After 36 hours of plane and car rides I have finally arrived in Grahamstown, South Africa!
Yes, 36 hours of travel is the physical and mental bear that you might imagine. However, a day and a half of travel can reveal what it means to be held and carried by grace. Such a notion of grace, for me, is the cosmic stuff of God—the Mother Hen energy of God that protects and keeps us safe; and, grace is the deep thankfulness and anticipation I have for the journey in which I am embarking. I am physically and mentally exhausted; yet, the spiritual sustenance of God’s love and my own joy for what lies ahead has kept me whole. It has been my peace lying down, and my spritely rising up.
The morning of my departure, July 29th, began with my sister Dominique waking me up to give me a parting gift. Her gift to me was a black, wooden jewelry box that she made herself. On the outside of the jewelry box she painted a façade of Africa, and a peace sign atop a heart. And on the inside were all of the colors of the rainbow. For me this symbolized that that which has materialized, this relational mission to Africa, is the relational manifestation and essence of my own identity. In other words, the very calling I feel to engage in relational evangelism, mission work—whatever you prefer to call it—is fed by my socio-spiritual identification as a queer man. For, queerness is the coming together of many things into one. For me, her gift is a sacrament. It is a revelation that points to how what is on the inside comes to bear that which is seen on the outside.
Then, it was off to the airport. And anyone who knows my mother, Julia, and my father, Paul, can probably imagine the scene at our good-bye. Julia was bawling and Paul was as cool as a cucumber, holding his face in an ever certain smirk of approval. I can’t imagine, even for a second, what it must mean to send your child away without the potential for immediate access; so, holding my eagerness in tension with my mother’s apprehension was difficult. Yet, my father’s evenness was so important in that moment, and allowed for both my mother and I to live into our opposing anxieties. There was a moment in the airport when the guttural reaction of each of us was held in solidarity and legitimacy, even though they were different, even opposite, perhaps. It was in that moment that we stood in love. Love is the intentional binding of tensions into a single harmony. Sure, I wanted my parents to smile and laugh me off with a hug, a kiss, and a wave. And sure, my mom wanted to pack my bags to ensure I had everything and then run down the checklist again before I left her sight. And sure, my dad wanted us to both to get it together. But, none of our perfect realities were going to unfold as we’d hoped. So, for a single moment we let each other be. We went down into ourselves and came up in each other’s arms. Some might say, “we let go, and we let God.”
My first flight was from Raleigh to Washington D.C. where I would have a six hour layover. I was content with the layover. I just popped on my earphones and proceeded to hold on to my love for North Carolina through J. Cole’s “Born Sinner,” and thoughts of my childhood best friends, Kelly and Kerwin, through John Mayer’s “Born and Raised,” and Asher Roth’s “Pabst and Jazz.” And then I received a phone call from my oldest sister, Michelle. As always, she was calling to make sure I was okay. If I was going to hear one last voice before I left I wanted it to be hers. She was there from the beginning of my application process to join the Young Adult Service Corps, and the first stage of this process came full circle with her call.
After Michelle and I hung up I looked up. And what did I see? I saw a Morehouse Man staring back at me. Yes, folks. A classmate from college was sitting at the same gate waiting for the very same flight to South Africa! And I saw him not too soon after my college President had wished me safe travels on Facebook. Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr. instilled in all of us at Morehouse the importance of being well-traveled, and the high potential that we’d meet another brother along the way. We knew each others presence, but not each others names. And for some reason names didn’t matter at the moment. We pointed at each other, and commenced conversation over a bottle of wine in a restaurant in Dulles. He is from South Africa, and was able to tell me of the people, the richness of the many cultures here, and some thing’s I might enjoy. We praised God together, for bringing us together so unexpectedly. And having flown between the States and South Africa so many times, I recognize him as an angel of sorts—a person that God sends to us in unfamiliar spaces and times to ground us in a sense of calm.
And it was off to South Africa…
To be given a gift that symbolizes how my identity is becoming one with my calling, to have such disjointed emotional reactions to separating from family held in a harmonious expression of love, for my last phone call to be the first one I made when deciding whether or not I wanted to travel abroad to live with God’s people elsewhere, and to unexpectedly board a flight with a Morehouse brother moments after speaking to the man that told his students we’d find each other all over the world, is like the concentric circles that Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of. Indeed, the most elemental truths of life, from the homeostatic character of nature and our bodies, to the unfolding of a persons story over time come meet in a full-orbed song of balance, they come full circle; we are constantly creating a narrative for ourselves with characters and storylines that occur to us as brand new, yet it is the expression of the eternal in time. And in the moment of creation or decision making—embracing ones self fully, applying to Morehouse College, becoming a Missionary for the Episcopal Church—what we create or decide upon may seem like an isolated decision or creation; yet, what I’ve come to realize is that I am both living out a story I write day-by-day, and a story that has been written in the stars. The coming together of so many narratives that seem unrelated—stories of self-love, career, familial love, and fraternity—is an epiphany that places great praise on my tongue. For, these concentric circles of my life’s narrative is like the pulsating and vibrating of the Universe. And to be entrusted with that sort of energy speaks a word of humility and responsibility into my heart of hearts, and reveals to me the degree to which I must be open to receiving the great deal of wisdom and love that the people here in Grahamstown have to give; it is fodder for a greater story. And fixed at the core of my soul is a sense of awe at the unexpected continuity of life when it is lived fully and for the love of God!
There is more to come...in the name of God!