At the age of 42, I walked down the streets of New York City for the first time. In my initial observation, I conceded and admitted the hype was real.
The city that never sleeps is the measuring stick of the known world and worlds yet to be known. And second, it’s fast.
I worked hard to ensure I kept up the pace, and so, I hit the ground at a run. My steps were quick and precise. My train number and destination were memorized. I had spent the following week making sure I wasn’t going to come across like a tourist or green-horned rube.
Of all the recommendations I read and received from more seasoned travelers, two stood out to me:
Act like you’ve been there before.
And for God’s sake, control the urge to look up. Keep the gazing at skyscrapers to a minimum.
I caught myself fighting this urge more than once, but can you blame me? It’s difficult not to ogle at something towering above what it surrounds. Monuments of ingenuity like the One World Trade Center, Empire State Building and The Brooklyn Tower make one marvel. And draw eyes, demand attention, invites wonder.
Tina Turner was a skyscraper.
And like them, she rose high and transcended, becoming something other. She went beyond those created boundaries of what an entertainer was supposed to be and came to represent so much more to so many people.
It was impossible not to gaze up at her. On stage, she was a dancing fire. Her trademark legs kicked up and created embers of unrelenting resilience. With nothing but a spotlight, she dazzled and absorbed all air out of a venue, no matter the size. Hers was a wild, vaporous, combustible spirit igniting and inspiring many.
For this alone, she commanded attention, but there were other factors. I stared over the years like others did.
“She dealt with and named those who wanted to put out her divine flame.”
I stared because she shared with the masses her struggles. She bravely talked about the pain she experienced at the hands of her partner. She dealt with and named those who wanted to put out her divine flame.
As a minister, I’ve been with people willing to share their trials and tribulations one on one. Their doing so is nothing shy of a courageous feat. Tina Turner processed her grief and displayed her transformation with all eyes upon her. She embodied the truth that resurrection is possible for those who feel their lives had been ended by their abusers.
Hope is a beautiful thing to witness somebody live out.
I stared too at her spiritual growth. The young girl from Nutbush, Tenn., a place where there’s:
A church house, gin house
A school house, outhouse
Twenty-five was the speed limit
Motorcycle not allowed in it
You go t’the store on Fridays
You go to church on Sundays
You go t’the field on week days
And have a picnic on Labor Day
You go to town on Saturdays
But go to church ev’ry Sunday
In such a place, Turner built on and deconstructed her inherited faith and explored paths that gave her comfort. Her embracing of Buddhism was well documented, and Turner credited its practices with saving her life. She would even pen a memoir in 2020, Happiness Becomes You, where she shared her spirituality and encouraged others to explore their own paths leading to consolation.
“Seek out that which gives you meaning and embrace the shifts in your understanding.”
Her own walk was a testimony: Seek out that which gives you meaning and embrace the shifts in your understanding.
So far, my reflections here come with a slight caveat. I write them as an adult who has lived and watched this skyscraper from afar all my life. This last bit I want to share is the first time I remember seeing her, and like that first walk in NYC, that memory is etched in my mind.
It must have been 1986 or 1987. I don’t recall how long it took for Hollywood films to become VHS tapes, that process is lost to time. Regardless, my parents rented a movie from our local Action Video store. I didn’t know who Mad Max was, or why he was thrust into the arena of the Thunderdome. I was too young to capture the plot. Yet, when the character of “Aunty Entity” was on the screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I remember thinking to myself, “She’s beautiful.” When she told a young Mel Gibson he was “nothing but a raggedy man,” her infectious smile made me think it was a compliment. I wanted to be a raggedy man too.
As I sit thinking of the Queen of Rock and Roll this evening, maybe I still do.
Here’s to the true Queen of Bartertown, whose silhouette will forever dominate changing skylines.
Justin Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, spending time in the kitchen and amateur gardening, Justin spends time with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. He began his tenure as senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Suffield, Ct. in August. Find his ramblings at blacksheepbaptist.com.
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