Global Volunteers in Appalachia 4/17/14

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. (Mark Twain)

(Mary Beth) The day started slowly, with jokes about bloodshot eyes and looking like we partied too hard. Energy is low – maybe we are all depressed thinking about parting ways soon.

The celebratory Red Velvet cake is already running low by 9 am. Maybe someone had a midnight snack? Maybe that somebody was me.

I feel pain in my neck and right shoulder, reminding me with every move of my privilege. What I am doing for a week, by choice, many do throughout their lives, because they must. I’m lucky.

Arlin and John in their "superman poses."

Arlin and John in their “superman poses.”

The ride to Oak Hill was par for the course. Late start made later by workers not ready. It gave me time to reflect on a mixture of emotions about leaving, and our week here – and from a few conversations, I knew I wasn’t alone. Sad, disheartened, excited, fulfilled, anxious, proud, cared for, invested, discouraged, hopeful, grateful. Those emotions came and went throughout the day as we cleared a huge room to make it available for upcoming guests; all together our team finished in an hour what seemed insurmountable.

Donuts with “the guys,” some of them, but clearly there is still a level of discomfort from them to sit at the table with us. Many ducked out, others had to be invited four or five times. Still some appreciations were exchanged. As the week goes on, we learn more about the cracks in their lives, the local struggles, and what they are up against. Conversations throughout the day and at “roses- and-thorns” proved that we are all learning a lot about their hardships, external and internal.

OK, enough drag. Some great work was done! Everyone is impressed with John and Arlin’s skill and dedication (borderline obsession) to finish the last alcove (under the loyal guidance of Kenny). Jonah also showed enduring dedication to her project, continuing to work on the drop ceiling while many just watched her (including me). Fran, Kathy, Helen, and I returned to the house to help with the Easter party – met with a locked door, handled graciously by the SALS boys’ attitude of “locked is just a state of mind” followed by them gaining entrance, and loads of fun making sand art bottles and planting vegetables with the kids. We were discouraged by the exorbitant amount of junk food served to the kids, but discussed it privately and recognized our role to serve, not change.

Jonah and JP secure ceiling.

Jonah and JP secure ceiling panels.

Downtime – Jonah and I zoned out while Oldanddeaf tried to sleep off a headache, and John, Helen, Kathy, and Arlin went on a walk-turned-adventure through the wilderness, observing local flora, local people, and local ruins of the old town.

Dinner, awesome as usual, talk, evaluations, downtime.

What’s left? – Our van ride with Dakota. Dakota acted out the pre-hunt madman adrenaline and jerky-craving-induced mania that sets in every time he sees a deer, as well as the importance of knowing how to dial that mania back down after the hunt so you can remain functional in society. Have to admit, it kind of made me want to hunt with him. Even as we joked about the final moments of a deer’s life, and how it would shed one pitiful tear as Dakota’s craving for deer jerky would overcome any mercy for Bambi’s mom, I knew I’d have fun hunting with him. I’d share the thrill, the adrenaline, and even the jerky, and the humanity of sharing a moment with someone so opposite of me would be more powerful, and more important, than the disdain for taking an animal’s life.

That’s what this trip was about for me, finding a space to share with people who are so different, and finding common ground. Even if it’s only to talk about hunting, or obesity and diabetes in kids – waging peace, I guess, is about being ok – or at least not fighting – with other people’s ways. At least for a week.

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