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Kindred horizons - A tribute to Rosa Parks (11/06/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

No two individuals see things in the exact same light. As we move on, shadows remain...irreversible paths crossed.

Horizons marred by dominance break the spirit of others. Where mankind's custody has insulted the natural flow of things, both in nature and humanity, by abuse and prejudice, bias and greed are bound to bring forth explosive consequences.

Property, of various acreage and value, is separated by mankind's ownership...horizons belong to the observer alone.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who spoke of it. "The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough."

Emerson suggests that horizons are the best part of man's farms, to which their warranty-deeds give them no title. He says, "The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. But none of them owns the landscape."

I'm sitting down by the Winona levee with Emerson, on an inconceivably gorgeous October day, as the muddy Mississippi saunters along. She sidles up to cozy horizons, her naked body warm with Indian Summer. Who, centuries before myself, has felt insignificant by its magnitude?

Lapping, clucking gossips, licking their ravenous chops, repeat again and again the Mississippi's lore. Before a metal bridge, strung between two states, this horizon was void of a hustling, bustling thoroughfare. Native Americans looked to the bounteous prairie and abundant skies as common sustenance for all life.

A certain mysterious beauty is embedded there - in stark contrast to bare trees etched against a blank sky at a rural horizon...as races have come, more and more, to acknowledge and celebrate their differences.

What was it about that courageous act of defiance, by a quiet, black woman, that turned the fight for equal rights on its heels in 1955? Its time had come. Her spunk and determination to eradicate an injustice proved to broaden the horizons toward anti-racism in the U.S.

She recently passed on at 92, on October 24, 2005. Rosa Parks, a seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, spurred civil rights initiatives by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man.

Likely she could never have imagined that she would one day become the first woman laid to rest in honor, in the Rotunda of America's Capital.

Back home, I sought out a poetry collection I love. "On the Bus With Rosa Parks" was written by a former Poet Laureate of the U.S., Rita Dove, a successful, black, woman professional in a new millennium.

Through Dove's poem "Transatlantic Crossing. Third Day." one feels the draft of changing times:

"I can only imagine what it's like to climb the steel stairs and sit down, to feel the weight of yourself sink into the moment of going home."

"I can't erase an ache I never had."

Today I lit a candle for valor, pride, and self-respect that Rosa's life has exemplified. Something in today's landscape speaks of a relentless, bitter season to come...but then there's spring.

"How she sat there,

the time right inside a place

so wrong it was ready.

Doing nothing was the doing:

the clean flame of her gaze

carved by a camera flash."

- Rita Dove, from "Rosa"

Must it be that what distinguishes unique cultures of humankind also divides them? Rosa Parks had a purpose. Did she envision horizons of future centuries glowing with world peace and harmony, or was it merely that day, that hour?

"We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough." 


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