If you haven’t heard about “12 Years A Slave”, then I’m assuming you live under a big boulder. Since you read blogs, you don’t live under a big boulder. I will do my best in this post not to spoil the movie and focus on the one theme that resonated with me. Survive or live.
I only know about slavery through books, firsthand slave narratives and theatrical attempts to capture the story. In all honesty, I don’t think my imagination or Hollywood can do it any justice; no matter what I picture, I’m 150% certain it was 100 times worse than any of us could ever think. With that in mind, my thoughts about slavery still make me nauseous and upset. I watched “12 Years A Slave” thinking it would be like other slave movies, but I found it extremely difficult to watch and after 15 minutes I knew I would never watch it again.
I couldn’t put my finger on what was so different about this movie at first. The violence and injustice was equal to other movies I’ve seen recounting slavery. Say what you will, gratuitous violence in film really doesn’t affect me to an extent so I knew it had to be more than that. Solomon Northrup was a real person, but I’ve read plenty stories about real people in his situation. Then it dawned on me: Solomon Northrup and I, more than 150 years removed, have the same life experience. No, I have not been beaten with a whip, kidnapped, or traded as cattle. Yet, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness felt by all the characters resonated with me.
Explaining what it’s like to be living in a country where asserting yourself and protecting yourself are frowned upon is a null and void conversation. Just like the advice Solomon was given by another slave, I’ve been told also just to survive. I mean, that’s what I’m here for…shuffle along and invisibly survive. It makes everyone else comfortable. Survival is a stupid way to live your life though. To survive is simply just to remain in existence or to appear unaffected while going through a difficult period. That is stupid. Survival does not lead to a meaningful life. Accepting that all you need to do is survive will not push you to get a better job, healthy relationships, stable family and all the other things we value in our culture. Those things require you to assert yourself…have some fight in you. Maintaining and achieving those things requires all of your energy and resources. Unfortunate that our society doesn’t tell you these things well because…we’re just surviving. Solomon had fight in him; he wanted to live. Each time he was beaten down, it hurt to watch. He wanted to live though.
When you have a strong desire to live, it is necessary to do things and be someone beyond the status quo. You have to be willing to take risks, speak your truth, and don’t quit when there’s a setback. Fear must be abandoned. It is so easy to say, I know. Living it will change your life.
I live. I persist. I prevail.