The Northern Lights never appeared. Still, we were both glad we made the drive. It was a Tuesday evening and on the evening news we heard the prediction that the following two evenings offered the possibility these mysterious and marvelous wonders might be making an appearance. With no commitments the next morning, we got in our car and drove north, finally coming to a stop on a dirt road, about 30 minutes from Hinckley. We sought a place that was largely free from human light. We sat in that spot until 2 a.m., warming ourselves with a blanket, occasionally turning on the car and playing cribbage to pass the time.
I have seen the Northern Lights twice before. Once I saw them in Canada, with an amazing array of colors, covering a good portion of the sky, putting on a performance that would capture the energy of dancers finally getting to provide a post COVID performance. The other sighting was in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. They were less spectacular, but every bit as special, because I was sharing them with my son. My wife has yet to see the Northern Lights. They failed to materialize that evening, though the following night there were reportedly a number of sightings in the Northern portion of the State, as far south as Minnetonka. We stayed overnight in a former Motel 8, now rebranded the American Inn. The next morning we drove home, slightly disappointed, but ready to try again the next time opportunity presents itself.
One thing is certain, if we had been unwilling to make the effort and leave the comfort of home, our chances of seeing the Northern Lights on that evening would have been zero. The same is true in shaping and creating communities that can flourish as places for the young and the old, people of all races and cultures, as well as the fluidity of gender identity and sexual orientation. As Parker Palmer says in his book, “A Hidden Wholeness,” when it comes to creating community we are all leaders. Palmer states, “Leadership is a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. But if it is true that we are made for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads….I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do.”
Getting out to see the Northern Lights, as beautiful as they might be, is not everyone’s passion, it may not be your passion, but we all have a stake in creating a community of belonging or utilizing the image of Martin Luther King, Jr., we all have a stake in creating “the Beloved Community”. We may only occasionally get a glimpse of what such a community might be like. Communities of belonging no more beckon to our will or expectation than do the Northern Lights. It may be we have to rely on the testimony of others to keep us motivated and believing that such a community can exist. Yet, when the Beloved Community captures our imagination we are motivated to get up and go see what is possible. If we come home disappointed, as we often will, we also know the effort remains worthwhile and we will be ready to try again.
As Parker Palmer reminds us, we are all leaders, if only by our example. The question is what type of leader will we be? Will we be a leader that looks for those small opportunities that come our way in libraries, grocery stores, congregations, apartment buildings where in simple, but important ways lets others know they belong and are welcome? A smile, an introduction, an offer of support can be in any given moment precisely the type of leadership that is needed. Leaders can chair committees and have important visible roles, but no less important are leaders who knit together the fabric of community by all-inclusive acts of kindness and charity.
I would be remiss in failing to acknowledge that simply supporting this community newspaper is one simple way in which you can play a role in creating a community of inclusion. The Northern Lights, with all their wonder, beauty and mystery still beckon. The same can be said about the vision of a Beloved Community, held by Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others.