I can think of three travel-related instances during my mid-to-late teens when I was jolted out of my zombie state and made to reconsider the life ahead of me. That’s not necessarily something expected on family road trips cross-country, but it happened nevertheless.
The first occurred at Kings Mountain National Military Park, the site of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle in which a number of my ancestors and their extended family had participated. The stillness of the forest, reminiscent of the past, and the unusual coolness of that summer morning gave the site an almost sacred aura that firmly impressed on my mind images of what had occurred centuries earlier. I gained a new respect and admiration for those who had risked and sacrificed their lives to protect their families and their community. However, in the end, that wasn’t what touched me the most.
At some point during that day, a park ranger happened to mention some recent visitors from Scotland. They were kin of Major Patrick Ferguson, the Royal officer who had led the Loyalists to defeat. These Fergusons had travelled across the Atlantic to pay their respects and lay flowers at his grave. Suddenly, I saw the dead man as they must have seen him: not as a stereotyped image of political oppression yanked out of an American History textbook, but as a family man who was just doing his job and whose body had been needlessly defiled at the hands of the Rebel Patriots.
A historian hundreds of years from now might try to pinpoint that day as when I first started on the path towards pacifism, but that would be incorrect. Yet it was the first time I clearly saw “the enemy” as a human rather than as a deranged, soulless, faceless monster, be him Muslim, Spanish, French, German, or Vietnamese.
A typical family vacation led to an unforgettable lesson, and I had not even left my home country. If anything, you could say I had returned to it. I had let down my guard, believing that I had perfect foresight regarding what I’d experience. Instead I had made myself vulnerable, and a shock to the system caused the walls of my secluded world to come crashing down. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36) has taken on a whole new meaning ever since.