I’ve been in Toronto with Tim for the past four days and have had a wave of emotions/feelings/experiences. I had to take time out today for an hour or so from the “marketplace of learning” and sit and think and write. I am the type of person that when speaking about things that are important to me, I often befuddle the words, misspeak, or become overwhelmed with joy/frustration that I don’t convey my thoughts as well as I’d like. Writing, it seems, has always been the channel for which my thinking, makes sense to others, and makes sense to myself.
In the past four days there has been anticipation, fear, pride, waves of being overwhelmed, challenges, surprises, excitement, movement, annoyance, isolation, reflection, honesty, courage, connections, reminders, judgment, encouragement, cynicism, joy, hilarity, irony, and curiosity.
Tim and I talked over a very large slices of pizza about how he found where he was supposed to be. My story is a different, of course, but important. The old John Lennon adage “life is what happens when you’re making other plans” has always reminded me of how I found myself where I am.
As I think about the unexpected odyssey Starfire has taken me on during the past 3 years, I’m resolved to know that while I struggle here with thoughts and ideas and questions, there is a wonderful (and not to underestimate them) amazing group of people in Cincinnati truly living this.
Our first night here a woman in my small group said, “the now is isolating.” She went on to explain that she felt that her co-workers and people at her organization, even in her part of the world, didn’t get “it.” The “it” being, those five valued experiences Starfire has come to learn as so important: experiencing respect, making choices, making contributions, growing in relationships, and sharing common spaces, and why it’s so important that everyone, not just people with labels of disability, be able to experience these things. I listened to her as she talked and instantly thought of Cincinnati, and of Starfire, and of the people I live this work with. How my experience has been very different, how I feel most connected, most alive, as close to that “beloved community” as possible when I am working. (As a side note: I don’t feel like “working” and “work” are quite the right words. It’s all related to the work we do: talking to neighbors, being curious, asking questions, being present, bring life to your neighborhood, thinking. There’s not quite a 9-5 to this, and there shouldn’t be.)
While I am here thinking, talking, processing, questioning, meeting, and rapidly scribbling notes in the margins of notebooks, I’ve gotten facebook updates and emails from home. Glorious updates of the “work” that is taking place. I recently saw that Jason’s Coke & Cheeseburger Parties is taking off with over 25 likes on Facebook in a less than a week. (Search Coke & Cheeseburger Parties to like it yourself!) Jason is a man who loves Coke and loves cheeseburgers. Instead of trying to “fix” this in Jason, we’ve helped him think about who else values Coke and cheeseburgers. It didn’t take much time to realize that most Americans probably do. Matt Groening has a wonderful quote (I’m assuming it’s from the Comic Book Guy, but please correct me if I’m wrong) from The Simpsons that fits the purpose of Jason’s project,
“Oh, loneliness and cheeseburgers are a dangerous mix.”
And that’s the point isn’t it? Jason is connecting to businesses, nonprofits, schools, people, and helping create a community of people to talk, meet, and enjoy two things he loves: Coke and cheeseburgers. In the meantime, Jason gets to meet new people, people see Jason as a valuable person (after all—he’s grilling and bringing this stuff for free!), and he gets to do these things in common spaces, with common people and experience respect, and make a contribution—afterall a Coke & Cheeseburger party is uniquely Cincinnati!
Jason has even had write-up on the Cincinnati Beacon in which Brandon, a thoughtful addition to our staff last year, identifies himself as Jason’s assistant and helps explain the project to a wider audience.
I’ve followed facebook posts about Jamie attending a CincyChic fashion show next week and watching the posts and tags build as Lora, our new AmeriCorps invites others to come too, to connect Jamie to others and helps her share in those five valued experiences doing something Jamie is already passionate about: fashion.
I think of Sarah’s desk with post-it notes and lists taped around her keyboard. The lists contain ideas and energy and names of people to connect with, to invite for coffee, to ask in to meet, to help with another persons project. How exciting it all is.
Leah, another AmeriCorps this year, and also our social media guru, is sending email blasts keeping people on track, outlining the next steps. I read an email from Kathleen, a senior, outlining her plans for a volunteer appreciation luncheon. She’s sketched out a budget, thought of possible keynote speakers she’d like to invite, and is full-speed ready to start thinking about table decorations and the color of napkins. JC has a list of mechanics, autorepair places in Oakley who have expressed interest in helping him put on the very first Oakley carshow. Lenny, of Shorty & Lenny’s Garage on Robertson, has already said “my cars will be there” and he mused about how this was a great thing for Oakley, and that he would talk to other guys he knows who love cars too. You can feel the energy behind this, can’t you?
There were lots of questions and fear and anxiety about what the senior year, this final year together would look like. I know that these projects have taught me something already— that really, the answer to most questions, most challenges, and frustrations, is people. Who do we know, and how can they contribute their gifts? The answer will always be we’re better together.