story collecting

Tomorrow marks one month since the YAVs and I moved in!

photo (1)

our beautiful, yellow house!

I feel relatively settled in, but I still don’t feel like DC is my home just yet. This is the first time living in a city, and attempting to claim my own space in it requires a good bit of intentionality. A Davidson friend of mine recently told me that she tries to cultivate a sense of home by finding personal niches in public spaces and noticing things that others pass by unaware. There’s so much to notice and experience in a city, with urban life pulsating so rapidly that I often struggle to keep pace. It wasn’t until I went camping and kayaking in the Shenandoah last weekend, amid the stillness and silence of the woods, that I realized I’ve been living in a constant state of overstimulation. I think my biggest challenge right now is finding a sense of peace in the midst of urban chaos. Still, I’m taking my friend’s suggestion to heart: What are things in the city that I can notice that others may not pay attention to? My answer thus far: stories.

Much of my work at Pilgrims seems to be focused on story collecting. I’ve been conducting “one-on-ones,” where we sit down with another person to learn what they’re passionate about, their journey to becoming the person they are today, etc. Relational meetings and story collecting are also the first step in community organizing. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in WIN, the Washington Interfaith Network, where faith leaders from across the city come together to address community issues like affordable housing, and homelessness. I’ll get to participate more with WIN in the future, so I’ll go into further detail later.

Church of the Pilgrims offers a meal for people who are hungry in the city every Sunday afternoon called Open Table. The meals are served family style, which means the guests serve themselves food (as opposed to having us church people “serve” them, creating unequal, uncomfortable power dynamics). While eating a meal together with hungry folks in this way might help break down some social barriers, it doesn’t eliminate them. Two summers ago, I was a soccer coach for a homeless women’s team in Charlotte. It was there that I learned about the power of sports, and soccer in particular, to transcend social boundaries like race and class. Last week, I asked Ashley if I could bring a soccer ball or two out into the garden behind Pilgrims (where the guests eat) to see if anyone would be interested in kicking the ball around. Soccer balls facilitate connection. I was holding the ball at Open Table on Sunday when a man from Guatemala named Eric approached and asked if it was a volleyball. I told him it was a soccer ball, but it could function as a volleyball as well. We bumped it back and forth as he shared stories about playing volleyball in the Guatemalan military, immigrating to the States, getting kicked out of his apartment, and his recovery from alcoholism. Homelessness is a constant presence around us in DC, whether we notice or not. Hearing individual stories humanizes huge and scary issues like homelessness.

Stories humanize. They’re transformative. They connect us to each other. They teach us to empathize, to see the image of God reflected in the Other. Stories connect me to people, who then connect me to the city, enabling me to ground myself and establish a sense of home here. I’m thrilled to discover how my role as a collector of stories will evolve and transform me.

Peace,

Emily

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