For over ten years, my seminary friend and colleague had been inviting me to visit her and her beloveds in Prague. I continued committing myself to the journey and flying to the Czech Republic. But everytime I would get ready to buy a plane ticket, something catastrophic happened. Plans fell through more quickly than they could manifest. I knew there was something special for me in Prague and that the time would manifest when appropriate.
As life should have it, I was wrongly accused and incarcerated several times over the last few years. While incarcerated, I had plenty of time to be still. To sit. To listen. To discern. To dream. During one period of incarceration, my cell mates and I talked about what was possible in our futures. We laid there, in the stillness of the night, imagining what Prague would be like. We engaged and embarked on a journey in our minds taking us from the countryside to the city. “One day soon, I’m going to Prague,” I told my cell mates. My dear friend, Uche, made me promise her that no matter what, I’d go to Prague. In the stillness, the dream was confirmed in my heart.
Less than six months after laying there in the stillness of the night in the Baltimore County Detention Center jail, Uche took her last breath. In our last conversation, we held each other’s gaze, in stillness, just looking into each other’s souls. Neither of us knew it would be our last time seeing other in the flesh. But in that quiet, still moment, Uche gave me something of herself: her spirit. And that spirit lives on with me today.
As life should have it, I made it to Prague this year. My partner and I traveled from our home in Delaware to New York’s JFK Airport. I departed on Super Bowl 2020, on a gloomy, rainy evening from JFK headed on a non-stop Norweigan Flight to Paris. Once arriving in Paris, I’d take my time crossing Europe via train then land in Praha. I was so excited for the journey ahead. In the still and quiet moments, I would open my Collected Essays by James Baldwin. Inside, a picture of Uche and her eldest child. “Uche,” I whispered, “we made it.” On the train, I closed my eyes, pulled my book closer, and exhaled.
I was not prepared for what would happen next.
The week of Mardi Gras, I found myself excited at all of the opportunities to be in community. My friends and host were taking me to a large festival. I had discovered local treasures and traditions and was developing a network of friends and comrades. Two days before we went to the Masopust (mask festival), I began searching in the Lekarna (apothecary/pharmacy) for throat drops. I was beginning to get a little tired and noticed a strange tickle in the back of my throat. Nothing. They did not have any. I shrugged my shoulders and carried on.
That evening, my friends and I had a marvelous time at the festival. It is imprinted in my memory forever. However, when we began our trek through the countryside back to the car, I knew something was wrong. I felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks. My throat was raw. My nose began to run. My body was sore. I was getting sick.
Over the next few hours, the pain intensified, I could not hold food down, and I was afraid. My friends and I wondered, “Did I have Covid?” Unsure and scared, we made our way to the hospital in Praha 5. They were not accommodating for my English and I was uncertain about this system. They took test, sent me home with medicine, and I laid there recovering, for almost two weeks… still.
In the stillness, I could feel the weight of the world around me. It was the day after the 14th of February. Outbreaks of coronavirus were surging in Asia and beginning to make their way to Paris. Not Paris! My love and I had planned a beautiful, joint Parisian birthday trip complete with a champagne cruise. I lay there. Fever. Unable to keep food down. Pain in my body. Unable to sleep. Sick. Still. Exhausted.
But in this quiet space, I could hear. I could feel. I could breathe. Deep breaths that connected me with the same Spirit that lives beyond in Uche. It was the stillness and the ability to center down that was a healing balm for my soul. And it was in this stillness that I could hear the Voice that compels me to serve.
Now, we find ourselves in a season of stillness. We find ourselves in a time where people may be struggling with their health and wellness, emotionally and otherwise. We find folks in our communities who know more about a Blue Christmas than the joy that comes with being known and seen. We find ourselves at odds with own sense of center; busier than ever yet wanting and yearning for the calm of the sillness.
I invite you to consider the times when you have found yourself in the still moments. What was the moment? Who shared that space with you? How did you arrive? What did you learn? How were your UU principles sitting with you in the stillness? What did you hear? How can you return to stillness in the midst of a busy world?
Go forth, in this season, with a spirit of stillness, with stillness as a verb, with the wisdom of stillness in your heart. Ase.