On seeing and witnessing

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first successful powered flight and entered the history books for years to come. They flipped a coin to determine who would go first on the flight. Several failed attempts were to follow until that morning. Orville Wright flew their 1903 Flyer 120 feet in twelve seconds and a dream was realized.

One of the things that intrigues me is that as bicycle mechanics, beyond wings, they were familiar with wheels and so were also aware of what it took for a safe landing. I becomes about looking at the same situation from a different angle. These creative minds were focused on seeing the critical issues and resolving them. It was about the seeing. Like the innovators, the witnesses who realized what was actually happening, were the ones who had eyes to see. There were only a few witnesses on that sandy hill on Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Most of them firemen and other locals who had watched from afar – why they came out that day, no one knows. But they witnessed something. I wondered how it affected their lives.

One who was instrumental in that historic day was William Tate, postman, fisherman and jack of all trades. With the encouragement of the chief weatherman of the Outer Banks, William had written a welcome letter years before that day that said to the Brothers not only is the weather right and the terrain perfect but the best reason to come to North Carolina is the people. They are most hospitable and would welcome you here and make their stay a pleasant one. The brothers even housed with the Tates until their housing was established. His wife used her sewing machine to make the modified wings for the 1900 gliders and Wilbur and Orville used Tom Tate, his 6 year old son to fly several gliders due to his light weight. This welcome letter swung the deal..William Tate’s biggest regret is that on that day he was not to see them fly. He thought it was too windy that day and really never got over not being present, but it wouldn’t have happened without him

Among those present was a young man, John T. Daniels who snapped the famous picture of that first flight with Orville’s camera. The funny thing was he wasn’t sure he even did it correctly. Not only did he capture the flight perfectly, but they learned much about the flight because of the detail of his pictures. It amazes me is that he didn’t know for sure, he just took the picture and trusted what he got was what they needed. I’m not sure he understood how important it was that he was the one who took that picture and his part though he was unsure was more than right … it was perfect.

The person I am most intrigued by who was there that day was Johnny Moore, a 16 year old boy who skipped school to watch the flight. I’ve thought since I heard that story that Johnny, the boy who skipped school on that day of all days, would do something great, that he would go on to make an extraordinary contribution. Maybe he was just like most of us. Yes, he witnessed something great but didn’t really know how that translated to him or what he would contribute that would be considered history changing. Not much is known of Johnny Moore’s life. He lived a long life into his 80’s and was the life of the party every where he went and of course he told everyone he was one of the ones who was there. Ron and I walked through the memorial on the coast of North Carolina. We stood on the hill and walked on the very sand they flew over.

A couple of weeks ago, in my Sunday School class, we talked about our faith with regard to Christ’s miracles and the miracle of the resurrection. I spoke about the cross and I realized how overwhelmed I am by the thought of my witnessing that sight even secondhandly. Even the thought of that kind of love is unconceivable to me. I’ve always thought of the birth and death of Christ. What would it have been to be in the midst of that crowd or would have seen those miracles? How would my life would have been changed if I had been on the hill when the little boy offered his loaves and fish and through Christ fed us all? Or what if I had, like Thomas, put my hands in Christ’s pierced side and touched his pierced feet and hands? Would I believe differently if I had witnessed these things first hand? Would I get my role in these events? Or would I be the one who had gone about my business or maybe at a party with my friends said I was there–boasted for boasting sake? How many times like Tate have I thought I missed it the biggest part on have not realized what I did.. the small thing was the biggest part!

What if my life where changed and I didn’t need to say anything.–my life said it all. The sureness of my doing what I am suppose to be doing and being where I’m suppose to be, says it all. I’m not saying I’d have done it any differently. How many times have I finished singing and wondered… was that right.. oh if I had only done it this way.. I wish I had sung this song instead of that.. or said this instead of that. Then there are moments I’m simply caught up in God’s grace and I am so assured that I am where I am suppose to be doing just exactly what I am suppose to be doing. The second part is just as important–how my life is changed after that encounter. I know that I am meeting people in the presence of God’s love, grace, forgiveness. Daily I am given opportunities like Johnny Moore that have such grand potential to change my life and others, if I’d let it–if I’d grow from it–if I’d not be afraid–If I’d not make it about me, but make it about God’s using me. If I’d make it about letting the spirit come through me and about trusting that I am doing it right. Like John T Daniels, I’m sometimes not sure, but I’m faithful and I show up. You and I have a chance today to get it, to do it all differently, to offer something small with hopes that it will make a big change, for the kingdom of God, to let go of regret , to be faithful, to experience God’s presence and become a witness to it. Because of the life of Christ., I cannot-not be changed and seek to give all I have not knowing the outcome. I’ll leave that up to God today. I love the vision of the kings leaving Bethlehem and going home a different way.. I’ve always thought that didn’t just mean a different route, but maybe a different life as well. They were different and nothing would ever be the same, because of what they had seen. Day after day Christ is new every morning, and today I want my life to be a reflection of my witnessing that story.

Be on the lookout and let your life be a reflecton of the miracles you see. Fly your own way today and change history.

Your friend, Celia

P.S. Thanks to the park rangers at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, NC. and especially Lynn Nashom who was working at the information desk. If you haven’t visited it’s great. lots of cool vintage planes and kids love it. They have kites, toy airplanes and model airplanes of the Wright Brothers‘ plane.

Smokey Whitler

November 17, 1985 – Easter Sunday April 23, 2000

We called Smokey the wonderdog. He joined me (Ron) in the fall of while Celia and I were single. We were both busy working and building separate lives. Smokey went to youth group camp, to parties and to work at the church. As the years passed, he welcomed Celia into the family and they actually shared a house in Louisiana when I went to Texas to start work there. Celia and I counted his vocabulary once. He understood quite a few words. It’s amazing what a difference having lots of discretionary time to invest makes. One of my favorite memories of Smokey was of him singing with any choir that he heard, whether it was on the radio or on television. He declined kind of slowly and eventually died in our arms on Easter Sunday before our oldest son Max was born. There was something providential about losing such a great friend on the day we remember the Resurrection. Some friends came out to the spot by the Harpeth River where we laid him to rest on a beautiful Easter Afternoon. Smokey was the dog of “Dog Not Included,” the name we give our song publishing.