“It was late fall, sometime between 1834 and 1836, when Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer at another fleeing slave. Tubman had been hired out as a field hand to a neighboring farmer, and one evening she was called to accompany the plantation cook to the local dry goods store to purchase items for the kitchen.
When they arrived at the store, Tubman attempted to block the path of the overseer who was in pursuit of a defiant slave boy. The overseer picked up a weight from the store counter and threw it, intending to fell the fleeing young man, but it struck Tubman with such crushing force that it fractured her skull and drove fragments of her shawl into her head. Near-death, she was forced to return to work in the fields.
Seventy years later Tubman told a friend, Emma Telford, “I went to work again and there I worked with the blood and sweat rolling down my face till I couldn’t see.” She was quickly sent back to Brodess [her owner], who attempted to sell her, but no buyer was interested in purchasing a sick and wounded slave.
“They said they wouldn’t give a sixpence for me,” Tubman later told Sarah Bradford, another friend and early biographer. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures, and periods of semi-consciousness, probably Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, which plagued her for the rest of her life.
This injury caused her great pain and suffering. The head injury also coincided with an explosion of religious enthusiasm and vivid visions, which eventually took on an important role in Tubman’s life. This intense spirituality, punctuated by potent dreams that she claimed foretold the future, influenced not only her own courses of action but also the way other people viewed her. Tubman’s religiosity was a deeply personal spiritual experience, unquestionably rooted in powerful evangelical teachings, but also reinforced and nurtured through strong African cultural traditions.”
“All of our organs of perception, be they our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, are “wounds” or healed openings in the body. The development of the subtle spiritual senses requires “wounding” as well. This is the point of formal rites of initiation in tribal cultures, and this is the point of the ongoing initiation experiences in our lives.
Recovering from the traumas that crack our minds open and expose us to searing pain, sometimes every day, requires a durable and intimate relationship with Something Greater than pain.
Relationship to Spirit gains urgency when we are faced with the daily challenge of surviving our lives. People who have suffered greatly, those so often deemed not worth a sixpence by our materialistic, paternalistic, white supremacist society, are among our prospective ancestors of Spirit.
Thomas Garrett, a famous Underground Railroad agent, wrote of Tubman that he “never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.”
That confidence in God was honed through years of having nothing else to hang on to. You don’t just miraculously develop the ability to “see” the pathways of escape ahead without experiencing Spirit as a daily necessity long before.
You don’t develop an unshakable trust in the voice of God without repeatedly experiencing the value of the relationship for physical survival. And you don’t start leading others out of bondage without finding your way along the moonlit pathways of liberation from fear within yourself first.
The heights to which Harriet Tubman rose suggest the depths of pain and despair into which she was plunged by the overseer consciousness that still rules our world
Whenever I meet someone whose life has been marked by grave difficulty, I am aware of standing in the presence of an ambitious soul. A soul ambitious not only for the things of this world but for the things of Spirit as well.”