Easter Seal | March 14, 2021 Message from Dr. Blake
To fledgling birds, flight in the sky may appear incredible. They may with apparent reason measure the highest limit of their possibilities by the limited standard of their nests. But in the meanwhile they find that their food is not grown inside those nests; it is brought to them across the measureless blue. There is a silent voice that speaks to them, that they are more than what they are, and that they must not laugh at the message of soaring wings and glad songs of freedom. – Rabindranath Tagore
Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs:
The baby Weddell seal has not grown into her flippers. She is awkward. She does not want to swim. She does not know she can breathe underwater. No one has told her about the great oxygenating capacity of her blood. She doesn’t know that the milk her mother gives her is some of the fat-richest milk in the world. Southernmost mammal on the planet, she doesn’t know the depths of which she is capable. But her mother does.
How powerful this statement is! The baby seal does not know the depths of which she is capable, the endurance that she can and must call upon and claim as her own. She has a very limited perspective just like the fledgling birds. She has placed limits upon herself, out of her anxiety or fear of the unknown, or because of the warmth and satisfaction of her present environment – her complicity with the present rather than trusting unexperienced seal life. For her to experience this freeing and expanded seal life, mother seal has to intervene. In mother’s wisdom she knows that the young whom we often think of as the ones loving adventure sometimes must be coaxed, pushed, or given an impelling vision to leave the comfort of home.
It is a question we often face in life – whether to go or stay. Do we anchor here or sail the beckoning sea?
In this case Mother Weddell seal knows that the fulfillment of her baby’s potential is related to how the baby will be able to negotiate the various waters and their depth that will become a part of her common life. The mother Weddell seal will push her baby into the water against her will. She will force her child’s head into the water while the baby coughs and sputters and struggles and squirms. She is new here. She does not know that she can breathe underwater. Until she does. And then everything changes.
In the movie Sounder, David Lee receives his mother’s blessing to go in search of his father who has been sent away to a prison camp somewhere. They know not where. In the process of David Lee’s long journey, he comes to a Black school. The teacher is kind enough to bind his wound from a prison guard who chased David Lee away from that particular camp. The teacher invites him to stay over. The next day the teacher, Miss Johnson, is teaching what we would call today critical thinking skills. One of the students, Clarence, rises to share a story. He states that his story is a true story. Other students are encouraged to challenge the story.
Me and my sister, Laura, went down to the water hole last Saturday and we was playin' 'long the edge of the water and Laura slipped and fell in the water. I started to run back home, but I turned around, ran back, dove into the water and got her out before she could drown...
His story is challenged by schoolmates. One has been with Clarence on occasions when they have gone to the water hole. He states that each time Clarence tried to swim, he would have to be pulled out of the water. He states emphatically that Clarence cannot swim. Miss Johnson gently asks Clarence if the schoolmate’s assertion is true.
Yes mam... But when I saw my sister 'bout to
drown in the water, I tried because I wasn't
scared no more! I was just swimming and kickin'!
I don't know how I was doin' it! But I was,
cause my sister was drowning! She was drowning!
The class was silent. Finally, David Lee stood up stating his belief in Clarence’s story.
Some people came and took my daddy away and
other people said we couldn't work the farm.
But we had to, 'cause we didn't wanna lose our
farm. We planted the crops and they grew. I
believe his story 'cause his story is about
what he did when he had to do somethin'. He
didn't know how to swim but he had to or else
his sister woulda drowned. That's how he did
Olive Schreiner writes:
A man far out at sea on a dark night, struggling with the waves in his small boat, sees far away a light he thinks to be the harbour light and strikes toward it; knowing he may be mistaken, and that long before daybreak man and boat may be engulfed, he still strikes toward it, labouring without certainly of ever reaching it but with unalterable will and determination, because it is the only light he sees.
Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs continues with her account of the weaning and tutoring of the baby Weddell seal by Mother Weddell seal:
By the time weaning is over she will be able to dive 2,500 feet below the water. Stay there for an hour if she wants to. Find a tiny hole she made for air after swimming twelve kilometers away. Move gracefully between frozen and liquid world. But she doesn’t know.
The tough love of the Weddell seal mother teaches a lesson about the difference between what is cute and what is necessary. What has been and what could be. And I am grateful for all of my mothers, biological, chosen and ancestral, mammal and otherwise . . . who would shock me into knowing my capacity, trust my lungs more than I thought I could. To breathe in ways I haven’t breathed before. To learn my blood in ways I didn’t know it.
Dr. Howard Thurman, whose works and life are a constant companion, helps me to understand more clearly what is meant in the scripture: “Take no thought for your life.”
Take no thought. This day I shall desert my anxieties. I shall forsake them – cut them off from the food supply of my spirit. Confident am I that if I do not feed them they cannot long survive. I shall seek to limit my primary exposure to those who exploit my anxieties by their tendency to exaggeration and alarm. I shall seek to broaden my exposure to those whose lives give forth confidence and calmness. Into God’s hand do I yield myself this day, with all that it involves for me, with the faith that I can take complete refuge in the knowledge and the love of God. For me this will not be easy, nor do I lightly undertake it. . . .
I begin to see that my life is not now, nor has it ever been, my own. I did not create nor have I sustained my life through the years. In so many ways, without my own plans and purposes, hard places have been made soft and rough places smooth. It is a source of immeasurable satisfaction and comfort to me to know that God, who is the Source and Sustainer of life, can be trusted to see me all the way to the end and beyond. Take no thought for your life – it is in God’s hands and ever, when I am obeying the laws of life, it is God who works through me. Take no thought for your life.
May we affirm these thoughts with hearts, minds, souls, and strength that they may lead us forward through this season of Lent and beyond. When Jesus turned South to go to Jerusalem, he left a profound message with those who were following: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. He affirmed this while clearly stating that the journey to Jerusalem would result in his death. He also informed them that death would not end his life; but, they did not internalize this affirmation. Unlike Clarence, they still abided in fear.
Anyone afraid to live life shall perish, even if still alive. Anyone who hoards life is a miser, incapable of sharing and sharing in the abundance of life, of Creation, of what we have been gifted that expands when we embrace it, incarnate it, and live it abundantly. To save one’s life is to put brakes on creation, on cosmic movement. It is to short-circuit the spirit of life that moves to energize a new way of being, an alternative to scarcity and death. Anyone who lives life depending or stuck on false social securities shall end up a loser. Dr. Martin Luther King warns:
You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so, you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice.
However, if we live life in solidarity with the very ground of our being, with that out of which our lives have come, with the Source and Goal of our living, we shall find life beyond our imaginations, anchored and at the same time, free.
“The chick knows when it breaks through the self-centered isolation of its egg that the hard shell which covered it so long was not really a part of its life. That shell is a dead thing, it has no growth, it affords no glimpse whatever of the vast beyond that lies outside it. However pleasantly perfect and rounded it may be, it must be given a blow to, it must be burst through and thereby the freedom of light and air be won, and the complete purpose of bird life be achieved. In Sanskrit, the bird has been called the twice-born.”
Dr. Gumbs continues:
As the Weddell seal grows she will shed her fur, become sleek. She will feel completely at home in the ocean she avoided. She will see and feel things no other mammal has felt. But right now she is coughing and spitting and clinging to what she has known. She feels like she is drowning, but she’s just meeting herself again for the first time.
Your world is as big as you make it.
I know, for I used to abide
In the narrowest nest in a corner,
My wings pressing close to my side.
But I sighted the distant horizon
Where the skyline encircled the sea
And I throbbed with a burning desire
To travel this immensity.
I battered the cordons around me
And cradled my wings on the breeze,
Then soared to the uttermost reaches
With rapture, with power, with ease.
- Georgia Douglas Johnson