Open Letter to Harriet Tubman
In Celebration of Black History Month
It sounds trite and over-dramatic, but it’s true. It’s a truth that needs to be spoken, held up to the light and celebrated. And that simple truth is this: The world owes you a debt of gratitude. Not only for the many lives you saved and the profound ripple effect of those spared lives. Not only for your uncommon bravery and courage. Not only for the role you played in ending slavery in the United States, one painful step at a time. Not only for the women who benefitted from your tireless work as a suffragist. But for the example you set just by being you. You set the bar high with your selfless devotion to doing the right thing no matter the costs. This is an attribute that is in short supply today.
It’s my fervent hope that in remembering you, in celebrating your life, we remind ourselves of the strength we all carry but too often shy away from, taking the path of least resistance instead. We remind ourselves that greatness was never achieved by taking the path of least resistance. We remind ourselves that we enjoy certain rights, benefits and privileges (in this lifestyle that we have come to take for granted) because others sacrificed on our behalf – and that we owe it to future generations to pay that sacrifice forward. Perhaps not in such bold landscape-changing sweeps as you achieved, but even in the little things. It’s my hope that in remembering you, it inspires us to be the absolute best version of ourselves. That we owe at least that much.
I confess that once in a while I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself – all the breaks I never had, the challenge of growing up with ‘nothing’. But then, I look to your example, the character you model for us, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed by my own self-indulgence. My life is rich and abundant by comparison and my hardships so trivial and pitiful as to be laughable. I pride myself on stepping up to do the right thing, on protecting the underdog, on fighting for ‘justice’, but my risk is petty and inconsequential when held up against yours. I was at a conference recently where Rachel Hollis suggested we pick a historical figure to talk to about our problems. I chose you. It was amusing how quickly it put things in perspective. How preposterous to be complaining about my daily tribulations and holding them out to you, who put yourself in peril for others, who lost so much, who was given so little, but still embraced the sanctity of life.
So, for what it’s worth, please accept my humble thanks. Thanks for everything I enjoy because of you. For pushing me to be better, stronger, more. For reminding me that adversity is an opportunity to rise up to become our best self. For resetting my calibration to ensure that everything you fought for was not in vain – that others will follow in your footsteps to be guardians of what is good, sacred and just in our humanity.