Finding the Center

May 12, 2011 at 12:08 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Community, Teaching | Comments Off on Finding the Center

I went home to Chicago last week. It was awesome – here are just a couple of the highlights: a trip to Holland, MI to spend the day with my college roommates who I hadn’t seen since graduation, a trip to WI to visit my grandma, a surprise 50th birthday party for my dad, and last but not least, getting my mom a puppy for mother’s day! Despite the action-packed nature of this particular trip home, my visit was exactly what I needed. I don’t know about you, but for me, going home is always a centering experience; in the ‘busyness’ of this part of the country, my job, really just my whole life right now, I suppose I’m always a little in danger of losing sight of that center.

I’m always reading, and this trip wasn’t an exception: I work for a literacy organization, so I guess that should come as no surprise to anyone. I finished the closing sentences of Mountains Beyond Mountains just as the plane touched down at Dulles, Monday night. Reading Mountains back in college had been a worldview-altering experience, and as I was perusing the used book section of the local Goodwill (one of my all-time favorite haunts), I came across a copy and decided to pick it up again.

If you’ve never read Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s page-turning account of the life and work of the famous Doctor Paul Farmer, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I first read it near the end of my time in college, and for an idealistic 20-year-old, Paul Farmer gave a shape and a voice to a lot of the raw and unformed notions I had about how a life ought to be lived. If I recall correctly, I even cited this book in the personal statement segment of my AmeriCorps application as part of my motivation for applying.

In any case, the combination of the Midwest, college friends, family time, and a healthy dose of Paul Farmer were just what the doctor ordered (pun intended). One of the main reasons I decided to spend my first year out of college doing AmeriCorps was because I wanted to get some experience in non-profit service since I was thinking about graduate school for social work, and LCNV provided an awesome opportunity for hands-on experience doing something for someone else. This past year has more than solidified that desire, but when I was actually accepted to a graduate program a couple weeks back, everything was suddenly becoming a reality (so naturally I freaked out!)

In Mountains, Kidder writes: “Farmer taps into a universal anxiety…into what he calls ‘ambivalence,’ the often unacknowledged uneasiness that some of the fortunate feel about their place in the world, the thing he told me once he designed his life to avoid.” Regardless of whatever comes next for me, what a great example of ‘center’ I rediscovered as I re-read this book during my trip home.

 In addition to Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder), I thought I’d leave you with a short sampling of books that have changed my life: The Brothers K (David James Duncan), Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry), and Travelling Mercies (Anne Lamott).

 -Alicia Nieves, Lead Teacher and AmeriCorps Member

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