May 20, 2015 admin

PURPOSE: SERMON AT THE AIRPORT

by Thai Nguyen

Age 31. Brisbane, Australia.

I’ve always loved airports. Personal narratives come to transition: loved ones reunite, dreams are chased, and adventures are written. Yet in the midst of commotion and change, between arrivals and departure, there lies a peculiar space—ever present, never future, never past. At airports, I find myself thinking most deeply about life: about meaning, identity, and purpose. In that peculiar space, between arrivals and departures, I find the balance of tension that doesn’t necessarily make sense of life, but gives it meaning.

Watching the planes take off, I was waiting to board my flight to Vietnam. I was roughly 8 months old when my parents departed, it’d be my first time returning. My father, who worked for the South Vietnamese government, was imprisoned for four years. It was a clash between Democracy and Communism, between the individual, and the whole. Rather than fleeing immediately after the fall of Saigon, my father chose to stay, hoping for that peculiar space where dichotomies could come to meet. But there was no airport for Communism and Democracy.

There is no story without a storm.


In the darkness of night we fled, spotted by authorities who gave chase. The engine of our barely-seaworthy vessel blew out. Anxiously, we drifted, taking in water. Thai pirates were known as ruthless sharks, and we were welcoming bait. The Soviet Russians were notorious for returning refugees encountered at sea, but the coin landed in our favor, and they gave us food and water to press forward. There is no story without a storm. And in the midst of our literal storm at sea, my mother recalls the scene of hundreds, packed like sardines, rocked by waves, crying out in prayer against fate. While many other boats crashed tragically just before the shore, we made it to land. We had navigated that tension between risk and reward.

We stayed in an Indonesian refugee camp for one year before being accepted into Australia. It was a peculiar space, between arrivals and departures. My father’s injustice in Vietnam led him to find mercy in a new land. When dichotomies meet, they give birth. And so that became my pattern for processing life: wrestling with dichotomies, and then resting in their answers. Navigating through tensions; embracing discomfort, in order to find comfort; fighting for justice, in order to render mercy.

The airport became my place of permanence in a transitory world; behind the orchestra of roaring engines and babies crying, I could still hear the reverent humming of that peculiar space—


It is those uncanny paradoxes that make sense of our world. The ancient Greek Heraclitus processed dichotomies in this way: “There is nothing permanent except change.” The airport became my place of permanence in a transitory world; behind the orchestra of roaring engines and babies crying, I could still hear the reverent humming of that peculiar space—ever present, never future, never past. Between all those arrivals and departures, I would find a place where dichotomies meet, and give birth to something beautiful.

 

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