Many in the audience stayed, long after the lecture had ended. Throughout the chapel and spilling into the foyer, small clusters huddled together and parsed Dr. Cornell West’s words. I was still trying to wrap my head around the part where he wove together quotes from Thelonious Monk, Emily Dickinson, and Michel Foucault on the nature of unconditional love. A young woman in soiled khakis and Bean Boots was sharing her recent experiences with Médecins Sans Frontières in Cambodia. She’d recently spent six weeks pedaling from village to village on a heavily MacGyvered Raleigh set up as a mobile malaria vaccination lab. “I was planning on ten weeks, but had to leave early,” she said.
The reason she had to leave early, it turned out, was that she would spend the remainder of the month in Ferguson, Missouri - protesting and tending to minor injuries and illnesses of other volunteers… before returning to her job at Comer Children’s Hospital in the trauma center. As she finished her story, I shuffled my feet and looked at the ground. We knew one another through bicycles, but not terribly well. “I like your Twitter,” she said. I mumbled something unintelligible. Thankfully, a couple of teenage community activists began talking about their fundraising drive for a new after school program in Woodlawn. “We’re thinking of using Gofundme,” said the older boy.
It began to snow as I walked home in the darkness. Try as I might, I couldn’t resist the temptation to pull out my phone. It had been off for a couple of hours, I thought. I’M PROBABLY MISSING A LOT. The screen flashed, and I pulled up Twitter. An argument about Zwift. A link to a Gofundme for delusional cat 3s. Dozens of photos of $12 socks. I put the phone back in my pocket and paused, looking back at Rockefeller Chapel. Illuminated and sparkling against a blueberry night sky, it beckoned. Taking a long breath, I turned around and walked back.