This is Where You Belong

The seed was planted on Thursday, when Maureen O’Connell reminded us to love our community, to listen to the members of our community, to recognize the wounds of our community and work through it. Can you love your community starting from an individual level?

Something in me perked up at that. If I continue to lean on my walls, then am I any better than those who chant for us to build actual walls? If I continue to get hung up on my own emotional baggage–although valid and real and important–will I ever make any real progress with the people around me? Will I ever become more than? What if I stop living like this time is the climax of my story? What if I stop thinking that my story is the most important?

The seed was planted. It quickly busted through to the sunlight.

It was Saturday morning, after the ice and the cold. I stood in the big, bright lobby of the Door County Auditorium. I was still reeling a bit from the sustained eye contact of Riley, our waitress at Wild Tomato the previous evening. Ann, the weekend barista (“no one else could come”), poured my coffee and asked if I wanted her to save some room for cream: No, thank you. “Good girl.” She made a face. “I don’t take it with any of that stuff.” No, no, I said. It detracts from the good stuff. Black like my soul. My usual joke seemed out of place here.

She offered me a free pastry. “You’re our guest.” Okay, Ann.

Ann’s short gray hair stuck out in tufts around the base of her collar. She was wearing a yellow zip-up that boasted the home of the coffee and pastries: Base Camp/Door County

She came from around the pastry table to speak with Ruth and Terry, not married, not together, just friends sitting and eating flaky baked goods together. I watched them, taking breaks from the Door County tourist magazine we had taken from the hotel lobby. Ann included me in their conversation via eye contact. It looked like I was more involved than I was when B.C. came out, all mic’d up and ready for his talk. Loving my community. He was nervous. He refused a cup of coffee from Ann, “Oh, I’ve already had two cups this morning.” But did sip from my cup in between bites of his kouign-amann, which Ann had described as a cinnamon roll with just sugar. It was buttery and crusty and incredible, but this I would not learn until the next day.

B.C. gave his talk on The Limits of Moral Progress. The dozen people who braved the icy roads found it riveting, perplexing, important. They clapped and laughed and asked questions. Terry turned out to be a retired philosophy professor/computer guy. Ruth asked for B.C.’s slides to share with her husband, Peter. I felt the relief of it, the overwhelming-ness of it. Ann and Udula (?) stopped us to chat more in the back rooms. Udula was one of the last to come through Ellis Island from Yugoslavia. She remembers the needle of her immunization. To stand there in front of her and discuss immigration was… surreal. Here was someone with a right to life. Someone clearly intelligent and invested and…a country is such a privilege. A nation is a first world problem.

We left the auditorium and ate cold pizza in the hotel room. We drove to the art studio and I felt…here were people who have lived. Here are people who have chosen to make a life here, on the edge of the world. In a place that’s embraced by winter–ice clinging to all the trees, snow on the rafters, set-up in the eaves of the roofs like I’ve never seen before–in a place that’s enclosed by winter where everything seems dead, I felt a piece of my consciousness come alive. Blinded by the white I thought, isn’t this where you’ve always wanted to be. And it just continued as we chatted with the lady in the art studio, as we sat in the sauna and I thought of the shape of ribs poking up for the sky, as we talked to the Lure bartender about her impulsive move to Door County, as Joel described his car dealer job and his girlfriend a bit more sheepishly, her clerk job. I thought about it as I watched the servers at Bier Zot. I thought about it as we drove back, the podcast finishing up, the road winding through the dark, past the bluffs over the lake. Past all the white snow I could not see. What is this feeling? Like I am finally plugged in, charging up.

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