Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Remembering Our History: My Report from Nashville, Tennessee

me, in a beautiful indoor gardenIn continuing the Magic Mirror tradition of blogging about all the places I visit, today I bring you a report from Nashville, Tennessee, a charming southern city, home to country music, lots of hospitals and colleges with lovely old-fashioned campuses. My father, who recently embarked on a new career as a doctor, relocated there with my mom this year, as part of his new adventure. So this Christmas, I felt like a kid again, going home to her parents for the holidays. (I think no matter where your parents move to, their home is always a little bit yours.)

They took us on a grand tour of Nashville, showing us the great sights and sounds. The first thing that strikes a visitor is the niceness of strangers. Their musical words formed a language of sincerity that melted my heart. Add to that, the cozy size of the city where everything is twenty minutes away, the flowering of the culture, and those gorgeous southern trees — some of them in full bloom even now, inside lavish indoor gardens — and we all could see why my parents fell in love with the place.

There was just one thing that tainted the beauty of the sights and sounds around me, a thought persistent and troubling, that kept surfacing especially when we visited a campus built on a site of a former southern mansion, or plantation, or when we strolled along the grounds of President Andrew Jackson’s home, passing what were once endless cotton fields.

The troubling thought was a memory, though the memory didn’t belong to me: it belonged to the black ghosts of the slaves who had worked these cotton fields hundreds of years ago.

I was supposed to think about family and holiday happiness, my children and my parents, and the warmth of Christmas. And I was — I with my husband, next to a magnolia treesoaked it all up as much as I could — the fun, the love, the togetherness. But I also thought about the past.

Family and friendliness are extremely important to me. But so are freedom, tolerance, and honesty.

When the tour guide, dressed in period garb, told us in her charming southern accent, about the conveniences of life inside the Jackson mansion, where a guest could ring a bell after midnight to get a drink of water, or to be rid of a dirty chamber pot, I wondered about those invisible, nameless (to me) slaves who were responsible for these tasks, those who shared tiny rooms with twenty others, those who didn’t own their own lives.

What was it like for them? A part of me didn’t want to know.

It’s so easy to look back and think, if I lived at that time, I would never have kept slaves. I wouldn’t have stood by and watched the atrocities, I would never have built a home over someone else’s broken spine. But, I realize, things look different from up close. It’s hard to know what’s right or wrong when your view is obstructed by the things you’ve been taught, or the things you take for granted.

But that’s why it’s important to look back.

Walking by the former cotton fields, I stepped on the seeds from some trees I couldn’t identify littering the ground. The seeds cracked loudly under my boots, as I walked on, thinking about the ghosts of the south, marveling at how neatly the beautiful city hid its sins, how its dark side could co-exist with such amazing friendliness and generosity.

Of course, Nashville, Tennessee isn’t the only place dealing with ghosts. From the Holocaust, the Soviet oppression and the genocide in Armenia, to the destruction of Native American people and culture, our human history is filled with violence and shame.

Despite these heavy thoughts, I enjoyed Nashville very much. I hope my parents stay , because my father found a great professional start in the city’s all-black hospital, where he feels he is respected, even loved. Besides, I would love an excuse to return again and again. I think it’s important to let go of the shadows of the past where possible, to enjoy the beauty without dwelling on the ugliness, to forgive ourselves, our ancestors and the descendants of those who caused evil and pain. Such aimless hate and sorrow would bring nothing. It would only cripple us.

At the same time, dark as it sometimes is, we as human beings must own up to our own history. Forgive ourselves? Yes. Forgive others? Yes, whenever possible. Enjoy the beauty and the love around us? Absolutely!

As long as we remember. As long as we learn. As long as we care.

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December 28, 2012 - Posted by | Personal Mirror | , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. Lovely and thought provoking to hear your thoughts on this. It sounds as if the tour guides didn’t acknowledge slavery. Did you find that it was just not mentioned – swept under the rug?

    One of the things that impresses me so much about Germany is how the country has faced it’s own atrocities and acknowledges its ghosts. I think the US has much to learn about admitting our transgressions.

    So glad you enjoyed the south.

    Comment by joycemoyerhostetter | December 28, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you, Joyce. Yes, I did enjoy the south and can’t wait to go back.
      There are the slaves’ cabins outside the mansion, which have some photos and info. But no, the tour guide did exactly what you say, swept the issue under the rug, and yeah, that must have been what bothered and affected me so. That is really good to hear, about the brave culture of acknowledgement in Germany you have observed.

      Comment by Katia Raina | December 28, 2012 | Reply

  2. We took out family to Williamsburg last spring, and were very impressed with how they dealt with/addresses slavery (which they did not so when we visited when I was a child). I hope more places begin to do so as well.

    Comment by Ashley Pease | December 28, 2012 | Reply

    • That’s good to know, Ashley. You’re making me want to drop by there sometime 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | December 28, 2012 | Reply

  3. Beautiful writing Katia. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Comment by Maureen | December 29, 2012 | Reply

    • Thank you for reading, Maureen.

      Comment by Katia Raina | December 29, 2012 | Reply

  4. When I travel, depending on where I am and how much I know, I picture what happened in the past. I could be in the most beautiful of places, but they’ve been touched by tragedies and wrongdoings.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | December 30, 2012 | Reply

    • And sometimes, it’s like the more beautiful the places are, the sadder it makes you…

      Comment by Katia Raina | December 30, 2012 | Reply


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