What is it you believe? Caminando, caminando. What matters most in this world? Caminando, caminando. 

The words bring me back. It’s November of 2005 and I’m sitting under a big tent just outside of Fort Benning, Georgia. I’m a senior in college and all the rheortic of social justice and community service that has been so much an active part of my life the last three years, has reached a point where it is asking more of me. In college, it’s not easy to be committed to social justice. The temptations to do anything but think about the marginalized are many, especially as universities rush to add amenities to make college more Disney Land than intellectual garden.

But if I thought it was difficult to stay true in college, the prospect of answering the oh so well-known and famous “What do you plan to do after college?” question felt even more daunting. I knew, based on the rhetoric I espoused, what I was supposed to do. Post-grad service. A strong and unrelenting commitment to place myself amidst the world’s poor. And to be honest with you, I was so, so so, incredibly scared to do that. But my time in at the largest social justice conference I had ever been to, changed all that.

Caminando, caminando. Ten years later, I’ve returned to the scene of the crime, to the Ignatian Solidarity Network Teach In.

At the Teach In you run into so many people. Here are two recent graduates who inspire me greatly!

Things are a little different from that special weekend in 2005 that helped me end up on a trajectory to return to this conference 10 years later. Gone is the tent, and Georgia altogether. Instead, I sit in a Marriott at the steps of the Pentagon in Crystal City, Virgina. I am no lifer an idealistic student but rather an exhibitor here to talk about social justice study abroad opportunities. The group has grown from a few hundred to a couple thousand. But the call is still the same. Caminando, caminando. Vamos caminando hacia el sol.

At first glance, 32-year-old Patrick doesn’t seem all that different from 22-year-old Patrick.

With Mike, a guy who is still one of my best friends, a few months after my first teach in experience.

A little older. A little less hair. But if you had told me at 22 that 10 years from now, I’d still be working on behalf of social justice, I’d be relieved. Because social justice work hasn’t always come easy to me. I’ve often been tempted to turn my back on social justice. How can you not? In my 20’s- the temptation to turn the other way, toward a more financially lucrative career, was simple- nicer dinners out. More freedom to buy luxury goods. Etc… But each day where I interacted with the poor and further rooted myself in social justice was another day where I became more and more committed to this lifestyle, gained more and more strength to turn my back on the luxuries rather than the necessities of life.

But my 30’s presented new challenges, new and more complex desires. Redfin tempted me with the American Dream- wonderful houses I could easily afford, if only I gave up the type of work I do. The introduction of my beautiful son in my life posed a set of new challenges I was wholly unprepared for. The question “How do I be a good dad?” is the most complex and daunting question I’ve ever asked in my life. All that crap about how fatherhood changes you turned out to not be crap but in fact a very real and rapid transformation. And it’s occupied a great deal of both my head and my heart. Is my vocation to the work I do conducive to my work as a dad?

The first night of the conference we had a prayer service for the Jesuit martyrs. The most well-known are 6 men, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter who were brutally gunned down in their home, on the grounds of the Universidad CentroAmericana (UCA).

In El Salvador, contemplating the inspiration the Martyrs leave us with over 25 years later. Photo credit: Joaquin Loustau

But there are more, many more Jesuits who have died in their radical call to stand for and with the poor. And so we honored them by lighting a candle, reading their name, and together as one group affirming vocally they were still presente, inspiring us that night. The room filled with this quiet but brilliant light. I found myself recalling an immersion trip to Chile where one of my students jokingly asked a young Jesuit for some parting words of inspiration. “There are fireworks and there are candles. Fireworks are intense, exciting, and get the attention. Candles aren’t flashy. They’re simple. But while fireworks are temporary, a candle’s light lasts much longer. Be a candle.”

I write about a lot in travel. A total coupon fiend, much of this blog is dedicated toward tips and tricks to save money. A whole other portion is my first hand experience with the world, hoping sharing those experiences might open up opportunity for other likeminded travelers. But if I’m to be honest with myself, long before the glamour of miles and points captured my heart, something else did: I traveled because it exposed me to stories in the world that yearned to be told. My journeys into the developing world provided the fuel I needed to resist the temptations of the developed world. It still does. Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself” talked about the multitudes of self, and I certainly feel that when I think about the very complex relationship I have with travel. For the last few years I have guided others to similar opportunities. It’s what brings me the most joy in my professional life. 

Gone is the tent, and the protest at the gates of Fort Benning. But in this sacred place, a Marriott ballroom, the candles around me provide me the courage I need to continue on this path to solidarity. I’m here. Some other old timers are as well. And I think it’s fair to say we’re all so inspired by a generation of high school and college students who have managed to grow in their commitment to the poor, when the world seeks to steal them away. Francisco Herrera, the musician who has helped bring Ignatian Solidarity Network participants to prayers and reflection strums his guitar, and I know he’s right. Caminando, caminando. Caminando hacia la libertad.

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