“She spoke of the great powers of courage and love and forgiveness. “You can choose how you think,” she said, “and you can choose how you speak, and how you treat people. All of us have a good heart, and all of us have an evil heart, and you must choose which heart you will feed.”
“If you feed your good heart with love and forgiveness, with song and laughter, with suffering and hope,” she said, “it will be enough, and will grow larger and stronger than your evil heart, and it will stay peaceful within you.”
She was born just before 1800, when the United States was still very young. Her second son, born behind the house where his mother was enslaved, came to adulthood as the Civil War erupted.
Civil War. Civil. War. It wasn’t civil, of course, but it was war – over 620,000 Americans died.
Americans fought and killed each other. Divisions ran deep, emotions ran high, politics ran at least a few of the newspapers, and religion ran both ways.
That’s the world that Robert Smalls was born into.
And it looks familiar.
We don’t know very much about his mother, Lydia. But I know enough about the kind of man he became, and the kind of life he lived, to know that somewhere along the way he learned that he had to make choices about the sort of person he wanted to be.
Maybe Lydia taught him how to hang on to goodness and hope in those dark days. Maybe she said something to him about choosing words and actions with care. Maybe she taught him how to feed his good heart, even in bad times.
I don’t know. But I do know that now, in 2018, divisions run deep and emotions run high, and what we say and what we do matters. We can’t know how far the ripples will run, or what their impact may be. But our words and our actions matter. Because people matter. All people.
We get to choose. Today, I want to choose courage and hope and forgiveness and song and laughter. And love. Lots of love.
People, feed your good heart.