Delivered By GRADUATING SENIOR, JOSEPHINA OBI
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor-
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now-
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
I may not remember how to spell, I may not remember my nine times table, and I may not remember when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but I do remember why I love this poem. There’s a love for the nostalgic emotions it evokes from me, and for the overall tone and meaning of the work. Like most poetical legends, Langston Hughes’ words have survived the passing of time, traveling from the period of the Harlem Renaissance to the year of 2017. I believe that his poem survived the weathering of time because it is a poem of undoubtable wisdom. Life hasn’t been and won’t be easy. Life won’t be crystal stairs: velvet against our feet, without obstacles, smooth of cracks and bumps, beautiful and transparent.
I stand here, with seven school days left of my high school career, seventeen days away from graduation, admitted to all three of the universities I applied to, and planning to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology as a freshman for the fall semester of 2017. Every time I think about it, the more insane it seems, and I can only regret not taking people seriously when they told me my four years in high school would fly by. It feels like only yesterday that I was an awkward high school freshman who didn’t know how to fit in as myself. Now I’m a slightly less awkward incoming college freshman who still doesn’t quite understand how to relax in her own skin while in front of others.
I honestly thought that things would be smooth sailing by now, that my life would start steering itself in the right direction. That just goes to show all of us how naive I was and still am. I’m confused, anxious, tired, excited, and so much more. Life hasn’t been crystal stairs for me throughout high school. I’ve lost sleep, I’ve shed tears, I’ve been sick, and so much more. I don’t know why I thought everything would change as soon as I graduated. It’s hard for me to keep the jitters away for long. How do I know what to dedicate my life to? Am I smart enough to embark on the route I chose? Do I have the courage and fortitude to persevere through my insecurities and worries? How can I improve my little corner of the world? Am I capable? Where do I go from here? More than anything right now, I’m realizing how muddied and obscure my stairs are and just how dark it is. Unfortunately, knowing the quadratic equation, that DNA takes the shape of a double helix, and that the Federal Reserve is dubbed with the impossible task of keeping both unemployment and inflation low won’t help me. I’m stuck, frustrated, and tired. At a point, I didn’t know if I wanted to attend college and contemplated taking a gap year.
I didn’t notice it then, but reflecting on it now, Hughes’ poem Mother to Son shines bright, like a light house on the bay. My stairs are getting steeper, I’m getting higher. Things won’t be easy, no one said they would be, and you can’t give up. Keep fighting, keep moving, don’t sit down, it’s harder to start up again than it is to keep going. It sounds more like motivation for running a marathon than anything.
In a sense, it is like running a marathon, or just running in general. We have to persevere through the pain of the miles before we reap the benefits and pride of being able to say “I did it. I made it through.” While I do like being able to say I ran x amount of miles today or this week, one of my favorite benefits from running is that it relieves stress. There’s nothing like running off a physics or calculus test I didn’t do too hot on; I know that all too well. The actual running can be enjoyable sometimes, but that’s not what makes my fears and anxieties disappear. There’s another form of therapy in the therapy of running. It’s the simplest and cheapest form of therapy there is. We do it every day, breathing.
Running is a shock to me, making me forget everything but the seemingly menial task of breathing. Somehow, pushing my body to an extent where I must consciously expand and contract my chest brings me peace. It reminds me that before anything else, I must breathe.
That’s when I remember that the power of breathing isn’t something to be overlooked. That’s where it all starts, isn’t it: with GOD taking a deep breath. It was his breath that birthed the stars, moons, and universes. It was his breath that filled Adam’s chest; that came over the disciples at Pentecost in the form of the Holy Spirit, the same breath and spirit that set fire to the thousands who spoke in tongues. This is the breath that fills every child while they are in their mother’s womb, the breath that all living beings share. This is the breath that brings me peace; that brings me life. We have to breathe. If we don’t, we physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually die or remain unborn.
None of our stairs are flawless, and compared to the one belonging to our Lord Jesus Christ’s climb, none of us may be entitled to complain. But we can look up to Christ’s courage, compassion and strength to climb on. The Blessed Mother did not buckle to fear, and accepted her destiny to bring Christ into the world. Ruth did not give into the despair of losing her husband, and turn away from her mother, Naomi. Esther did not allow human power to paralyze her faith or feet. Job did not forsake the Lord when his life was thrown into chaos. I will not be crushed by my insecurities and fears. I will take a deep breath when the frustrations and anxieties resurge, and keep faith. I will look to those who climbed to the top of their stairs, and are still climbing, and keep on after them. I will remember where I’ve come from and shoot for beyond what my mind can imagine. I won’t turn back. I’ll take a mother’s advice and not fall or sit down. I’ll keep climbing until I reach my savior, revel and say “I made it,” and cheer on those who are still climbing.
This Mother’s Day, I remember all those who have shaped my life and acted as mothers to me in some regard. I am grateful to my god-mother, who harbors me in faith, to my mother church who directs and nourishes my faith, to my indirect mothers who give me wisdom and strength, and to my paternal mother, who has done all of this and harbored me in her for nine months, the one who shared her breath with me, gives me breath now. I can’t imagine where I would be without any of these women, or where I would be going. But we can only thank God that his mercies are ever flowing, and that he has a mystical way of having things fall in place while still giving us a challenge.
If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org