By and by, I'm goin' to lay down this heavy load. By and by, by and by, I'm goin' to lay down this heavy load. - Negro Folk Song
The death of Whitney Houston was tragic. She was young. She was talented. She was beautiful. She brought us joy. Her death is tragic for at least two reasons. First, it is tragic because we have lost a great artist, a great entertainer -- someone who brought us joy. Second, It is also tragic because it reminds us of human frailty and reawakens us to our mortality. We are a people who run from these two realities -- loss and death. The death of Whitney Houston forces us to confront and consider the powerful lessons taught by loss and death.
In a culture obsessed with accumulation, we deny the truth that life is really about loss. All great human achievement requires loss. The blessing of conception requires the loss of virginity; the joy of childbirth requires the loss of the womb's protection. Indeed, great artist like Whitney lost privacy and the security of anonymity in order to become an American icon. Many believe Christ lost his life to secure humanity's salvation. According to others, Buddha teaches we must lose our connection to material things to ultimately become enlightened. Loss is the truth of life. The key is to choose wisely what we are willing to lose. African-American history teaches us to lay down that heavy load.
If loss is a key to ultimate happiness, then death is the door. This does not always mean physical death -- death has many manifestations. Still, death is the gateway opened by loss that leads to our ultimate authentic life. Christians celebrate dying to sin. America celebrates the death of Jim Crow and obvious institutional racism. The poor often wish for the death of poverty. On today -- with Whitney's funeral -- we celebrated the death of the heat and flame of celebrity living that dried out the well of songs joy. We miss her, but we know now that she is finally at rest.
Our freedom demands we choose what we will lose. Our freedom is exercised by deciding on the terms of our spiritual, cultural, political, economic or physical death. Whitney reminds us that in life we experience loss and ultimately all of us must die -- but our loss and death have purpose. Black history helps us discover that deeper purpose. It inspired us to choose to lose the institution of slavery, the habit of racism and the legacy of economic apartied. It demands we die to an unhealthy commitment to states rights, insensitivity to poverty and a greed that demands maximal profit in the face of obscene levels of wealth inequality.
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they all died to low self-esteem and ethnic inferiority -- they loss a heavy load. John Brown, Lyndon Johnson, Mother Teresa all died to an insensitivity to poverty - they loss a heavy load. Today we are challenged to choose the terms of our death and what we will lose. Lets us choose to die to a corporate culture that puts profit before people, a political culture that stifles direct democracy and a social culture that denies the legacy of human dignity present most vividly in African-American history. Let us choose to lose racism, sexism and classism. Let us all lose a heavy load.