Like many Americans, I woke up this morning trying to digest just what THE HELL HAPPENED LAST NIGHT! This discussion will most likely continue for the coming months and years, and far wiser people than I will be able to dissect it. There are lessons to be learned and lessons that will be forgotten. This is the way of history.
There is one lesson from history that needs to be shared today. It is a lesson of devastating destruction and unconquerable hope.
My roots grow deep in the South and I am proud of them. I had family in Atlanta when Sherman’s army burnt the city to the ground in November 1864 during his infamous March to the Sea. In his journal, Sherman wrote, “Behind us lay Atlanta, smoldering (sic) and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.” Atlanta was ruined. It began as a railway terminus known as Marthasville, and one of Sherman’s tactics was the destruction of all the railway lines that connected to it. Its infrastructure had been obliterated, its homes demolished, and all its hopes and dreams were, forgive me here, gone with the wind.
Perhaps there are people today who feel like everything they built and loved has been burnt to the ground by an invading conqueror. There are certainly many Republicans who strongly believe that Donald Trump has literally destroyed their party. He probably has. It is no longer the party of Reagan or either of the Bushes. Its embrace of radical racism in the pursuit of power has forever tainted its name. Reince Priebus issued a call for Republicans to come home. Sadly, Trump has burned our home to the ground. There is no place for us to go.
However, while Sherman may have conquered the city, he didn’t conquer its people. They remained in their ruined city and began the long, arduous process of rebuilding. The city fathers chose as the symbol for their new city the bird known as the phoenix from Greek mythology. According to Wikipedia “The phoenix dies in a show of flames and combustion…” It then “obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.”
Atlanta went on to become, in less than 100 years, the premier city of the South. It built a world-class airport that is today the busiest airport in the country, if not the world. The old joke was, that if you wanted to fly anywhere, you had to change planes in Atlanta. Known as “the city too busy to hate” Atlanta was also the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and many legendary civil rights leaders.
Most importantly, Atlanta learned how to forgive. During the 1881 International Cotton Exposition, one of the visitors was none other than General William T. Sherman, who was reported to be impressed by what he saw. No doubt there were probably a few jokes made about being careful with matches during his stay.
This may be the lesson we need to learn from this election. That we can forgive. That we can rebuild. That we can make it better than before. That out of the ashes, something new and marvelous can arise.