Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walk Together Children

Hey y’all. As many of you know, I have spent the last week participating in the National Park Service’s 50th Anniversary Selma to Montgomery Walking Classroom. And now it is time to head home again. What do I even say? It was spectacular. This experience has been touted by the National Park Service as “life-changing” and “history-making” and although I think it’s a little preemptive to claim either of those titles already, I will say that it was such an incredible experience that I am sitting here struggling to find any words to do the journey justice. 

And it was a journey. 6 days ago feels so far away and thinking of returning to my home in Enfield feels even further. I have grown accustomed to walking, talking, singing, and chanting and in some small way I have given a piece of my heart to this 54 mile stretch of 80 East from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Leaving behind a piece of your heart – whether with a person, or a place, or both – can leave you with a strange numbing sort of pain for a while. A pain that you don’t actually want to escape because in some ways it is like being surrounded by a cloud of genuine gratefulness and awe. It is this joyful sadness that I feel today. 

Talking to a friend from the march about this feeling, we both immediately thought of the same quote from Mother Teresa – “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” This hurt in our hearts, comes from an abundance of love. Love for the people we walked beside. Love for the foot soldiers who came before us. Love for the unity that bound us together in the splattering, wet rain or in the sweat of the beating sun. Love for the openness that let us share deeply as our feet moved together. Love for the sound of voices from across the nation rising as one. Love for the rangers who fed us, taught us, counted us, and kept us safe. Love for the green pastures, cloudy skies, and even for the far-off cows who were mostly oblivious to our presence.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” In many ways, I feel that this proverb is all that needs to be said about our journey. “Walk together children and don’t you grow weary.” Bam. Done. Walk together. Truly walk together. I love that adverb “together”. It’s not “walk near”, “walk with”, or even “walk alongside”. It is walk together. When you walk together, you are one.

Ubuntu (another African concept): “I am who I am because of who we all are.” In walking together, camping together, eating together, singing together, marching into the capitol together we built an impromptu family. The word that keeps coming to me is intimacy. There was a deep shared intimacy amongst us. We learned – not through lectures or reading, but through doing and living – that our strength comes not from any individual but from our unity. Walking by myself I would just be lonely, tired, and wet. All things I hate. Together the hills did not seem so big and the journey did not seem so long. In fact, it is surprising how quickly you can become accustomed to walking 12 miles a day. Days of 3 or 6 miles, we complained, were just not far enough.

At the beginning of the trip, I mentioned that I find it is easy to feel alone in “fighting the good fight” and so maybe the most important part of this trip is just that I don’t feel so alone. This week I saw potential and passion oozing around every bend in the road. People with incredibly diverse interests joined together. Feet that kept walking even with blisters. Honest connections and conversations. It left me feeling like there is a lot of hope out there. Just like my photojournalist friend Albert trains his eyes to look for the best shot, I’ve just got to tune my eyes for the hope that is all around us and then keep on walking. Keep on walking. Together. And don’t grow weary.
Jennifer Arnold
Guest Blogger
First Published at The Education Exploration

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