There's always fear. For me, most often, it's the fear of humiliation. Will I be exposed as a fool, a fraud. Will people come, and thereby validate me. Petty, human worries. On the good nights, I get past that and the good stuff happens.
Thursday. What gives me hope, almost always, is conversations with young people. Duke University, a seminar on grief and grieving. The students have read an excerpt of HEADLONG, cobbled-together sections in which Nick struggles to care for his dying and difficult father Thomas. To determine how much he can give to a man who gave little to him; to a relationship that is an ongoing and ever-present ache.
"I have zero sympathy for Nick," says Lauren. "He is SO cold. The man is dying and Nick can't put aside whatever issues he has to just be kind, be loving."
"I totally disagree," says Elena. "Thomas was never a father to him. How can you expect someone to give back in a relationship when you never gave? Besides, if Nick is cold, it's on the surface. Trying not to feel so he doesn't get hurt more. I get it."
And, ten minutes into a class where the author is sitting in the room, a potential albatross, these freshmen are deep into a discussion about love and loyalty, duty and distance. At one point, they turn to ask me what I think: how I'm taking their very honest discussion.
"I'm honored," I say. "Thrilled. Nick is alive to you."
Fast forward. Friday night. Jehanne's living room after the reading at The Regulator Bookshop. There's maybe eight or nine of us who have migrated from a lengthy discussion at the bookshop about activism and faith and constructive anger to Jehanne's house for wine and food and more talk . And I'm learning about a movement in North Carolina. Moral Mondays, weekly demonstrations to protest legislative changes to undo the social safety net – cuts to unemployment benefits, rejection of Federal Medicaid enhancements. Jill has gotten herself arrested, as a way to make herself heard that this matters to her. And the question comes up, why are you down there every Monday? And she thinks about it, and shrugs, and offers words in a tone that suggest she doesn't think they're an answer but that are, for her, an urgent call: "I have to DO something," she says. "I can't just sit by."
Saturday. Jehanne and I go for a hike and check out a town called Saxapahaw, about an hour from Durham, where she's read about a local business – the Saxapahaw General Store – that's serving as a community gathering place. It sounds great. And it is. Outside, "share baskets," where folks leave anything extra or extraneous they may have – I see canned food, towels, a flannel shirt – and/or take anything they might need. Inside, all kinds of people - farmers, bikers, tourists, neo-hippies. The young and pierced, the aged and stooped. And great, locally sourced organic foods. Music on Saturday nights.
"Come on by some night," the owner says to us on our way out after one of the best post-hike burgers either Jehanne or I have ever eaten.
That night, we go to see the movie documentary "Inequality for All," a tour de force featuring Robert Reich, who's now officially a hero of mine. As we're leaving, Jehanne says, "Well, that was a perfect movie to see this weekend." Yup. And I'm thinking about my favorite moment in the movie, where Reich talks about why he's now teaching, and basically it's the opportunity to talk with – to be around – young people, to encourage them as they think about how they want to engage the world. How he believes they will change their communities and, just maybe, the world. Seeds of possibility.