I don’t want to write about forgiving Jordan Davis’ killer or about the too-young Davis being inexcusably and irrevocably robbed of a future, or about the justice his grieving family has still not received yet. I'm not ready.
After the marathon bombing in Boston, I wrote about where God is when tragedy strikes, and after Trayvon Martin’s killer walked free, I wrote about the sustaining faith of the fed up and gave 5 tips to Restore Your Spirit in times of heartbreak. Thanks to the internet, those articles will always be available to read, ad infinitum, and I’m glad, because sometimes I am not in a space to write those things again, let alone to live those words out. That’s the constant struggle of this spiritual life: knowing what you should do and fighting against what you want to do instead.
So when the world gets entirely too heavy and you seem to be losing the struggle, sometimes you just need to check out completely, for your own sanity and peace. Recently, I did just that — and I highly recommend it.
Of all places, I fled to the great state of Arizona. Known more recently for a new anti-gay bill and a racial profiling law that was (mostly) struck down by the Supreme Court, than for its majestic Grand Canyon, Arizona—with its 4.1% Black population and lone Black state legislator who is on her way out—seemed like the last place someone fleeing the hurt of racism and injustice would think to go. But the Arizona sun, in the midst of an east coast polar vortex, and the genuine, wonderful people I met throughout my week there, were exactly what I needed.
At the last possible minute, I hopped aboard a 5-day press trip to the desert, thinking I’d find a land that mirrored my dried up, barren, overly dramatic soul. I could not have been more wrong.
First, the skies. In the afternoon, I landed in Phoenix to one of the most sea-blue, perfectly clouded skies I had ever seen. I snapped about 20 pictures of the sky alone, just in case it suddenly disappeared before I had time to admire it properly. The pictures do not do it justice, but even looking back at them, they don't seem like shots of a real place I was actually present in.
That afternoon sky was not a fluke. One morning in Tucson, at the aptly named Casino del Sol resort, I woke up to the sun rising over mountains in the distance. From the comfort of my king-sized bed, I had a God encounter. I felt extremely privileged to witness that act of God and extremely sad for those that wouldn't. My best photographs of that sun were not worthy of the actual experience.
But the ultimate time I knew I was basking in the unadulterated majesty of God was on our trip back from the gorgeous Windmill Winery in Florence. After savoring Sauvignon Blanc, fried green tomatoes and stone ground tamale cake, we were making our way back to Mesa, when our DETOURS tour guide suddenly pulled the van over to the side of the road so we would not miss the orange bursting over mountain tops before us. We bounded out of the van, and ran across the highway just to be closer to it. It was God in all His glory.
But the land in Arizona would not be outdone by the sun. The southern part of the state is more bountifully green than I could have imagined, with its farmlands providing much of the produce the country uses during the winter season. I visited one such farm in Yuma, Arizona, while on a Field-to-Feast tour of a University of Arizona research farm where I was given a very large knife to harvest collard greens and cilantro. After slipping and sliding through the muddy trenches of collard country, I succeed in procuring enough collards to sustain our whole group, once boiled down. The food we harvested was deliciously and imaginatively prepared for lunch by the excellent culinary students at Arizona Western College. But beyond a good meal and a fun time, the entire experience made me seriously think about the food I put into my body and where it comes from–a wake-up call if I ever needed one.
And in case I wasn't entirely certain that Arizona could still blow my mind, I visited Agritopia, which is exactly what it sounds like: an agricultural utopian village. In Mesa, just outside of Phoenix, this urban organic community farm sits, surrounded by single-family homes, a private school, a sheep pen, a chicken coop and fruit trees. The people of Agritopia grow their own food on plots of land in the community farm and the public is invited to enjoy the harvest at the community fast-but-fresh food restaurant, Joe's Farm Grill. In the middle of the second largest city in Arizona, people are teaching their children how to grow and prepare their own food. The future immediately began to look brighter for me.
On my last full day in Arizona, I thought I'd get to spend it alone. It was snowing at the Grand Canyon, so my tour was canceled, and I thought I'd get to use the hike on Usery Mountain to get some real face time with God, to yell at Him or cry or process as I climbed. That didn't happen. I spent the hike with a lovely Mesa city employee who guided me up the mountain and chatted with me about her father who was thriving after the same open-heart surgery that my mother had just had. "He runs 5 miles a day!" She encouraged me. We swapped stories about the miracle of homeopathy and shared in the ecstasy of climbing a mountain in the desert on a perfectly sunny and breeze-filled day, surrounded by every kind of cacti (but, thankfully, no crawling wildlife in sight). I didn't cry, I didn't scream, I didn't have quiet time with God, but God was all over that much-needed conversation. He proved to me in that moment that when I most want to be by myself, that's probably the time I need to be in the presence of someone else, listening to someone else and losing myself completely in the process.
As Dorothy learned at the end of The Wizard of Oz, you bring your troubles along with you, wherever you find yourself, and each new place has enough troubles of its own. These are realities of life. But what God showed me through Arizona is that even in the most difficult and depressing of situations and experiences, this world is still pregnant with the possibilities of the God of this universe. When you think the world is terrible, with no hope of ever changing, God gives you an Arizona sunset. And even in the driest parts of yourself, you find that there’s life in you, yet.
For more on what to do in southern Arizona, check out my going-out guide here.
Brooke Obie is Editor-at-Large for EBONY.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.