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It was a normal afternoon. I was curled up with home-work, reading Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. He was stirring up rebellion. He was channeling his anger. He was crying out, “Where oh where, my brothers, is yo’ pride?” He wanted his black brothers to see themselves as men.

When a white man he lift a hand against one of us’ns we must not laugh but rage and weep! ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion!

And just like that, in all the mystery of word, image, and memory, I was transported back… to one of the very earliest recollections of my childhood.

My father is cradling me, as a two or three year old child, standing at the top of a flight of stairs. I’m crying–that low sob of an infant that’s been hurt. And he’s slowly rocking me–he’s singing over me… those lines, deep, slow, and haunting… [Listen: here]

By the waters,
The waters,
Of Babylon.

We lay down and wept,
And wept,
For thee Zion.

We remember,
Thee remember,
Thee remember,
Thee Zion.

Babylon. Zion. I didn’t understand what the song meant. I didn’t know who was crying. I remember that I knew I didn’t know. But I could feel their pain–and know that somewhere–in some Time–people had wept (as I was weeping)–and in foreign lands had longed for Home. The waters, the waters had something to do with their weeping.

And as I listened to my father sing their woe, and my young mind lost itself in trying to comprehend their sorrow, I remember my own crying slowly lull, shush, and cease. And maybe I slept.

We remember… we remember… we remember, Thee Zion.