Lurching into a New Year
Lurching into a new year
My girlfriend and I huddled against each other on the crumbling sidewalk on Mendenhall Street outside College Hill Sundries in the early morning hours of Jan. 1 in a clotted line leading to a hot-dog vendor, a new fixture in the neighborhood. Once or twice intoxicated revelers stumbled into us, while voices rose from the nearby bar, the apartment above the University General Store and the street itself in aggressive and boisterous tones. A woman in the hot-dog line reported that some of the young men at the party across the street had tried to spit in her hair, and when she left the scene with a male companion she bid farewell by loudly cursing them from the street. When our turn came, we were flanked by two young men; both kept quiet, reflective counsel, and we shared with them a night sojourner’s sense of camaraderie around the accomplishment of waiting in the bitter cold long enough to get our dogs. The vendor appeared to be doing a brisk business, but revealed a level of discomfort with the job. He said he was filling in for a friend, who had taken advantage of the New Years Eve foot traffic to work another spot. He periodically shined a small flashlight at the mass of meat tubes on his grill, squinted at the various fixings and sauces at his disposal, and frequently asked customers to repeat their orders. It seemed a fitting end to the night. Or at least as fitting as possible, for a holiday for which I’ve resolved to hold no expectations. Like my colleague, Keith Barber, I’m asking myself how I might commit myself to deeper and more meaningful service in 2009. After all, in less than two weeks we’ll have a new president — one who launched his improbable bid for the office with a declaration that the campaign was about us not him, and who seemed to suggest throughout the process that we are the change we need. Even if his presidency now seems as remote and imperial as any of his predecessors, I cling to an obstinate faith that charts most of our destiny through the small exchanges that constitute relationships with coworkers, family members and neighbors. Outside of my vocation, I yearn to demonstrate leadership and to contribute something to my city and state to leave them in better shape than how I found them. I pray that I will be guided to use my gifts for the greater good and not for my personal aggrandizement. What all these high-minded ideals have to do with the hotdog vendor and the famished revelers — or with Barack Obama, for that matter — I can’t say, except that for that moment they comprised an imperfect community that was not of our choosing, but to which we belonged. Isn’t that Greensboro, in microcosm? My girlfriend and I lay in bed the next morning in no hurry to get up and go to work, and we talked about our future together. This was our first New Year’s Eve togetheras a couple, as she has pointed out, and we’re gradually figuring out how to support each other, help each other flourish and turn the passion we share outward even as we strengthen the bonds of our partnership. When we talk about buying a house someday — assuming that’s possible if all the stars align through our own wise financial decisions, and external factors such as credit availability and personal earnings — we’re contemplating deepening our stake in this city. Both of us approaching our mid-30s; We should be coming into our own now, giving something back to our community and carrying some of the weight. We’d also like to have a little more financial security, though neither of us seem to harbor much hope. Outside of my vocation, where my output is governed by a specific set of rules, I’m not always certain what leadership and service are. Do they entail efforts to reconcile adversarial parties? Do they entail challenging injustice? Do they simply entail putting oneself at the disposal of the poor and powerless? All three, I’m sure. Here are the loose strands of my thoughts about service: I’ve worked myself out of a job with Food Not Bombs, which has lately been thriving from the volunteer energies of college students. I’ve let my volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity lapse. I’m looking forward to another municipal election in Greensboro, which I hope offers forthright dialogue among candidates that give the voters clear choices. I’m at loose ends in this new year. And I’m ready to be drafted.
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