Traveling by air comes with the discomfort of experiencing turbulence. Because of the discomfort of turbulence, a friend of mine typically breaks a rather long journey into two. I know what the point is, but I am not exactly sure if she gets less turbulence from breaking long journeys into two. I suspect that her ability to feel her feet on the ground is more comforting for her than the thought of being in an airplane for long hours.
There’s never been a time when I did not feel any turbulence during a flight, but the scariest was on a flight on United from Ghana to Washington D.C., a few years ago. It began right after we entered the United States airspace. The feeling of dread was indescribable. I sat by a lady who held on so tight to her seat. It was as if the seat provided some guarantee of safety. It did not. But the thought of knowing that holding on tightly to her seat was enough to assuage her discomfort was more than enough.
I am sure you have also had a similar reaction during turbulence on a flight. But as scary as it may have been, you survived it - but not because you held on tightly to your seat or you did something special during the turbulence.
Remember, the seat on the airplane, by itself, cannot save you. And when you board an airplane, you commit your entire life to the decision of a person - one with whom you have no control over what they do. Your only prayer is that they are a rigorously trained, responsible, ethical, and compassionate person who values life as much as you do, who values their life as much as you value yours, and who values others' lives as much as you desire to value the lives of others.
If you have survived turbulence in an airplane, it was because it lasted but for a moment.
Today begins for us, our annual Black History Month. It is a month where we honor African Americans and the significant contributions that they have made over the centuries and continue to make to build the America we all call home.
I consider myself - especially being an immigrant - so blessed to call this country my home. I make this call because others built this great nation from the bottom. From virgin forests, swamps, beautiful shores, and serene rivers, this country was transformed from a land of untapped potential to one of the greatest on earth.
While others were compensated for their part in building this nation, African Americans who helped build this nation weren’t compensated.
Despite the turbulence of slavery - human beings being bought and sold, separation of families as a result of human ownership of another, hard work on plantations, whippings, amputations, and even killings - the turbulent culture of yesteryear proved to be like the turbulence we experience during a flight. They last, but only for a while.
“Weeping may last but for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” So says the psalmist who assures all those who are experiencing turbulence in their lives. It seems to me that this may have been one of the reassuring words with which African Americans consoled themselves during the turbulent period of Slavery, Jim Crow, and all forms of dehumanization that they suffered in the past, and still suffer today.
When I think about Black History Month, I think about celebration, but three things also come to mind. First, honoring the turbulence of the past. Second, minimizing the turbulence of today and tomorrow. Third, celebrating our new turbulence.
When we honor the turbulence of the past, we are not in any way glorifying the past just so some may feel good and others may feel bad. When we honor the past, we accept the truths of the past - as unsavory as they may be. When we honor the past, we accept a unique responsibility to create a better world. When we honor the past, we choose to come to terms with the extent to which human depravity can lead us.
Second, it is precisely because of the extent to which human depravity can take us that we choose to work on ourselves and each other so that we can minimize the turbulence of tomorrow. This idea recognizes the fact that we cannot eliminate evil, but we can empower each with the message of the good news that overcomes evil, we can celebrate human dignity in a way it counters all forms of dehumanization, and we can lift people to the point where they only see the glory that is made possible by the gift of being human, we can honor each other in a way that affirms the idea that we see ourselves in them and them in us, and we can joyfully embrace each other in a way that lights up our world like the sight of a rainbow.
Third, to celebrate a new turbulence that isn't constrained by the old, but it's free and boundless in its recognition of the beauty of life itself.
I am reminded of a poem - The Rainbow by William Wordsworth. The poem is also titled My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So it is now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old.
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety
William was a Romantic poet who describes the joy at the sight of a rainbow. The poem is about nature and the beauty therein. Nature, in his view, is the true embodiment of God, and if his wish was never to lose touch with nature, even in his old age, then what he meant was to never lose touch with the God who brightens our lives with the sight of a rainbow.
Are you the new rainbow? Do others light up with joy when they see you?
What do I see when I see you? For me, I see a rainbow. I see glory. I see God in you. I see beauty. I see nature at its finest. I see everything that can be made right with the world. I see love made possible. I see the living purposes of God. I see calm after the turbulence. And I don’t want to lose touch with all that.
But if only we can see each other the way I see you. Not only would we be bound each to each by natural piety, as Wordsworth would say, but we would be bound by a common language that assures us of a future where the old familiar turbulence wouldn’t determine our narrative.
Our new turbulence would be one of celebration.