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.
I’ve got my boots and I’m ready for the snow.
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.
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?
I was talking with my roommate the other about the number of days in the month, and he told me August has 31 days because Augustus had to have at least as many days in his month as Julius had in his, so he stole one from February, and now August has 31 days. Makes it a pretty noble–or shall we say, august–month, doesn’t it?
And now it’s over.
But that’s alright, because now we can savor the sweetness of its fruit once again.
We hear stories of privilege and think of old white men in suits sipping on drinks at the bar in their kitchen–but it looks like a real bar, it’s just that big. We think of privilege and we think of CEOs and politicians, those the media has deemed corrupt–might as well toss in a few celebrities, just for for kicks. We say the word privilege and the first thing inevitably to cross our minds is this three-word phrase.
Our service project began on March 4–a Monday that should be the role model for all Mondays: We were excited, put in a great effort, and ended eager for the rest of the week. It became the cornerstone of our experience–the story’s climax, the man’s epiphany.
It’s hard to believe five months have passed since I left N.C. State on my Alternative Service Break to Belize. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since the trip began–the application process, the monthly team meetings, and all the fundraising… In the forefront of my summer plans and now in the background of my Resident Mentor training, Belize continues to be a prominent feature as I compile both a journal and a photo companion of my trip to send to those who helped me make it there in the first place.
Those are separate reflections, intimate monologues for the select few, but I promised and have been building an experience here for many months–and for just as many months, it’s been missing an important page: the final page.
Over the coming week, I’m going to close this chapter of the Writingwolf, taking you along from the moment our plane touched down to the cataclysmic changes I’ve experienced since it flew me back.
Feeling that I would otherwise regret my entire life if I didn’t go, I decided this afternoon I would hit up the gym’s group fitness courses for one last time. I got dressed in my workout gear, placed a song on my tongue, and set out for AbSolution, an intense, 15-minute abdominal workout that feels like an hour. And feeling in a rather torturous mood, I decided to follow it up with 75 minutes of yoga. Delightful, but I was subsequently drenched in my own sweat.
The good thing is, this story? It’s not about that. But if I hadn’t gone out when I had, if I hadn’t bought some tea and read on my Kindle for as long as I had, if I hadn’t decided to get food in the face of a post-workout lack of appetite, I’d have missed out on not one, not two, but three random encounters.