Saturday, February 9, 2008

Branching Out

I've written before about how Eric and I usually write down our twelve "wishes" every new year.  They're kind of like resolutions, but are usually more than that.  They're hopes and blessings, too.  This year we decided not to write them all at once, but to build them slowly.  We have two so far, and one of them was to get involved in some way in the larger world.  I'm purposely writing that without cynicism.  The goal was no more specific than that.  I've been reading Paul Rogat Loeb's amazing Soul of a Citizen and, inspired by the activism of friends and family, have been thinking about what work I might do outside of my own tiny sphere.  A bit of a search for greater meaning.

This was surprisingly difficult at first.  I had trouble getting past grandiose ideas of what I should be doing, who I should volunteer for, and what that work would look like.  But Loeb recommends that our activism come from what we see around us, what we are already drawn to.  Folllow the path of least resistance, to start, in other words.  So I volunteered for service one Sunday a month at unchurch, which is about as local as service can get for me, and also called Obama's campaign the Friday before the caucus to see if they needed any help.  I figure Eric is volunteering by watching the kids while I'm gone (I wonder if he sees it this way :) ).

Well, next thing I knew, I was a "precinct captain" (which I discovered is a fancy word for event organizer).  I think precinct captains usually work to get out the vote in their area, and then run the caucus meeting for their precinct.

Anyway, it turned out there already was a precinct captain for my location on Super Tuesday, but he needed lots of help because of the turnout and with running the meeting.  This was a truly empowering experience for me, to be present at that caucus.  People who were nervous and stammering stood and spoke from their heart, mostly about how Obama had pulled them, inspired, into this process, but some about how Clinton moved them to do the same.  They spoke passionately about health care and impeachment and climate change.  I was so moved I found myself signing on as a delegate, and to get out the vote for November, and as the next precinct captain.  Wowza.

Loeb writes in his book that "America's dominant culture insists that our lives have no such broader significance, so we dare not vest them with purpose."  We may never see the effects of our work, he says, because political change is often sisyphean, one step forward, two steps back.  So you may have to seek fulfillment in just doing the work.

But we're seeing rewards already, in our own little sphere.  I feel a sense of peace and contentment from doing something, however small.  We met people who live in our neighborhood, and have been invited to a huge potluck with a kajillion kids in two weeks.  I'm also having coffee with new friends on Monday. 

If I hadn't gone, we might still only know our sweet, quite neighbors at the end of the cul-de-sac, and not have the opportunities to get to know more of our neighbors, our fellow Democratic warriors!, and my focus on change and improvement would still be primarily inner-centered, or imbalanced.  Just a little thing, but with big ripples, yeah?


  1. Jen, this article touched me as I've been thinking of a way to find greater meaning other than my self-centered, narcissistic life of tennis, bridge, painting, friends, Reilly. (although, R gives me meaning and self-centered joy) I volunteered as Precinct captain last election and enjoyed it a lot although I'm certainly more engaged this time. So, you've inspired me to try it again. Also, I just committed to teaching Peacegames 1 hour per week in an elementary school. It is a national program that teaches peace. (duh.) I'll be working with 4th graders and in the classroom once again...a most comfy place for me. Just thought I'd let you know a little about how you affected me. Go girl.XXOOChloe

  2. Hands down, Apple's app store wins by a mile. It's a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I'm not sure I'd want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.