Words Fail, But Here are 1,119 Anyway

The Civil Rights Tour. If we’re not Facebook friends (or if you’ve gifted yourself and hidden or muted me, which I’d applaud you for), it was a week long trek through the deep south visiting monuments (churches, museums, cemeteries, and institutions such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Equal Justice Initiative) and listening to and talking with foot soldiers. I’ve spent the two and a half weeks since I returned ruminating, reading, honing my Civil Rights playlist, listening to podcasts, and trying to re-enter reality. And, to be honest, contemplating what ‘reality’ even means after such an experience.

I’ve also, of course, tried repeatedly to write about it. In another tab of my browser, I currently have another draft (1137 words!) where I tried to describe the trip; blathering on about why I didn’t care to use the term life-changing. In it, I had settled on the term visceral as the overall descriptor. For better or worse, I walked away from it without completing it. When I came back to it, I hated it. I’m vowing to myself to plow through this today and hit publish, even though I know from plenty of experience the same damn thing will happen. At some point (could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years) I’ll read this again and wonder why I EVER thought it would be a good idea to post it.

Yet, here we are.

I could share with you our entire itinerary and expound upon my reactions to all of it, but instead I’m going to try and give you a little window into what was going on in my gray matter (be afraid, be very afraid). There was a fair amount of turmoil involved, which should surprise no one.

I wanted to take dozens of photos at every stop,

so I wouldn’t forget anything. But I also wanted to drop kick my camera into oncoming traffic, so I could quit trying to preserve the moments and instead be fully present.

I wanted to photograph each man and woman we heard from,

because it felt so incredible to simply be in the same rooms, breathing the same air with them. But I often couldn’t bring myself to do it, because it felt irreverent to even attempt to capture their essences in a still photo. I did take photos of a couple of them, but am sitting here feeling a fair amount of regret for not have gotten a photo of Carolyn McKinstry, because I feel like the hour I spent listening to her was perhaps one of the most important hours of my life. But, then again, perhaps that’s because I had put the damn camera away and was fully present.

I wanted to grab my American history high school teacher by the lapels, shake him, and interrogate him

as to why there was so much of what I was learning that I didn’t already know. Seventeen year old Anne could clearly see the guy was useless and my week hammered that idea home. And yet, I felt some sympathy for him. Because he didn’t write the curriculum. And, if we’re being real, I questioned whether or not I’d have wanted to hear any of this coming from him; because there is no way he could’ve done the topic justice. And even if he’d been the best history teacher on earth, it’s entirely possible the significance would’ve been lost on a large percentage of the student body. Even me, though I fancied myself to be fairly woke at the time (long before woke carried the connotation it does today).

I was fairly obsessed with booking the same trip for my children

before I even got home, as soon as possible; primarily because so many of the foot soldiers are getting on in age. I fretted about the possibility that some of these greats could well be lost before my kids get to hear from them. But I also want to make sure my kids are ready, that they are in a place where they can appreciate the gravity of the era– what was at stake, the extraordinary people involved, the risks taken, the consequences suffered. And, there is admittedly some part of me worried about whether or not my kids could handle it. Though, ultimately, I know the outcome of insulating them from our past is decidedly not an outcome I want. Which is sadly where I differ from a very vocal minority of fellow parents within my school district. That, as I often say, is a post for another day.

Now that I’ve pounded out some words, we come to the point in my process where I question, question, question. Is my inadequacy in talking about this important, phenomenal trip doing it a disservice? Should I deep six the whole thing? Will my words be misunderstood? Should I just keep my mouth shut and continue ruminating internally?

The answer to all of those is undoubtedly a maybe. And yet, not writing about it doesn’t feel like an option.

Not the order I’d have liked for these photos, but I can’t figure out how to fix it.