Walls

This blog is an extremely difficult one to write. I could very easily make this more of a speech or essay that went on for pages and pages. However, I do want to be respectful of the time you’re sacrificing to read me ramble.

This morning I was serving breakfast at my weekly shift with Charlie’s Place – a breakfast for the hungry and homeless neighbors around Dupont Circle. The church it’s held in is a polling place today, so while the guests were asking for coats or socks there was a line of people with stable housing and employment literally feet from them. My jaw dropped when I walked in and saw such a jarring juxtaposition. One of the staff members helped me find what I’d been trying to express from the moment I witnessed it: On one side of the wall were people with decent jobs and stable lives, while on the other side were people looking for similar jobs and living lives dominated by disruption.  What is most sobering about this is how quickly we can all go from one side of that wall to the other, most often times through fault of our own.

I think it’s easy for everyone to appreciate and understand that idea. However, I feel like this election is an extremely similar situation and doesn’t seem easily accepted as such. We have the ability to find it within ourselves to look past economic differences that may separate us,  but have an infinitely harder time when those differences are philosophical. Why is that?

I’m in no way claiming we should – or even could – agree on everything, but just as we don’t hold people’s economic situation against them neither should we fail to look past our political differences and remember that without knowing someone’s story we can never appreciate their take on the ever-paradoxical “human experience.” Linguistically a singular term, in reality the widest spectrum there is.

For all of us who get caught up in the age of immediacy and forget how recent “history” really is, here is a quote from Alexander Hamilton that sounds terrible familiar today…

 

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

 

There’s a lot of doom and gloom going around today, but just remember: if the Cubs can win the World Series, we can make it through the next four years.

Reasoning

I wrote this immediately after the final debate ended and don’t feel like going back and changing all the tenses and such to make it seem as if I wrote it today. I am guilty of a fairly strong sense of indignation while writing this, so forgive me. Here we go!

I grew up with a single mother who has not yet remarried. That’s not a statement I’m making to qualify my reason for finding the misogynistic behavior of Donald Trump appalling. I bring it up because it allowed me an atypical upbringing.

I didn’t know how prevalent sexism was until the last year because in my world there was no substantive difference between men and women. I’ve seen a woman do things people told her she needed a man to help with, even if that “man” was her own child. As if somehow my chromosomes dictated my superior ability to accomplish a task instead of her past experience. Her “temperament” somehow supposing she needs a man to help her discipline a household or make decisions because, I’m assuming, her emotional acuity is some weakness that allows her to express herself more clearly and effectively than those with less of an emotional intelligence.

Those things aren’t even examples I cherry picked for this point. They’re the two things I cherish most about the person my mother taught me to be. Being raised by someone who is constantly being told she shouldn’t be doing something on her own seems like it could be depressing, but it’s one of the very few things in life that continuously gives me hope. In dealing with a lifetime struggle with depression and anxiety, I’ve always had the picture perfect example of how to stand up to the voices telling you that you aren’t suited for your life.

There’s a laundry list of ways I don’t feel I fit into the typically accepted societal checklist for the gender tag of “male.” My peers and context taught me to be ashamed of that reality. However, my mother taught me otherwise; and, as much flak as she gives herself, she’s raised someone who doesn’t feel emasculated by strong, intelligent women; someone who strives to view the world with the same emotional intelligence as I saw exemplified for the majority of my upbringing.

Mom, you’re the reason I have to vote for Hillary. I’ve watched all three debates between her and the orange fiasco-of-a-Homosapien Sapien and I couldn’t help but think back to all the times I heard men ask you “how you could manage such a big job on your own.” His treatment towards her was a condensed version of the same condescension I’ve watched you shrug off for 14 years while giving more of yourself to others than most could ever dream of. What I saw in her on that stage tonight and the two times previously I’ve seen in you for the majority of my life, so how could I not have faith in her ability to excel as our President.

Indecision

In the last three weeks I’ve written three things, besides this one, that I felt would be blog posts only to realize I didn’t much like any of them in their current form. I fully intend to finish and post all three of them eventually, but I think I have a bit more to learn before I’m able to feel confident enough in them to put them out into the world. This one is nowhere near polished. It’s really just me talking in circles about the fact it’s not possible for me to ever fully understand any of the things I mention.

 

Each of them are about the various conversations I’ve been fortunate enough to be brought into since I left Columbus. Feminism was a concept I’d never learned much about before this year because the typical opinion of the matter I ran into in the south was very dismissive of the idea altogether. Black Lives Matter was a very controversial phrase back home and a huge part of my life since leaving. The conversations I’ve had with the people heavily involved in the movement in DC have been some of the most special moments I can remember. My extremely brief – yet highly impactful – view into the world of local politics has actually been a little bit life-changing. The scale here is obviously much bigger than it would be in Mississippi (since this city is 7 square miles and one-fourth the population of Mississippi) but that’s meant there are just many more examples of how important local government is.

