“What is it you plan to do with your one wild precious life?”
– Mary Oliver
17 April, 2010
train from Brisbane, QLD to Grafton, NSW
As I write this I am riding through the Australian countryside on a train, headed to a conference where I’ll be speaking about the Rotary World Peace Fellowship and peace issues in general. It’s a crisp autumn day, and Deanna says the rolling hills remind her of Northern Virginia in the days before it was eaten by DC. I think everyone on this train car is a retiree (or ‘pensioner,’ as they say here) except for us, and Mason is having a wonderful time wandering up and down the aisle working the crowd with all of his cutest moves—his current hit is saying “agocago” (avocado), his favorite food and a pretty long word for a seventeen-month-old.
While the tulips are coming up in North Carolina, the nights are cooling off in Brisbane, but it never gets truly cold here. It will be hard to leave Queensland for many reasons, but coming home to North Carolina in June will soften the blow. It’s hard to beat the southern Appalachians in the early summer.
Last night before we went to bed we made some momentous mouse-clicks. First, we booked our tickets back to the states, allowing us to count days until we smell the sweet wet air of the Swannanoa Valley and see friends and family there. I get the impression from Mason’s grandparents that some day-counting is happening on their side of the ocean, too. We fly out, and through the miracle of time zones, also arrive, on the 16th of June.
Mason has had a fascinating ride so far. We’ve tried to document it well so that we can tell him about it later. So far, he has spent most of his life in Australia, followed by India, then the US. He knows how to say “koala” and says “buh” for water buffalo, but not “cat,” because for some reason we don’t encounter many here. He hasn’t seen a squirrel since his eyes were too young to focus on something across the yard, and I’ll be interested to see his reaction to them (I’m predicting glee). There is so much that we will miss here (perhaps the topic of an upcoming blog). Australia has been very good to us. Still, home always feels like home.
The second big email I sent last night was to the North Carolina Council of Churches, accepting an invitation to become their Peace Associate, heading up their peace advocacy efforts in the state. It’s a part-time and very flexible position, and will be added to working on a book I’m writing for adults about citizen activism, publishing my poem White Flour as a children’s book, doing some public speaking on social justice issues, working with PEG again on Guatemalan education projects and yes, even playing an occasional concert.
I got some beautiful and supportive mail when I announced that I was suspending my music career, and in some of those notes people made the argument that playing music may be the way I can truly have the most positive impact in the world. I hope that there is some truth to the idea that my music has been significant and positive for some people, and it seems like it may have been. I’m admittedly pretty rusty, but I’m looking forward to thickening my finger callouses again and sharing some of the songs I’ve been writing lately. You may be happy to hear that they’re not *all* about war and peace (though those topics do come up). Happily, they’re also not footnoted and filled with scholarly references. One of them, in fact, is in praise of skinny-dipping.
I love playing music for people, and the truth is that even after eighteen years on the road, I still love traveling. In these days, though, I’m not willing to spend the kind of time on the road that I spent in the several years previous to our time here in Australia—180 to 200 days away each year. Our plan is that I’ll spend a couple of weekends out each month, leading workshops, speaking and playing music, but have the others at home. Having just taken Mason for his first haircut and seen our baby magically transformed before my eyes into a little boy, I am keenly aware of how quickly this time goes, and I am unwilling to see that sacred time disappear down the dashed line of a highway.
We’ll be based in Raleigh, and I’ll be working right near NC State, so I won’t have too rude of a transition from university life back to the so-called ‘real world’ (I insist that it’s all real, by the way, just different contexts within the same reality). Deanna is exchanging some emails with folks in Raleigh, too, looking into some interesting possibilities for part-time work, and we’ll both be prioritizing time with Mason.
In looking at options for where to go next, I looked at a few more ‘high-powered’ possibilities, working with large NGO’s, etc. Setting aside the obvious fact that I might not have been offered those positions, in the end I decided that I didn’t want to set down the various projects I have cooking in my head (music, writing books, time with Mason, etc.), in order to give my full focus to an all-consuming job. Maybe I’m just spoiled from so many years of being self-employed and by having so much time with Mason while we have been here in Australia, but holding some space in my life for my own agenda seemed like the best option.
That said, I am really excited about the work with NCCC. They have been incredibly supportive and welcoming, and have bent their scheduling for the position in order to accommodate a later arrival date than they had hoped for. I get the impression that I will have the opportunity to prioritize some of the issues that I feel most strongly about to some degree, but I also find that I resonate strongly with the work they are already doing and the things they stand for—promoting equitable health care, opposing ‘extraordinary rendition’ practices by the U.S. government that have been based in North Carolina, interfaith dialogue work, Middle East issues, sound and compassionate immigration policy, etc.
NCCC began around support for school desegregation in 1935. Yes, desegregation. 1935. North Carolina. They have continued to stand for justice and compassion since then, often as far ahead of the curve as they were then. George Reed, who will be my supervisor, strikes me as a man of insight and compassion and humor as well as a courageous leader on issues of social justice. We have some close mutual friends, and I look forward to establishing our own friendship. The rest of the staff and community, as I have encountered them so far, are people I’m equally eager to know and work with.
There’s much to be excited about as this chapter comes to a close and the next page beckons. And speaking of chapters, I am having a particularly dense semester academically, and also traveling to speak at several conferences and organizing things back home, so these updates will likely continue to be pretty sparse for a while. Thanks for staying tuned, though, and for being interested in our journey. More good adventures to come…