I’m making my world a little smaller on purpose.
My new job is going well and keeping me busy–the entire week last week was essentially booked wall to wall with meetings and appointments, all good–so my workday is more or less a blur between the hours of morning and evening. Because of the typical workday hours at Mitchell, and because of preschool hours, I am often the last person in the office and the last person out at the end of the day. Wohali, one of the college’s security team, stops by to lock up the house, and I have to ask him to come back later.
Once home, I try to keep the office out of the couple of hours I’ll get to see the kiddos before bed. The 3.6 mile commute between my driveway and my office is a big deal in that regard–I can work right up until dinner time, squeezing in a few extra things before supper.
The funny thing is that my commute isn’t entirely a new route–it’s just a trip up Broad Street, basically, and I’ve been making the same trip anyway to drop the kids off at preschool for years. (Also incredible: preschool is now across the street from work.) Even so, these days I’m seeing things differently.
I notice the city cemetery, and I see a freshly dug grave under a tent, the mound of turned soil covered in flowers. The next day, and the day after, I see people who’ve come back to the site, standing in the morning light, watching.
There’s a pattern to the groundskeepers who work downtown. There are characters I hadn’t noticed before, buildings I hadn’t looked at in a while. I’ve taken to walking to lunch, or riding the bike I keep at the office, soaking in an unfamiliar tempo of life–the college students who gather in front of the smoke shop, the window cleaners on their ladders listening to Rush on an old, battery-powered radio, the crowd in front of the new restaurant.
My office is in an old house, something not dissimilar from my office at Davidson, and its lovely incongruities form the backdrop to the moments here and there I’ve been able to spend at my desk. We have a good team of people in my office, and they do good work.
I’ve begun an effort to make my way around campus and meet people in different divisions of the college and hear what they do and why they love it. I like to ask them what they’re proudest of, what they’d change if they could just snap their fingers, how they do their best. Their candor and (so far) genuine commitment to the work is inspiring.
The process by which I interviewed and was hired for this job happened to straddle the November election, and I am certainly open to telling people that the outcome affected my thinking about changing jobs. I had a cushy seat in a beautiful ivory tower at Davidson–that’s not criticism–but suddenly in the wake of Trump’s election, I found myself wanting to be closer to the ground, to the front lines of what for so many was a disenfranchised life.
The election result, I truly believe, was the painful yawp of millions of people for whom no clear pathway to the America they believe they deserve existed. I am not trying to condone or normalize anything here. I’m only trying to empathize.
So I find myself now working in a place that has an enormous and complicated mission. The college offers myriad programs and pathways. You can come to Mitchell for high school remediation, or basic skills development; for vocation or career-specific training, certification, or re-certification; for an associates degree; for extra college credits. Some folks enroll to play in the community band.
Beyond high school, though, this is the first step up for so many students. The outcomes are clear and measurable in terms of their impacts on individuals’ lives: the opportunity for a job, or a better job; the chance to save money on a bachelors degree; the chance to learn to read.
There is a visceral human element to this place that is remarkable. And to my own personal joy, an essential part of my job is telling the story of that light.
I haven’t had time to pay much attention to the pulse of anger that has followed Inauguration Day, but in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed, I will open up Twitter or Facebook and scroll through. It’s overwhelming. The injured howl that swept in the Trump administration is now echoed by the resistance. And right now, there’s mostly screaming.
So last night, instead of wading back into the river of indignation that is my news feed, I plugged in my noise-cancelling headphones and laid down on the couch and listened to a Ben Folds album. I opened up a book. I closed my eyes and thought.
I don’t have the energy or the personality to be angry or defiant all of the time. It’s one of the reasons I’ve backed off so much about writing about public education. It’s the primary reason I don’t have anything to say about the current administration.
And besides, for every friend steeping in rage, there’s another rejoicing. They’re all humans, and my religious charge calls me to love them unconditionally. More and more, politics in the media age has turned into an exercise of righteousness before hypocrisy. And though I have shouted–and will no doubt shout again one day–in the cages of politics, I am exhausted and more in need of love.
I put on my headphones and savor the sonorous buzz of the bass line, the warm timbre of percussion, of hickory drum sticks clicking on a thick brass ride cymbal, the calling notes of a long piano. I read, long articles in magazines and poems and novels. I linger over a photographer’s Instagram stream, pouring over pictures from other countries, studying faces.
I pedal my bicycle on Mulberry Street and Front Street and Broad Street, remembering the chill of January air as it bleeds through my jacket and sweater, looking anew at porches and windows. I see the tattooed woman tending bar at the burger joint, the Hispanic family at the daycare, the mourner standing before a mound of lilies and roses.
This is a time to remember and renew and celebrate humanity. America has gone to bed angry too many nights in a row. Perhaps it’s time for us to wake up and sit quietly with a cup of coffee across the table from one another and notice the little things we used to love–the dimpled smile, the meaning of putting the spoon out by the coffee pot–and forgive each other. Because soon, already, now, it’s time to go to work.