Last night at dinner our daughter was describing a class she is taking. I don’t know the title, but the content deals with Frederick Douglass and slavery in America. She really loves her teacher who is a Ph.D candidate and very animated about this subject. Her homework this weekend involves slave chronicles. The conversation was interesting and stirred again within me the memories of one the best books I ever read.
Roots by Alex Haley was one of the best books I ever read. I have some idea why it appeals to me, but with the exception of Seven Storey Mountain it is one of a select few that have touched me deeply. As I related the story of Alex Haley and Roots at dinner I had to stop a number of times to steady my voice and composure.
I identified with the story of Roots on many levels and even more with the story of Alex Haley finding his ancestors and his own quest. His quest made me want to search for my own. There is much we never know about our ancestors. Looking at our children I can see my family and my wife’s family in them, but their are times when I wonder about myself and some of that which animates me. Where does it come from? Thich Nhat Hanh talks about seeds and how people never really die. He talks about how our ancestors live on within us and how we and all our ancestors live within our children.
I’m deeply grateful to Alex Haley and the story of his family. When Alex died in 1992 I sent a letter to his family in Henning, Tennessee expressing my deep regard for him, their story and his writing. Several months later I received a letter thanking me for mine from the family of Alex Haley. I kept it for a long time, it got lost in the last fifteen years, but the exchange is a memory that will be with me forever.