Josina Guess grew up in Washington, D.C., and lives on a farm in Georgia with her husband, their children, and several animals. She is managing editor for The Bitter Southerner. Read more of her work at JosinaGuess.com.
Posts By This Author
‘I Do Not Know How to Unclench Rage-Tight Teeth’
When I was in labor with my third child, my older sister was bewildered by my pain. As I walked the hall of our two-story row house in southwest Philadelphia, seeking moments of comfort between birth pool and bed, couch and floor, she said to me, “But, you’ve already done this before. Why is it so hard?”
“I haven’t birthed this baby!” I cried out to her. Then I settled into a deep silence, preparing myself for the next wave, the next earth-shaking moan.
Our souls are crying out this Advent of 2020. We want to call this season the coldest, these times the most hostile, this ache unbearable.
And it is true. We are saturated with the names of the dead, no longer shocked by callous leaders or the collective amnesia that refuses responsibility for ongoing systems of oppression.
Though history and our theology will remind us that empires fall, that pandemics cease, that justice will prevail, such awareness doesn’t diminish the pain of raw grief, this collective lament. We haven’t celebrated Christmas this year; how can we even begin?
I do not know how hope still shivers through my bones. I do not know how to unclench rage-tight teeth. I do not know how to look at this war-soaked, warming planet and believe that the Author of Peace is weeping and raging with us and making straight these deeply crooked and corrupt paths.
The Damage Done
"AND THERE SAT a dark leather-bound Bible soaked in blood. A bullet had pierced its pages.”
The Bible belonged to Felicia Sanders, one of the five people to walk out of Mother Emanuel AME Church alive after a stranger who had been welcomed to a Bible study shot and killed Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
The quote is from Jennifer Berry Hawes’ new book, Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness. With measured prose and journalistic excellence, this book rounds out the forgiveness and grace that have become synonymous with the Charleston massacre by exposing the outrage, isolation, and bumpy road of grief that followed the deaths.
Why I Brought My Children to the Montgomery Legacy Museum
MY THROAT STARTED to feel tight a few days before I went to Montgomery this April. I had been planning this pilgrimage to Alabama with my teen children for months but, as the days grew closer, I questioned my body’s ability to walk into the grief that was awaiting us at the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
As a biracial African-American woman putting down roots in the rural South with my white husband and our four children, daily life can feel like an act of resistance. Every day we are faced with Confederate flags and memorials that celebrate an era and mindset that would have made our marriage and my equal ownership of our property a crime. But we love our home, the land, and our neighbors. We want, in the words of Gwendolyn Brooks, “to conduct [our] blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.”
I was determined to bring my older children to the state of my birth, to take an unflinching look at our racist past and present, and to give them courage to walk the unfinished path toward justice. But still, I found it hard to breathe.
I gardened with a single-minded ferocity in the days before our trip, pulling weeds and digging up long taproots as though I could purge the evils from our land with my bare hands. Red dirt began to lodge deep beneath my nails and in the dry creases of my fingers, my forearms bore slashes from the thorny vines that whipped me as I tore them from the earth. There were flowers, thick with the hopeful scent of spring, trying to bloom beneath the tangle of weeds. I yanked and tore in every spare minute I had, stopping only when I noticed blood pouring from a deep slice on my right forefinger.
It felt right to come with dirty, bloodied hands into those sacred spaces in Montgomery.