Monday, March 28, 2011

Upon Returning.

Kurt Nelson
Assistant Chaplain.

I sit now at my desk in Hanover NH.  I think I slept for 22 of the 36 hours I've been in New Hampshire since our return.  It's colder here.  And drier.  And I'm thankful for my large, comfortable bed, my family, and dog, and well-stocked kitchen.  But, as always, the return is bittersweet.

One final anecdote from me:  During the middle of our last night in San Francisco I needed to make a pharmacy run on behalf of our group.  It was, of course, pouring down rain.  I've never before needed to hail a cab at 4 AM  in the midst of a rainy urban environment.  It proved more challenging than I had expected.  Several 'helpful' intoxicated Tenderloin residents sought to offer their service to me, with varying degrees of efficacy.  Eventually, I was picked up a few blocks from our hostel and whisked to a near-by 24 hr pharmacy, adjacent to one of San Fran's major shopping/clubbing districts.  The cab driver assured me I'd have no trouble finding a ride home.

On the way back, I noticed a line of taxis just down the street, outside a Westin Hotel and figured to have no trouble.  But alas, they would not open their doors for me.  I was clearly not wealthy enough (wet and disheveled and not coming from within the luxury hotel), or wanting to go far enough, to warrant losing a spot in line.  I was frustrated. 
And, as usual, I began thinking about the strange invisible line between rich and poor who live in neighborhood in which we've lived, worked, and served for 10 days each of the past three years.  If I can't find a ride in the Tenderloin, what happens to those actual TL residents who need to go to the hospital?  Or the pharmacy? 

It feels, in many ways, worlds away from the place I now sit.  But I'm right now especially thankful for those moments when our group reflected on the nature of service.  Folding donated clothes, unloading trucks of building supplies, painting bird boxes, or putting forks onto trays can seem far removed from populations in need.  In many instances, we're serving those who serve those who need it.  And that's a good thing.  And then at some point, we realize that we're doing the same when we make a meal for our group.  Or we wash dishes.  Or when we venture to the pharmacy in the middle of the night. Or when we offer a kind word to a friend who's down. 

And hopefully, at some point, we realize we needn't travel far to be of service to humanity.  That it's not just an activity - it's a life-long, holistic challenge, lived out to the best of our flawed ability each day, whether we're in the grit and beauty and challenge of an urban environment, or in the cold, bucolic hills of Hanover NH.

I found myself taking another step in this direction as our trip came to a close.  Learning, as I always do, from our twelve terrific Dartmouth students.  I'm thankful to them.  Thankful for the opportunity to serve more directly, that I might live out a life of service more fully each day.  And thankful to be home.

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