 

So none of these concepts were foreign to me but they weren’t exactly familiar either. Aside from the local politics point, my fundamental opinions/understandings haven’t changed about the other two subjects. What I’m appreciating most lately is how patient people are with me in giving me room to learn the more intricate details and how all of these things invade our lives and affect our perceptions of ourselves and others. So much has happened in the last two months that it’s hard for me to believe it’s been so short. At the same time, it feels like I’ve been here forever. It’s honestly a really confusing sensation. I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned already and it’s a little bit intimidating to realize how much time there is ahead of me.

 

The biggest learning curve has been realizing just how important words are. I’ve always been very careful with mine but until this experience that’s always been something that annoyed me about myself. However, the words we use to express our ideas tend to dictate how we view the world. Learning how certain ways of expressing ideas can come across to other people is something I really appreciate because it’s made me question how I’m actually viewing people or situations. On top of that, learning how our ideas are coming across to others can really help us alter the way we phrase things to be sure we’re accurately expressing our feelings. I’ve recently found myself getting much more frustrated than I used to when I’m attempting to explain some idea for the first time because finding the words I feel accurately represent my thinking is something that means more to me now than it used to.

 

As with all my posts, there’s no smooth way to end this. I’ve made a lot of allusions and zero committed claims, which is a bit of a sick game on my part to keep people a little confused about what I actually think. (Yes, I see the hypocrisy there given the preceding paragraph) But hopefully I didn’t make too many things muddled and this was as obviously appreciative of the beautifully patient people I’ve met that have built on the ideas implanted by the countless role models before them.

 

Thank you so much for reading. Sorry it’s a bit on the long side and I didn’t have a song to help tie things together. But maybe by the end of this year I’ll have learned enough about self-expression to not need those as a crutch to get across my thoughts!

 

-Cody

Everything All at Once

I’m sitting on the corner of 23rd and P writing this one, so there will be no Fresh Prince-referencing opener today. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.

 

My second week of work is coming to a close fairly soon, so I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on what has occurred since arriving in DC and starting my tenure at Church of the Pilgrims. However, my writing is being accompanied by an onslaught of some of the most efficient, ankle-loving mosquitos I’ve ever encountered so please excuse any moments where it seems like I lost my train of thought; I probably did.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, music does a much better job of explaining my thought process(es)/emotion(s) than I can. So I’m going to try to use that to my advantage today.

 

“Why don’t we fight sleep?”

 

The hook of the song aptly named “Fight Sleep” by Dagny – which I highly recommend if you need some positive vibes – is all too applicable right now. The last two and a half weeks have been an incredible, confusing, exhilarating, and draining whirlwind. The adrenaline of leaving home and moving somewhere new is beginning to wear off as I settle into my surroundings. I want to be very clear that I am in no way complaining. In fact, I’m even more excited for this year than I was when I got off the train I was writing to you from last time. I’m tired but have plenty of access to coffee so I’ll for sure survive.

 

“All at once, everything,

Every cup overflowing.

All at once, all I need,

Every heart overflowing.”

 

The chorus to my favorite song of the new Local Natives album has been my anthem for the past week. For fellow YAVs and YAVAs, the first line may be a little humorous. Everything has definitely been all at once. The other lines are the ones that really hit home for me, specifically the way people I’ve known forever, people I’m getting to know, and people I’ve never even met are supporting all of us.

 

I have to admit, at first it was a bit much for me. I’m definitely an independent person, so I didn’t really believe anyone when they told me to be sure to be open to the support system that would be in place. Something in the back of my  mind was convinced I wouldn’t need it. Why exactly that piece was saying that is interesting to me, but something I haven’t quite figured out yet. But as the adrenaline of the first few weeks wears off, I’ll be the first person to say that it is definitely not the case that I will be able to handle this year alone so I couldn’t be more grateful that the inner-voice had no control over the support system being established.

 

I was tempted to go into a full analysis of the chorus, but honestly I would end up typing your eyes off. Instead, I will just extend yet another thank you for the continuing and building support. If there’s ever something specific you’re wanting to hear about feel free to contact me in whatever way you choose and I’ll do my best to oblige! Thanks for taking the time to read this and I’ll talk to you again soon… probably.

Disorientation

I can’t say I was born and raised here, but I’m passing through West Philadelphia. Instead of playgrounds, basketball and guys up to no good, I’m riding a train, eating a sandwich (that the amazing people at Stony Point made for all of us by the way) and listening to Frank Ocean.

