.

So she took to her writing desk and produced A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (1993). Its publication changed her life. Her clipped voice, heard in lecture halls and YouTube, still carries the incisive ring for God’s compassion in our world. The question remains, is anyone listening?

 

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It was a drenchy morning. Up the front walk, she lugged four bags of groceries for her eighty-four-year old customer, homebound with erratic blood pressure. The door opened slowly, then her friend dropped from view. Something was wrong, so unlike the cheerful greetings she had offered her for two years.

“Doris? Are you all right?” She pushed open the door the rest of the way and found her in her housecoat and slippers, gasping, then gripping the sofa as she flopped upon it. Her hollowed eyes seemed to careen wildly like a wheat field torn by a twister. She needed help—fast. “I’ve got to call 911, Doris. Do let me do that. You know we’re friends.” Because Doris’s relatives were too busy to tend to her needs, she depended upon Gateway Delivered Goods for her groceries.

The familiar voice roused her sufficiently to respond: “No—Don’t do that—I don’t wanna to go—Not there.” She moaned, turned on her side, hugging her spindly arms.

“But I must. This is no good.” She had been aware that her customer’s doctor was playing peck-and-find with her medications, and that probably she could receive better care from a cardiologist.

Within minutes, paramedics informed the nearly unconscious Doris that her blood pressure was 74/45, that she needed IV fluids. She nodded, a smile flickering the corners of her narrow mouth, as hefty arms lifted her upon the gurney for the ride to the hospital.

Doris’s friend, Ashley, stayed with her until she was established in a room, then located a granddaughter to take it from there.

Should you wish to contact Ashley for her services with Gateway Delivered Goods in St. Louis, Missouri, call 855-331-8880. She cares, deeply … I know …

 

 

 

 

Exploitation, violence, the round-abouts of law, and the malleability of religion contributed to the development of the New World, later called the United States of America. Few dare to expose its evil, for centuries ensconced in the collective unconscious, now erupting in our streets.

Fortunate for us, however, one has done so. Author Edward Ball, the sixth-generation-descendant of slave owners and traders near Charleston, South Carolina, combed through copious records of his family’s rice plantations on the Cooper River and produced Slaves in the Family, the 1998 National Book Award for nonfiction.

Through the lens of the author, we glimpse the world of an English rice farmer buying slaves, captured from the West Coast of Africa, to work his water-soaked fields. This all began in 1698 with Elias Ball’s inheritance of the Comingtee plantation. Years of numbing labors, from March through November, eventually produced Carolina Gold that topped the rice market for sales. The resulting profits goaded generations of Ball Masters to buy even more land and slaves until outlawed in 1865, the end of the Civil War.

This annotated narrative also reveals the precarious existence of these slaves, over four thousand of them, perceived as chattel for the fields and as sexual game for their masters. Ball’s meticulous research, including visits to their descendants scattered all over the United States, brings this queasy world to life. Numerous photographs of the Balls and their slaves, of newspaper clippings and maps, and of genealogies reveal even more than the printed words.

Edward Ball and his newly found black relatives found their lives enlarged and enriched through this courageous exchange of stories. They are more than friends.

 

 

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