It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on my goals this year–but mostly that’s because I’ve been keeping to them well and I haven’t had much to write about. Now that I’ve achieved a few of them and the summer is about to start, it seems fitting to look at them once more.
When I left my room at four in the morning to leave for Alaska, I expected a lot of things: It would be cold, maybe I’d see snow, I’d get to learn about a new culture, work in a school, and maybe see some whales or the aurora borealis. And except for the last two, I did all of these things–but one thing I didn’t expect to learn about was names.
Names mean a lot to me: As a writer, a character’s name (or lack thereof) can be the most defining element to a story. As a leader, learning the names of my fellow students is not only a great way to attract new members, but also to establish a genuine sense of community in our group. And as a gay man in a world where marriage equality seems inevitable only a few short years after it seemed impossible, I’ll someday have to choose my name, his name, or a strained attempt at something in between.
But as I learned in Alaska, the power of names doesn’t end there.
The time has come: In barely twelve hours I’m leaving for Alaska. Past connecting flights in Chicago and Seattle, I’ll leave the lower 48 and have the chance to serve in a culture completely different than what I’m used to.
A different language, a different lifestyle, and I’m so excited to serve them.
Unfortunately, online access will be limited and I won’t be able to post while I’m away. Instead I’ll be eating lunch with the children in school or having dinner at the senior center. I’ll be in classes to learn Tlingit and classes to help students in math and reading. And in the rare moments I’m not actively serving, I’ll be participating in team reflections, writing in my journal, taking pictures, and using poetry to capture my experience.
Most of these pictures, poems, and other writings will be invisible to the world for a number of reasons that will prevent me from sharing them publicly–but I still want to share my experience privately with as many people as I can. I’m still fundraising for my trip, and anyone who donates at least $10 will receive a journal of reflections, photographs, and especially poetry from my service trip in Alaska. For those interested in experiencing my 2013 service trip, a $20 donation will also include my Belize adventure book.
My fundraiser ends on March 7, so please be sure to donate today if you can.
Thank you for all of your help and especially your readership!
Last night a speaker came to campus to talk about bullying. She said a few words–I probably could’ve counted how many–and then she started asking questions. And when we didn’t willingly answer, she stood in silence waiting. And if we still didn’t answer (this only happened once), she walked up to someone and asked him directly.
This wasn’t a typical lecture. It went both ways.
And that got me thinking: bullying goes both ways, too.
Part of N.C. State’s motto is being globally engaged but locally responsive. For most students this probably remains an abstract concept, fuzzy words that don’t mean much from one day to the next, but for those in the Alternative Service Break program, it’s engrained in every trip: Not only do we have a service project in diverse parts of the world, both domestically and abroad, we also have a service project in our local community.
Last year, before my team went to Belize to build a drying rack with cacao farmers, we spent one weekend helping rebuild a house with Habitat for Humanity. The work with hammers and nails was certainly invaluable experience to get us started.
This year’s service project no doubt has prepared me just the same for Alaska.
Last night I did what I haven’t done in a while: I prayed.
I have mixed feelings on what we should pray for, how we should pray for them, and even if prayer’s always necessary, but I couldn’t sleep and the words I needed just seemed to be there. I began thinking of all the people in my life right now who are struggling with sickness whether physically or mentally or emotionally, and all I could ask was for God to share his light with them, to give them what they need to heal and recover.
But my words didn’t stop there. Give them your light, I said, so they can become themselves. Not who they are today–unsatisfied with life, burdened by illness, just getting by–but the people they want to become. Because there is nothing more beautiful than watching a person achieve their potential, watching them grow into the unique and unparalleled person only they can become. And I realized, as I said these words, how much I yearn to witness this transformation in everything I do: When I lead on campus, when I tutor, when I make goals for myself.
Especially, perhaps, when I make goals for myself because when I can continually grow and learn and evolve, the light that shines from this personal transformation will always be alive–and the honesty with which I hope to see it in others will always survive. I strive to grow so I will always remember that others can grow, too.
So we’re about a month in, and what a month has it been–for better or worse, worse or better, and I think I’ve made a lot of progress (and a lot of regression) with where I want to be this year. If you recall, I went through some special efforts this year to make my goals SMART–that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. In most cases, I succeeded in doing this, but as you’ll see, in some spots I missed the mark.
It’s no secret I love learning, but if you press me to share the most memorable moments that made learning come alive, each of them would share a common theme: a teacher who inspired me. My favorite Hebrew school teachers were understanding and compassionate, sharing stories of living in Israel and talking to us in Hebrew. My favorite math teachers humanized abstract concepts and spoke to us as equals, helping us not only to learn, but to love. My political science teachers have made dull topics exciting by impersonating polar bears flopping around on the ice or breaking the tension with a sarcastic comment that leads the class into laughter; writing teachers have given encouragement, honest feedback, and shown an intimate interest in helping me to grow.
It is no small task, the work and effort I’ve put into my education at every level–from my earliest memories of being homeschooled through today–but if not for the passion my teachers showed me, all of this would have meant nothing.
So wouldn’t it be amazing, if only for a few days, I could inspire others as much as my teachers have inspired me?