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Walking with the Wind

This message for all ages was adapted by Rev. Karen G. Johnston from story in the prologue of John Lewis's memoir of the same name

This true story comes to us from John Lewis, a great leader in this nation who died in July 2020. Many people were sad to lose him and thankful for all he has done to bring about justice in our nation.

He had lived a long and full life, asking of himself and asking of all of us to show up for justice, to do what we can and just a little bit more, to make sure there was more fairness in our country.

A close-up of U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis at the U.S. Capitol on June 28, 2017.

John Lewis grew up in a large family and he would spend time with his aunts or uncles, with his siblings and cousins. There were many children in the neighborhood and they would play together. This was LONG before the pandemic, so people could play together and hang out together.

Mr. Lewis tells about a time, when he was playing outside his Aunt Seneva’s house with about fourteen other children, when a storm—a BIG storm—arrived. A kind of storm that made him very afraid.

I’m going to tell the story from his perspective, so it’s like he is talking. So when I say “I,” it really means Mr. John Lewis.

Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside.

Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. All of the shouting and laughter that had been going on earlier, outside, had stopped. The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.

And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.

That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.

And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.

Can you imagine what it was like to be inside of that house, afraid that it might fall all apart from the destructive force of the wind and the rain, from the whole storm? I’m so glad that John Lewis wasn’t alone, that he was there with his friends and family. I’m so glad that they figured out a way to work together.

When John Lewis was much older, and was writing down the story of his whole, astounding life, he wrote these words:

More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.

It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.

And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand.

But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.

And we did.

And we still do, all of us. You and I.

Children holding hands, walking with the wind. . . .

Thank you for listening to not my story, but Mr. John Lewis’ story.

Note: Rev. Karen Johnston invites you to use her video of this time for all ages in your worship service, although it was recorded in August 2020 so it refers to John Lewis's death as "just last month."

About the Author

Karen G. Johnston

Karen G. Johnston is the settled minister at The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick, NJ. Before becoming a minister, she spent 20+ years as a clinical social worker....

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