Every shut eye ain’t sleep. Every good bye ain’t gone. Every person is fundamentally a trinity of flesh, blood and bone. Every person’s life is also an expression of their past, present and future selves in effect we are all our stories. We are all stories told anew. We are stories that we once dared not tell but grace allowed us to find the courage to tell them.
In physical terms bones are the foundations for our bodies. In spiritual terms bones throughout diverse cultures are sacred signifiers representing powerful possibilities of regeneration. Bones speak to the stories of what was once, what is now and what will be in the future. Interpreting what the bones say and the stories they carry can be seen as a type of ritualized spiritual archaeology. Those who do this work are performing acts of spiritual healing. They are able to link the ever present not easily seen to the not yet acknowledged worlds we all inhabit.
The rituals that connect the living to their ancestors are important features of all African cultures. It is a fact that our bones are capable of existing far longer than the flesh that once covered them. Perhaps, it is the knowledge of this reality that has the ability to imbue bones with equal parts fear and fascination. Things that linger also have the ability to haunt us. Things unresolved haunt are psyches. Stories that access this part of our souls are impactful. Ghost stories that give form to this part of our being have been the subjects of movies, novels and plays. The plays of August Wilson and African American folk tales employ the trope of the ghost story.
In some way’s bones represent a truth that we all eventually will be stripped of all the things we once gave such importance. Bones and stories present us with opportunities to confront our naked selves.
Black men are visible in this society. Their talents are exploited. Black men’s ability to excel in spite of racism are held up as examples of persistence to emulate. When Black men fall short they are criticized. However, the pain of being a Black man often goes unacknowledged by themselves and their peers. This is a truth that haunts them. Ghosts do indeed walk among us. When we don’t tell our stories, it haunts us instead of healing us. Plays are stories performed before audiences of the willing seekers. Theaters become spaces where it is safe to animate the bones of our collective past. Black men and their stories need to be told. Healing occurs when this is done.
A native of West Chester, Penny L. Washington has studied many aspects of local African American history and published her findings in the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society’s History Quarterly. She has served as a historical consultant for People’s Light world premieres including Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland and Mud Row. Ms. Washington also serves on the Board of Directors of the Radnor Township Civic Association.