Thursday, July 16, 2015

For Mahlon



I don’t know what happens when the last Star goes out.  I can only imagine how very dark the night sky will become.  I remember some time ago being in Washington State lying on my back in an open field, and watching stars appear one by one.  As the sky grew darker, I watched and counted them until they began to appear too quickly for me to count and they literally covered the sky.  I remember the feeling of peace and awe that filled my body.  As far as I could see, from the North to the South and from as far as I could see from the East to the West I was covered by the grace of the night sky.  I was blanketed by its stars.  My soul was reminded how important they were in the universe.  There are even songs which speak to the significance of the stars as we once “Followed the Drinking Gourd” (A Negro Spiritual which was code for slaves to follow the big dipper North to freedom.) My entire body remembered to give thanks and acknowledge them.  I was filled with overwhelming joy.  I cried.

Although I know that there is no difference but place, those stars are harder for me to find here in South Jersey.  The fact is:  I rarely look up at night.  I know the stars are there but it is a more difficult reach for me to see them because they are obscured.  We have replaced them with street lights, neon signs and the glow coming from security lights left on in high rises and homes.  We use them now as markers to guide our paths.  They mark our “way”.  A way once guided by the stars.  

These are the thoughts that have filled my mind this week.  This is the conversation that churns in my heart and takes me to my bed.  Another Star has faded farther from our view.  The sight line is dimmer, and I feel the void.  I remember when I first met Mahlon Duckett and some of members of the former Philadelphia Stars.  There were quite a few of them then.  They would come together with other members of the Negro Leagues to form the Negro League Players Association. My father was president.  I remember typing up the pages of a directory that was printed by Atlantic Electric, the company where I used to work.  Yes, there were pages. (I add these things for my own benefit.  It’s just part of my internal conversation ... my remembering.)  I remember being surrounded by these men and their hearts melded in shared struggle and joy.  I remember feeling blanketed by their grace and loved by them for simply being. It was very much that same sense of being that I felt on an empty field in Goldendale, Washington.

I don’t know how you explain the beauty of a night sky filled with stars to children/people who have never seen one.  I don’t know how you tell the story of Mahlon Duckett to people who have never witnessed that infectious smile, or the tender gentleness and smoothness with which he would call your name...as if it were his own.  

I don’t know much today except that I need to have this conversation here because I can’t yet speak it. (Can’t even speak his name yet until I figure out how to honor it.) I need to know that real stars/Stars don’t just “go out” even though we can’t see them/it.  I   need to remember that stars/STARS are light and real light is always present. (It’s only the artificial stuff that loses is radiance.)  I need to find a way to look up more, to reach out more, to search the skies for those STARS that really are still there to guide us/me. I need to remember to use my discernment to separate the real from the false.  I need to remember that beyond the sodium vapor street lights and the neon signs, which only provide a false sense of security, there is real light that the universe alone can provide. 

I need to remember that Mahlon Duckett died in the way that he lived:  surrounded by his loving family, and I need to remember that we will continue to tell his story because that’s how stars/STARS continue to shine and light our way in the darkness.



On the Friday before his death, I was speaking with my friend Michael making plans to go see Mahlon.  We never got there.