I’m sitting at Kudu Coffee in the heart of Charleston. The spacious, grassy Marion Square lies a block to my left. Another block down on Calhoun Street sits Mother Emanuel AME Church.
I was here on #RunningTo just six months ago. Here at this coffee shop, there in the square, and even over there walking past just another unsuspecting church; there are dozens of churches in Charleston.
I’d have had no reason to suspect then what would happen in this city and this block hardly six months later. Had no concept I’d be running away back here so soon after running to.
I started my new road trip in Columbia. Slid sixty-five cents into the downtown meter and walked to the Capitol. I’d seen the rebel flag flying out front on my last visit and thought it odd. But then, I’ve never been one to understand Southern culture.
Now I look at these stars and bars with new eyes. An older African-American man stands at the base of the flagpole waving a Confederate flag of his own. People are gathered around him taking pictures and recording him speak. Some are even hugging him – young and old, black and white.
“I drove here all the way from Oklahoma City,” he says to any who will listen. “My country needed me.”
I’d never been to Charleston prior to #RunningTo. I walked the city amazed that it was so close for so many years, and yet I’d never wandered here.
The houses, the railings, the doors.
The parks, the streets, the shore.
Palms and palmettos waving at every corner.
I left Charleston in January convinced I’d return someday soon. Something about the city beckoned a closer look.
And then a bond hearing in June confirmed what I already seemed to know about Charleston. And yet it stole my breath all the same.
A visit to Emanuel AME leaves my heart with a heaviness I’ve not felt since seeing Ground Zero in New York all those years ago.
All ages and all races walk the row of flowers, flags, and messages memorializing the nine fallen. A hallowed hush engulfs this section of Calhoun.
From the start, #RunningTo was about the people; it was always about the people. I organized my entire trip around anyone who reached out to me and offered their home, their couch, or even just a coffee. Along the way, I realized this road trip about all these people would undoubtedly bleed into me.
Conversely, I feel like this #RunningAway has started solely about me. Of getting away and getting alone. Getting clarity.
And yet I’m already realizing this new road trip is about other people, too. The man at the Capitol and those who hug him; the rallying citizens of Charleston and those visiting like me.
This love. It’s unavoidable.
Love is roaring in our midst. Trauma and tragedy are assuredly there too, but this love is too thick to be contained.
Love is the one thing that cannot die.
Love will never lose.
Whether you find yourself running to it or running far away, love will find you and love will win.