This is the 10th post in a summer series on what travel has to teach us about life.
We had just finished the tour of Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood Atlanta home. I was struck by the geographical placement of it, how it straddled different worlds. Located in the haves section of the black community, it had sat just on the edge of the have nots, with a white store owner across the street who would take money from King but not let him play with his son past a certain age.
As we walked through the historic district, a woman instructed her child to clear the sidewalk so that we adults could share the space as we passed. I’d never seen such an act: in Cleveland near where I grew up, one would have been more likely to be run over by a child in their exuberance to get to wherever they were going than shown courtesy by one.
I had already detached from formal religion, so as my friend Susan and I headed towards historic Ebenezer Church where King was pastor from 1960 until his death in 1968, I had no expectations that touring it would hold anything more for me than knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement. We made our way up the staircases and as we did, King’s voice could be heard, faint at first, then progressively stronger as we neared the sanctuary. We entered the main room and I was struck by how humble it was. I’d grown up in the Catholic Church, where even low to middle-class congregations worshipped in buildings with high cathedral ceilings, intricately detailed stained-glass windows, grand architecture, and life-sized statues of Christianity’s first family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
We walked to the right side and slipped into a pew towards the back, as King’s words spurring on a movement were piped in from the pulpit. Susan was on the left of me. For the moment we were all alone.
That’s when it happened. I went from curious student of history to basket case in the course of five seconds flat. I was sobbing before I even had the chance to realize I was going to cry. As soon as my brain caught up with my emotions, I tried to put a lid on it. It wasn’t happening. My self-control was completely gone. I turned to Susan in consternation and stated the obvious:
“I can’t stop crying.”
The picture of cool and calm, she replied, “Yeah, the same thing happened to my Mom when I brought her here.” Then she turned back towards the pulpit as if having a blubbering wreck next to her was par for the course. My body continued to be wracked by sobs.
One other family entered the vestibule. It was a Mom, Dad, and teenage son. I breathed in a huge gasp of air as I observed them, trying desperately now to overcome the emotional overload that the strength of King’s words combined with the humility of the place brought on. The thought that kept running through my head was ‘A movement that changed the world was launched, in part, from this very space, and it looks so ordinary, so plain in here.’
As I watched the family make their way into the area, there seemed to be a tiff going on between the son and his parents. In the mode of teenagers everywhere, I saw him scoff off from them as he apparently lost the battle and reluctantly made his way to the front to kneel before the pulpit. By the time he’d made it up there, his attitude had been replaced by something else.
He was sobbing.
My jaw dropped. As much I hadn’t expected to start crying, I was even more astounded that this young man, who just a few seconds before had been a picture of contempt, would be caught up in the same uncontrollable weeping.
And of course, just like a sneeze, watching him turned my astonishment into fresh convulsions. This time though, I let go and let it happen. Wave after wave hit me, and even Susan could no longer be blase. She asked if I was OK. I nodded yes. And I was, I really was.
It took a long time to be able to express consciously what it was that happened that day at Ebenezer. I knew it before I could say it, but eventually the mystical forces that washed over us formed into a deeper understanding that could, albeit only partially, be defined. Here is what I now know:
We are all told that we have to start a dream from wherever we are at, but the experience of that is much different than the words could ever convey. Being in that church that day was akin to having the experience of how powerful it is to have very little materially, or in terms of worldly status, and launching a dream anyway. It was an unexpected gift to be able to know that kind of True Power, what I call Spiritual Power, without having actually done anything yet myself to have earned It.
Because of that, now whenever I am stuck on some technical aspect of my website that has me baffled and throwing up my hands, or I feel overwhelmed with all that I do not know about the publishing world or what steps to take to start my Purpose Schools or how to phrase a sentence so that it is both real and uplifting, I think back to that moment in that church with that Voice and that young teen just on the verge of adulthood there with me, crying with me, experiencing something together with me that could not be named but which nevertheless contained all the Limitlessness that either of us would ever need to pull us through anything.
And I cry. I cry tears of gratitude because I remember then that I, that we, are unstoppable.