Amma’s Chicago programs were over at 8 a.m. on June 23. Later that morning, I was on my way to Atlanta. I had attended her programs there two years before and was eager to go back. This year, Atlanta would be my last stop on Amma’s North American tour.
My friend Yashas was flying standby and was able to get a seat on my flight. He had investigated Atlanta’s public transportation and had learned that we could board the subway at the airport and it would take us to a stop in the same complex where our hotel was located.
After spending much of the Chicago area program walking in rural fields, I was unprepared for the jolt that came at being in a big city. It started when we got off of the subway and I found myself standing at the bottom of an immense escalator.
The escalator ended near a food court that was the biggest I had ever seen. As we looked for the way to the hotel where Amma’s program would be held, a man stopped us and asked if we needed help. He offered to take us to our destination. He led us one direction and then another; I felt as if I was in a maze. I couldn’t imagine doing this on my own and was grateful for his help. When we arrived in the hotel, he asked if we would buy him a sandwich. I was surprised, but was fine with it. He had definitely provided us with an invaluable service.
The maze ended on a floor of the hotel that contained a cocktail lounge. Many people were partying there (at least that was my perception) and it was loud.
The hotel was beautiful, but what a contrast it was to the Chicago fields. I read later that it has 51 floors although I never saw an elevator that went higher than 41.
The lobby was on the floor below the cocktail lounge. I checked in and then went to my room. When I shut the door, all of the sound from the hotel stopped. My room felt like an oasis. Even though the hotel was impressive and the staff were very nice, I longed to be walking in the fields.
The main part of the hotel had four sets of elevators, each going to a different series of floors. There were many conferences going on, some even on the same floor as ours. I continued to feel as if I was in a maze and had trouble finding what I needed to find. As I get older, when I am frustrated, I am more likely to get rattled, confused and overwhelmed. The next morning, even the sensory stimulation of Amma’s program (crowds, music, etc.) felt like too much for me.
Amma helps us learn to be calm in the middle of chaos. I was certainly getting the opportunity to work on that issue. Because of my overwhelm, I totally forgot that Chaitanya, Sreejit and I had plans to go to the Martin Luther King Historic Site during the afternoon break on the first day of the program. Chaitanya and I had gone there when we came to Amma’s Atlanta programs two years before and had both been profoundly moved. The afternoon break is short so we didn’t stay as long as we wanted to stay that year. We had resolved to return to the site the next time Amma came to Atlanta.
This year Sreejit went with us, as did four other friends. I loved being at there again. I was once again flooded with feelings and memories, since I lived through that era, and appreciated that this site gave younger people the opportunity to learn about that time in our country’s history. I only took a few photos this year since I had taken so many during my first visit. The first picture below is of Sreejit joining the civil rights marchers in an interactive exhibit at the visitors’ center. The other three photos are squares of a quilt found in a Freedom Hall room dedicated to Rosa Parks.
Prior to my last visit, I did not know that Martin Luther King had been so inspired by Gandhi that he had traveled to India to learn about Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I saw this quote by Gandhi in Freedom Hall’s Gandhi room. I wasn’t able to photograph it without the reflection, but decided to share it with you anyway.
As I was writing this post, a Gandhi quote I have treasured for many years came to my mind.
I claim to be no more than the average person with less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.
Even though Martin Luther King and Gandhi never met in person, I love that Dr. King respected him so much. What incredible role models they both continue to be.
The photos below are of the place where Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King’s bodies are interred. I felt privileged to be able to stand there once again.
My time at the Martin Luther King Historic Site helped ground me and I was able to return to the hotel and enjoy the evening program with Amma.
It is my experience that when I am with Amma, life lessons come at a rate that is faster than in normal living. I often feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster but I know the challenges are also an opportunity for healing. During those times, synchronicities abound, and I never know what is waiting for me around the corner.
Perhaps the most important event that occurred during my time in Atlanta began the previous year. I left home at 17 (I’m now 68) and I have had very little contact with my biological family since I was 21. My parents and younger brother are no longer living. My other brother and I email occasionally. My children spent some time with my younger brother during the years he was sick. They also attended my mother’s funeral and have had a few experiences with their remaining uncle but don’t know their cousins or extended family.
Just prior to last year’s Chicago programs, my brother wrote me and told me that his youngest son had written a blog post on Father’s Day; one that was about our father. I found it fascinating to read about my father from his grandson’s perspective. There was some information in the post that surprised me, so I wrote my brother about it. That began a process of us sharing memories with each other. At one point, he added his two sons to the email chain and I added Chaitanya and Sreejit. As a result, our adult children started communicating with each other for the first time. Much of this conversation happened during Amma’s Chicago programs. I did not believe that was a coincidence.
As this year’s tour approached, my nephew and Chaitanya corresponded again. He decided he and his family would drive from Florida to Atlanta so we could meet each other. We were all excited about that opportunity. They arrived late in the afternoon. Our time together was limited but we used it well. We talked and talked…. and talked. I felt very drawn and connected to them and very much look forward to future contact. Who would have thought that family healing would come after all of these years.
Geetha is a friend who used to live in Seattle, but moved to Amma’s Amritapuri ashram many years ago. During the foreign tours, she stands next to Amma and helps facilitate the thousands of people who come for Amma’s hug. (Amma’s form of blessing is to give each person who comes to her a motherly hug. At this point, she has hugged 37 million people.) That night, when I arrived at Amma’s chair for my own hug, Geetha asked me how the family reunion had gone. She then told Amma about it. Amma smiled broadly and asked me a couple of questions. I occasionally bring questions to Amma but rarely have discussions with her aside from that. It was such a wonderful way to end my 2017 Summer tour.
I left Atlanta the next day feeling tired, but happy and full …. and ready to return to my work in the Greenbelt.