Freeman, one of the best books I’ve read all year, was written by Leonard Pitts, a well-known Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist whose column appears regularly in The Miami Herald.
Freeman moved me across the entire spectrum of my emotional makeup. I laughed and cried, shook with anger and rage, felt sympathy and disdain for various depictions of humanity, mourned and celebrated the losses and gains of the characters, enjoyed their peccadilloes and dismissed their larger defects and generally enjoyed this epic story of love, race and class.
Freeman is, first of all, a love story. It raises and answers the question: For whom would you walk a thousand miles for love? It is, secondly, a story of race relations immediately after the Civil War.
Of equal importance, Pitts examines relationships between women and men of both races, between white (and black) slave owners and the slaves, between Southerners and Northerners, and examines the things that keep us divided and the things that bring us together.
Pitts reveres the aged. He ascribes to them a certain wisdom derived from just being survivors.
All in all, I highly recommend that this book be read now, and quickly discussed, against the backdrop of the presidential campaign.
Why? Because the notion that we can love anyone enough to walk a thousand miles for love is at the very heart of the great debates that are going on right now.
We don’t love one another. At least, that’s what Michael Moore, producer of several documentaries about violence and other issues in America, says in support of his theory that explains why so many Americans have weapons of mass murder and are so willing to use them against their brothers (over and over again).
Moore suggests that, when we examine the origins of the country and the amount of genocide that the forefathers committed in order to make “a more perfect union,” the amount of killing on the battlefields of the war theater to prevent the secession of the South and the subsequent blood-letting which accompanied the emancipation of the slaves, it is no wonder that we are, as Moore describes it, armed to the teeth.
This propensity toward and history of violence, along with the massing of guns, is part of the very DNA of the fundamental rights that now govern the country.
And here is Leonard Pitts talking about love — the kind of love that will motivate a person to walk a thousand miles to reconnect with a spouse, with a child, with a former self awash in renewed dignity.
This is the kind of love that is missing when we listen to the campaign debates about access to affordable health care, caring for seniors, basic education for the masses, jobs with dignity and fair wages, safe and adequate shelter for families, safe and affordable food, and so on.
It is love that is missing when we prepare to send our sons and daughters to foreign lands to fight and to defend the integrity of —what? Our shores? Our idea of democracy? Our oil investments? What?
It is a missing love when we feel contentment about having “ours” and telling our beloved to go get “theirs.”
Pitts does not instruct us on all these issues but he does raise the question about how far we are willing to go — in the case of Freeman, literally how far we will travel. Metaphorically, he also questions what distances we would travel across ideologies, across political boundaries, across the minefield of gender equality, leaping over class, caste and culture to embrace the other, across the landscape of our closed minds.
I won’t give the story away — it is a page-turner — but Pitts is a genius in how he teases out larger concepts of what love looks like in the face of man’s inhumanity to man — during one of the worst recorded wars in history and its aftermath.
I wonder what the presidential debates would sound like if both Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic incumbent Barack Obama read this book before they face off with plans to fix what ails the country.
I wonder how many miles either would “walk” to rescue the economy and deal with health care, jobs and wages at home, the very soul of the people.
And what if they were only motivated by love?
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.