In Oklahoma, the Trail of Tears seems so recent, so close, that you can almost see the dust on walk-weary feet.
Our history books share the dates and explain the political reasoning but more powerful are the stories the grandparents tell, stories of how their aunts and uncles and cousins left tribal homes in the East and walked 1,200 miles to what was then Indian Territory.
They talk of sores, of typhus and cholera, of starvation, of homesickness and of death after death after death. Historians estimate the Cherokees alone lost 4,000 – more than 25 percent of the tribe – during the forced removals.
It’s no wonder the trail became known for its tears.
But those stories passed down from Cherokee generation to Cherokee generation? They also tell of a legend of love, one that starts where the Trail of Tears ended.
As the story goes, God saw the suffering of the Cherokees and took note of each painful drop of blood and each heartbroken tear. And every time one fell, he took sandy crystals of barite and arranged them to look like a rose – a rose rock that blooms forever.
Nowhere else in the world is there a larger collection of these rose rocks than near Noble, Okla., what was once the heart of Indian Territory. They are still easily found in ditches and fields. Some are the size of your smallest fingernail while others are larger than your palm or have clusters of blooms, clusters of troubles.
When I search the red soil for them, they seem so fresh, so close to the surface. It’s as if the legend continues, as if God never stopped marking and transforming the pain of his children – as if my tears over hurt feelings and your tears over past due bills and a sick loved one have been counted and captured, too.
I keep a small bowl full of rose rocks by my desk, a constant reminder of a constant God. They help me see that my God isn’t some floating deity watching me from high above, but a God who walks with me step by step on my journey and turns my struggles into strength.
Those red-brown petals are symbols for me, a visual lesson of God’s attentiveness. And when I grow weary or feel forgotten I try to remember that already the beautiful barite crystals are forming. Already God and his love are present.