It blows my mind that it’s only been a week since I boarded a small, Delta Connections flight and said goodbye to my hometown. When I left, my only plans were to learn about the world of nonprofits so I could determine whether or not my aspirations of working in, or running, a nonprofit were genuine or some sort of millennial idealism. In retrospect it seems that it was actually a mixture of the two. I think I was arrogant enough to assume that my passion would actually be something original and helpful to communities I’ve never even set foot in. That may sound pessimistic but it’s become a strangely reassuring thought as the week concluded.

Richard Williams, the director of the YAV program, told us a story on the very first day we spent together that I thought I understood when I first heard it. He told us of his own first day as a YAV, a bishop he was going to be working with sat him down and told him: “We don’t need you here. We want you here and you’re welcome here, but we don’t need you.” I listened to Richard tell us and I remember nodding and thinking “Well yeah, of course they don’t. Why would anyone think they were that important?” This story was a recurring theme throughout the week, so they could make sure we kept thinking about it. Their plan worked because this was nearly all I could think about by Friday and Saturday evening.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I was definitely one of the people who thought I was important enough to be needed. The more I thought about this idea, the more I saw the purpose in what seems like an extremely pessimistic way to view the coming year. But I think it is just me being honest for the first time. I applied to this program because I wanted to make a difference; a desire I don’t think anyone would criticize… if I didn’t come into it with the expectation of accomplishing that goal.

Once I became willing to admit my intentions, the idea of not being needed became much less depressing and much more compelling. I’d love to give this idea most closure but there simply isn’t any. I’ve spent a significant portion of our three-hour train ride trying to figure out a way to sum this idea up in a clean way to explain my goals for the year, which I’m now realizing is extremely ironic because this idea of not being needed but being welcomed isn’t a simple idea that has any closure whatsoever. The goal of Richard’s story was to make us question our motives and check our expectations for ourselves at the door, and realizing that it accomplished that is as much closure as I can give.

If you’re like me, then certain songs tend to express current mental/emotional states far better than any grammatically questionable blog post can. “Godspeed” by Frank Ocean has been on repeat for most of the time I’ve spent writing this and I think it can sum things up really well. And it’s simply a beautiful song, so everyone should listen to it.

Washington D.C. is now the next stop and final stop for our train. It’s going to be extremely busy again for the next week… or month. So I’ll be sure to check in as soon as I can again. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read me ramble, thank you for the support thus far and into the future, and treat yourself to that song.

– Cody

Quick Update

Hey everyone.

First off, I want to thank everyone who has donated so far. You’re truly making a dream come true.

One of the things that initially drew me to D.C . was the opportunity to be placed at Church of the Pilgrims/The Pilgrimage. I recently found out that I got my wish! I get to work with some incredible people over the next year whether they are church staff or groups from around the United States who come to volunteer around the city.

I leave for orientation 12 days from now.. It’s kind of crazy to think about, but I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be spending a week in New York for orientation before making my way to DC to start my year there. Since I haven’t started packing, and have somehow lost about fifty percent of my clothes over the course of this summer, the next week and a half will be fairly busy. I hope to get some time during orientation to fill everyone in, but I doubt I will. So the plan now is to update everyone sometime during my first week in DC!

If you’re interested in learning more about the organization(s) I’ll be working with, here are the links!

http://www.thepilgrimage.org/

http://www.churchofthepilgrims.org/

A Letter from Cody

Dear Family & Friends,

I am excited to share with you that I have been chosen by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to serve for one year as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, D.C.  This is an incredible opportunity for me to explore a new place, build new relationships, and attempt to make a positive impact on people in new ways.  As part of my commitment, I need to raise $3000 in gifts and pledges for my year of service, and I’m hoping that you will support me in this effort.

Through the Young Adult Volunteer program (YAV) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), I will be joining over 90 other young adults serving at 16 different sites both here in the United States and around the world.  While I am still learning about my specific responsibilities, I will be working beside the poor and low-income residents of DC and have the unique opportunity to engage issues such as poverty, hunger, and homelessness on the policy level.

I know that this year’s experience is going to be life-changing for me.  It will involve living outside my comfort zone and what is familiar to me, something I’m both particularly excited and nervous about.  It will involve focusing on the needs of others.  It will involve journeying in faith and trusting God in new ways.

I hope that you will consider making a gift or pledge toward my financial support.  The timing is critical as I need to raise $1500 by July 1st.

Thank you so much for your time spent reading this letter as well as your constant emotional and spiritual support through the years.  Anything you can give is much appreciated, even if that is something as simple as an encouraging phone call or letter throughout my year in DC.  I’m excited for this new adventure and sharing my experiences with everyone as it progresses!

Sincerely,

Cody Westbrook

 

Ways to Give:

Online – Donations can be made online by following this link:  http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051477/

*Type Cody Westbrook in the comments section so that your donation will be credited to my account.

Checks –  Checks can be mailed to:  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P. O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA  15264-3700

*Write “Cody Westbrook-E051477” in the memo line so that your donation will be credited to my account.