Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

At Times, Look Up

By Daniel Gregoire

Over my head, I hear music in the air;
over my head, I hear music in the air;
over my head, I hear music in the air;
there must be a God somewhere.

—from "Over My Head," an African American Spiritual

A view, straight upwards, of the skyscrapers around Rockefeller Center. In the negative space between buildings, a blue sky with clouds is visible.

When you grow up in New York City, as I did, you'll learn one cardinal rule: to never look up. Whatever you do, never look up to see the second story of a house, or the tops of buildings or worse still, the sky!

To look up at the sky, whether to actually see the sky or to take in the verticality of a very tall building, would mark you as an outsider or a tourist. (Another rule: never be a tourist in New York if you can avoid it.)

I tried very hard to follow the "never look up" rule, and sometimes I even succeeded in presenting myself as someone who looks straight ahead with the kind of steely-eyed focus that says, I not only know where I am going, but I will walk over your corpse to get there.

However, most of time I was too busy looking up to care. The most interesting things seemed to be over my head, calling out to me. Above me were cornices and spires adorning the tops of buildings. Above them, the limitless sky. There were timeless things: sunsets, the moon, and a few intrepid stars twinkling with dogged determination above the city lights.

Looking up saved my life, not just by avoiding a falling flowerpot, but by reminding me that there is a reality far greater than the great metropolis—bigger than even the Big Apple. That reality refuses to be contained by steel, glass, or concrete; it cannot be touched by any skyscraper, no matter how tall.

Looking up often helped me to see a way out by providing a way into a deeper truth that I fumble to find a proper name for. Sometimes I call that truth God, or spirit, or even the Good. Whatever it is, I know not to call it “me,” because it is not me. I know that I did not create it and it cannot be undone. Through it, I am made whole.

Whoever you are, whatever you are, we are here. We don’t know where "here" is, or why it is, but we know we need you now, and we know you hear us in this moment, because we hear you and it gives us hope. So we will look up to the sky and we will carry on.

About the Author

Daniel Gregoire

Rev. Daniel Gregoire is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton in Grafton, MA. He loves being a guide to those on spiritual journeys and a companion to all in life transitions.


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