Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James Baldwin, Harlem Renaissance author
In the Disney epic musical The Lion King, the main character Simba is crushed when his father dies. Then his conniving uncle Scar holds him responsible for this tragedy. Disillusioned, Simba runs away from the comforts of his home and family in Pride Rock. As he ventures into new territory, he encounters a couple of new friends. They all roam the jungle together with a ‘no worries’ strategy. Watching over Simba during this time is the wise Rafiki, who had been counsel to Simba’s father Mustafa. He guides Simba to soon face to the reality of his destiny.
One day Simba comes upon a pond while he’s out roaming with his friends. He stops and looks in the water— all of a sudden seeing his father’s reflection. The authoritative reflection says to him, “You have forgotten who you are Simba and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.”
Those ‘still waters ran deep’ into Simba’s psyche. His IPS (Internal Positioning System) recovered— now knowing he had work to do. In this time of wandering, Simba had grown from cub to lion— he was now stronger. He could deal with his uncle Scar. The moment had arrived…all events came together to send him on to the next phase of his path…back to Pride Rock. There Simba was to claim his throne and marry his childhood friend, Nala. Going back home would put him on track to complete his journey.
There are times to go back home and face… Spiritual or other type of work needs to be dealt with. And we know when we’re ready. As a Hebrew proverb tells us, “Time is a great healer.” Going back to our roots can provide such an opportunity for this effort.
My first trip to Africa in February 1996 was a seminal and healing act of my odyssey. Traveling to the ‘motherland’ was something I’d thought about for quite a while. I wanted to explore what in my ancestral place mirrored my culture here. There was the ugly past of slavery to confront and release. And see another truth in this part of who I am.
A nudging spirit put me in queue and an opportunity presented itself with a local travel agency. With an eight day itinerary to the African countries of Senegal and the Gambia, this tour was also billed as a Black History Month Celebration.
I just had to go.
As the date of departure approached, I prepared for my expedition. Yes, there were medical shots to take, diplomatic items such as visas to check off and packing lists to monitor— but this was to be a personal pilgrimage. I thought, How do I want to honor the toils, tears and triumphs of my ancestors who survived that Middle Passage so that I am here?
As I reflected on the people, memories and experiences that have weighted and framed my life structure, I made a list of articles to take on my sojourn. Pulled from my past, present and future, the choices of what and why to take “home” took form.
First came the Bible my mother gave me for Christmas in 1992. A symbol of the time-tested salvation and wisdom of God the Father in which she wrote this gift was “a guide through her daily life —with pride, love and devotion.
Second, my grandmother’s watch was going to “the motherland.” She had passed on to eternal life three years before my trip. This watch represented her timeless generational love and strength for me.
Third, I packed a piece of wood shaped like a boomerang that my then 11-year-old nephew wrapped for me one Christmas. My sister told me he’d seen it at a flea market and decided he had to buy it for me. I’ve kept this special gift billeted in my bedroom window ever since – a message of returning. While in Africa I wanted to pray for the collective embrace of our ancestors—to ask them to shield my nephew—as he faced the challenges of his future.
Last, a card from my college best friend was included. She’d been there for me with her support and faith for almost two decades. The card read, “When God closes one door, he opens another.” The association of this saying to the Door of No Return at Goree Island’s slave castle, one of tour stops I would be making on this trip, was overwhelming.
Then this journey of mine back home began. The visit to Goree Island was the highlight of my pilgrimage, seeing this place of export for thousands of Africans who descended people like me. I’m not sure this site would’ve provided the same type of healing catharsis for me if I’d gone in an earlier age of my life journey. The distance of the years to understand and process this part of my history was needed. All things do happen when the time comes forward.
There was also a familiarity in the faces and ways of the people as I moved around the countryside in Senegal and the Gambia. What I experienced wasn’t always pretty, but much like the home of my youth at times, it was mine to claim.
I’m glad I took that first trip to Africa when I did. What’s important is that the door is now wide open between the continents and I could—and did—return. I came back from that pilgrimage feeling strong, with a knowing that I would go back again. There is work left for me to do – on me and there. “Return to sender.”
Thoughtful examination and awareness of the strides we’ve made can refresh our identity. Taking the time to reflect and acknowledge our rituals is affirming.
The complexity of our lives is known, yet unknown.
Let’s trek to the many places and spaces of our true selves.
Parts excerpted from my motivational autobiography, Navigating Life’s Roadways: Stories of Insight from My Odyssey and Inspiration for Your Journey in print and Kindle eBookhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B008FQDPYE