I’ve been thinking a lot about warmth recently. Maybe it’s the arrival of an unusual summer, the change of seasons reminding us that time is still moving forward, despite the way in which life feels suspended by quarantine and social distancing. Maybe I’m thinking about warmth because I miss hugging my friends. Or maybe it’s just the hot tea I’m drinking right now. But as I try to find some words or feeling to encapsulate my year so far as part of Johnson Service Corps, I keep coming back to warmth.
Look, I’m not trying to be kitschy or overly-sentimental with my opening, so let me tell a story about this year. One of my favorite memories from JSC comes from our corps member Christmas party, hosted at the Carrboro house back in December. I remember feeling warm then, too. I made the mistake of wearing a thick wool sweater, and all eleven of us were crammed into the Carrboro house’s tight kitchen and living space. I was hovering over a pot of steaming Irish hot chocolate (chocolate, Bailey’s, and a generous portion of whiskey), which was my contribution to our potluck. I was just finishing up as we began exchanging Secret Santa gifts. Our service year budgets had forced us to get creative; we set a cap of $10 for each gift, and yet everyone’s gifts were deeply personal and thoughtful. I often wear t-shirts featuring my hometown — Memphis, TN — so someone gave me a t-shirt that finally let me proudly represent Durham. I left that evening feeling so much warmth at the beautiful community that we had created in just a few months.
These moments pepper my memories of this year: singing Christmas carols together at Beer and Hymns, sharing a podcast on the bus ride to D.C., cooking delicious meals that crammed more than a dozen people into the Durham house’s kitchen. Even during quarantine, we’ve kept at these warm moments, hosting weekly trivia online for both houses, sharing quiet meals around the table, checking in on each other even when we’ve had to separate.
I’ve written before that community is what I love most about Johnson Service Corps, and if anything, the coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced the value of our way of being. Because of social distancing, we’re all suddenly aware of the extent to which we rely on each other. We’ve made collective sacrifices to ensure each others’ safety, and we’re finding creative ways of reaffirming our humanity. We bring the warmth back into our lives.
In my JSC community, we do this in the small moments: making a pot of chai while we work together around the table, doing the dishes at the end of a long day, and late-afternoon walks along the Eno River. I do this with my mentor, Nancy, who has been my guide to Durham and with whom I’ve built a relationship that I deeply value. At Code the Dream, where I work, we play online games together to break up a long day of Zoom meetings. At Friday Formation, we learn about doing justice work in our communities. Warmth springs out of these moments, even on hard days where I’m exhausted by working from home or anxious about what the future holds.
More and more I’m thinking about how to carry this way of being past my year with Johnson Service Corps. I was drawn to JSC because I didn’t know what was next, because I had questions about justice work and spirituality and what it meant to live in community. I think I know what’s next — I’m going to be a teacher, working to create my own version of a yearly community in my classroom. I don’t have the answers to all my questions, but the warmth of a community that is curious and open to the world is something that will hang with me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t be more thankful for the experiences of this past year.