Listen to the spiritual that soothed the mind and heart of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was rebuked and scorned. Sit back and feel the music sung by Odetta.
I wrote this piece a year ago during the nuclear reactors crisis in Japan. Today, one day before the second anniversary of step-daughter Katherine’s death at the age of 33, I brought it out of mothballs for those who may be feeling weary.
“Don’t be weary, traveler, Come along home, come home. Don’t be weary traveler, come along home. Come home.”
“Weary Traveler” was a slave song that expresses what prose cannot say.
I am wearied by the news of homeless people in Japan. I am weary hearing of nuclear explosions and possible meltdowns. I am weary of what human ingenuity has done and is doing to the oceans, the wetlands, and the coastlands. I am weary of the things that lay beyond control. I feel helpless to help. I am preoccupied with sadness.
I fall down a flight of stairs at home carrying a flimsy box of books too heavy and too poorly packed. I’m not paying attention. Two days later I take the dogs for their morning walk and fall on the ice I did not see. I’m weary with bad news, not paying attention to my footing, not seeing the red ball sun rising over the white birch trees on the morning walk.
Like those weary travelers who had no control over their world, “my head is wet with the midnight dew,” even at sunrise. I slip on the ice. My dog licks my face, calling me back to where my body is – on the ground on a street corner two blocks from the home we share here in Minnesota.
Maggie knows nothing of what’s happening in Japan. All she knows is that she’s here, that her clumsy, preoccupied friend has fallen, that he needs some love… and that the sunrise is beautiful.
I’m a long way from the home I would like – a planetary home where tsunamis do not leave people homeless and where nuclear reactors do not explode or melt down –and I always will be. When my Japanese neighbors fall into chaos and horror, I can try to lick the faces with charitable giving and prayers but only from afar. But I cannot change what has happened.
I pray that those who sang the slave songs, the spirituals and the blues as they traveled with a great weariness may become my mentors, and that, in some way, their hopeful tones will rise from the coastal people of Japan. Our enslaved American forebears dug deep inside themselves to a richer, truer place that called them home to each other and to a dignity the world could not take away. They endured when the objective reasons for hope were in short supply. In the wake of a tsunami, they call a global generation to travel on even as we ache for each other from afar.
“Don’t be weary, traveler, Come along home, come home. Keep on goin’, traveler, Come along home, come home; Keep a singing all the way, Come along home, Come home.”
Listen to Odetta singing “I’ve been [re]buked and I’ve been scored.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give your rest.”