Profiles in teenage courage

"Harriet Tubman" by Jane DeDecker

“Harriet Tubman” by Jane DeDecker

Could I have been so brave? That’s the question I found myself asking yesterday as my travels took me to the Clinton Presidential Library, to sculptures like this one of Civil War abolitionist Harriet Tubman along the Little Rock riverfront, and finally to Little Rock Central High School.

In 1957, nine black teenagers, dubbed “The Little Rock Nine,” stood up – stood against – segregation to attend previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. The naivete they operated under on the first day they showed up for classes was soon erased as the angry crowds that met them each morning became increasingly hostile and the National Guard troops present in the first days were replaced by ill-prepared and frightened city police.

Yet they continued to brave the gauntlet, never faltering, never letting anyone see them cry. They feared for their lives and yet they continued to show up. Only when President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Army with bayonets fixed did those teenagers begin to feel safe again. And even then, their fight was far from over.

The Old Testament of the Bible includes the book of “Esther,” which is the story of a Jewish girl who becomes queen to a powerful king. While she is queen, the king is convinced to give the order to kill all the Jews. Esther’s uncle tells her she must go to the king and convince him not to carry out the order. But Esther fears for her life. If she goes to the king when he hasn’t called her, she could be killed. (Harsh, yes, but that was the law.)

Esther’s uncle says to her: “if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 New International Version)

The bravery of these black teenagers in 1957 astounds me. Times were such that if they had chosen not to walk the gauntlet in Little Rock, it is likely that someone else would have eventually done it – just as Esther’s uncle advised her. But also like Esther, the Little Rock Nine were there at a time and a place in our history when they could step up and make a difference. They looked hatred in the face, and they kept moving forward.

Children if you are tired, keep going.
If you’re hungry, keep going.
If you’re scared, keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
— Harriet Tubman


A high-class problem

The Hare - Crystal Bridges Museum

The Hare – Crystal Bridges Museum

If you could choose to do anything, what would you do? That’s a question life coaches ask to encourage their clients to explore where their passion really lies. What would make them the most happy/satisfied/fulfilled. It’s not an easy question to answer.

In a limited way, I’m exploring that question this month as I take a week to drive from Iowa to Utah for a writing retreat. Though I’ve often traveled alone on business, I’ve never made such a long driving trip on my own. I found the prospect hugely exciting and also challenging.  Every step of the way, I would decide – what, when, where, how. In other words, I have to know myself.

Rather than take the direct route west, I elected to head south for Arkansas – the only state I’d never had occasion to visit.  Now that I’m here, I have to say, I don’t know what took me so long. The land is beautiful, the people friendly, there are far more things to see and do than I can accomplish in the two days I’ve allotted.

Yesterday morning I spent wandering the trails of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, enjoying both natural and man-made art, relaxing on stone benches where I could appreciate both a bronze bear and spring temperatures that promised flowers soon, wandering off the paved trails to follow meandering trails with flagstones banked to test the skill of bikers and to make me think I was walking the Yellow Brick Road. When I finally wandered inside the museum, I found a wonderful collection that I spent only an hour or so exploring. Not nearly enough time, but after soaking in so much beauty outdoors, I found myself less interested in what hung inside.

I went back outside to my car to think about this while I ate lunch. As I ate, I unfolded a map over my steering wheel, dug out a variety of flyers from the welcome center, and considered my options. Return to the museum refreshed by lunch? Go back into history and visit the  Pea Ridge Civil War National Park? Search out the artist conclave at Eureka Springs? I could do anything. But, what?

At that moment, a man returned to his truck parked next to my car. When he got in, he opened his windows just as I had. It was a beautiful day. He looked over and asked, “Would you happen to be lost?”

“Oh, no,” I answered. “I’m just thinking about where I may go next.”

He laughed. “That’s a high class problem to have!”

“Yes,” I responded. “I guess it is.”