I’m not a big believer in destiny, but it seems there was something written in the stars when the 2016 National Council for Teachers of English conference was held in Atlanta and centered around “Faces of Advocacy.” When I first saw that descriptor in an email, I thought of Aaron, one of the most selfless human beings I’m lucky enough to have as a colleague and friend. He is every student’s champion during school days and he’s involved in numerous social activism and community building groups after work. Selfishly, I wanted Aaron to be my travel buddy, so I could grow as an advocate, all the while having him as a guru besides me.
As I anticipated, Aaron turned out to be a great travel buddy, and I did grow as an advocate with him beside me, but it wasn’t in the way that I had initially expected. While we attended some of the same workshops and almost always ate meals and walked to and from the hotel together, it was our visit to a national landmark several miles away from the convention center that confirmed the serendipitous nature of our trip.
We only had a few hours left before our flight back to New York, and none of the last sessions really intrigued us, so we hopped in a cab and went to The Martin Luther King Jr. Center. We did not speak to each other as we walked through the various rooms. We understood that we needed to take in the words, photographs, sculptures, and artifacts in our own way on our own time.
I personally was struck by quotes carved into granite, short phrases from Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, three men I taught my high school juniors about back in Westchester County. Then I walked toward an excerpt of one of King’s speeches etched onto glass. As I snapped a picture, I saw Aaron reflected behind me. I re-read the words, “All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny…” I could feel goosebumps rising on my skin, too heavily clothed for the Atlanta weather.
King’s words were an affirmation of what I believe about the interconnectedness of humans, and how if we are to progress, it must be done together. But I still wasn’t sure how to process the metaphor about “destiny.” I just let it linger in my mind, without saying anything to Aaron.
We left the building and proceeded to the reflecting pool where the crypt of MLK, Jr. and Coretta Scott King is housed. Aaron and I stood beside each other, still in silence, and took in the beauty of the day, the moment, and the couples’ legacy. The sun shone down in a magical way, almost captured by the photo I took.
Aaron thanked me for accompanying him to the Center as we waited for our cab to the airport. That is just the kind of guy he is. I told him that it was my pleasure and it was the most enlightening part of the weekend. It allowed me to better internalize and apply all we had learned during the “Faces of Advocacy” convention.
A few months later, I asked Aaron if he could join me and my family when we visited the Yale Peabody Museum on MLK, Jr. Day. He respectfully declined and thanked me for taking my kids to it.
There was an exhibit of artwork created by local New Haven students. My daughter stood enrapt by a piece called “Dream,” which had King’s famous line written over and over within the sketch of his body, surrounded by a background of rainbow colors. At a craft station where children were encouraged to write their own dream on a hand, I almost cried seeing her wish for the kindness of friends.
I flashed-back to Atlanta, filled with the peace, knowledge, hope, and love that travel brings.