One Hell of a Ride

At this point, the fellowship has past its halfway mark, the weeks sliding by quickly. Expectedly, only now do things start to feel like anything at all. There have been no breathtaking moments; instead, the people I’ve met have rubbed off on me, and only hours later do I find the connection, accompanied by an “oh“ and a sigh. Usually when I’m driving and about to miss my exit.

The past week came together nicely; once I saw, I couldn’t unsee. It began with me wanting to make a reference to my friend about Emerson and his theory of the transparent eyeball. Transcendentalist literature saved my life, and Emerson always brings me home. To be a transparent eyeball is to see all things and let them pass through you, to not obstruct yourself or nature from unity, reflection, bodiless ephemeral appreciation. But Annie Dillard, patron saint of my heart and Transcendentalist expert, critiqued Emerson some hundred odd years later, with the truthful comment that we are not transparent. With all things, our vision of the world is built into ourselves, our unique lens formed over our lifetimes. We cannot be a bodiless transparent eyeball because we are, and to interpret information as completely pure is to neglect our own role in interpretation.

Relevancy? I’m always skewing what I see no matter my intention. And the number one thing I’m taking in during this fellowship is stories. I think I’ve mentioned that, but truly I’ve become a reservoir of other peoples lives, granted in our day-to-day interactions. I’m not sure how much of it is from the illusion of wisdom and authority the fellowship is guising me in or how much is my bizarre habit of capturing trust – whatever the cause, I’ll take it.

From Mr. Single Father to Six-Year-Old to Night Janitor, I’ve been granted stories again and again this summer. I’m greedy for them too, stripping them down for my own use — I’m a gluttonous writer — and responding less with advice and more with an attentive nod of respect.

Before this all began, it was firmly preference that this is not a service fellowship. We are here to learn, and learning, as they make abundantly clear in grade school, means sitting and listening. It’s taken some getting used to, laying low and being inactive in a group discussion. I want to help! Lemme do a thing! But that’s not what they need and I don’t know very much anyway. Circles of Support is the biggest part of that sitting and listening, as the Leaders work with their Allies every week on an evolution of their situation. Who am I to jump in on that? Exactly. Gotta be quiet and listen.

Circles of Support pairs Leaders in the program, individuals working on self-sustainability, with Allies in the community who can help them via emotional support, practical advice and even networking. It’s a multi-year program. It’s been slow to sit through, I won’t lie, but this week there was a breakthrough as the Allies confronted the Leaders that they can’t make the first move, that the Leaders must take charge and the Allies will be there with them every step of the way. That’s a good lesson to learn.

The day prior I lead my first discussion workshop at Work Ready; it began with a rough outline of the British Romanticism literary movement and broke down into a discussion of the spirit of ourselves. It started with many, if not all, of the clients saying they don’t feel like they matter in the world because the world has written them off: because they aren’t in school or don’t have a good job or receive welfare. It ended with the firm repetition of “I matter, I matter.” The clients took to it far better than I imagined and it ended up lasting an extra half hour. Stories, stories, stories spilled forth, each full of fight and determination in the face of layered obstruction. A group of single mothers born into poverty being made to jump through hoops for their whole lives? They’re a bunch of goddamn acrobats at this point.

It takes me a few sentences, maybe a couple paragraphs, to explain what I’m doing on campus this summer when relatives ask. My sister simplified her question as: “are you getting work experience?” I said no. Technically I am, but really, no, nothing is practical, not directly (a fact that I fully plan to lie about in any and all job interviews). Mr. Single Father, a man close to the end of his life, sums it all up as “one hell of a ride” and here I am quietly catching a ride.

Beauregard Charles ’17