Scrappy. Ambidextrous. Determined. Words to describe 15-yr-old me clad in combat boots and wielding a hammer in the Appalachian Mountains.
Led by a kind bearded fellow and his serene wife, the first job of our sleepy-eyed, humanitarian-leaning teen team was to clear out years of refuse from behind the house of the wizened crone who sought assistance from the Appalachia Service Project. Deep in the isolated woods, our hostess had pet mice and claimed a youthful Abraham Lincoln once lived in her house.
Up to my nostrils in the warm smell of decaying food and packaging wrappers, my hands shoved into workman gloves, I felt limber and resolute. Giddy. Community-oriented. This was, after all, labor in the name of charity and goodwill and a prayer circle I half-tuned into.
Snake handling, raising a roof, resplendent in overalls and a greasy cap, glugging Gatorade and planting firm nails into resilient wood. After-hours guitar strumming in a tie-dye t-shirt. Love letters from God. Pickup trucks and country music at sundown. The air tinged with worship and humid, encroaching foliage. Prayer circles and frigid cold showers – no heat in the coal-fueled middle school converted for our use. We slept in a classroom and chased frogs in the showers. (Not everything in this story is made up.)
Weaving in and out of the chanter-believers and the Morissey-Trash-Can-Sinatras clan I leaned towards, a flurry of sensations unfurled inside me. A fondness for black coffee and communal breakfasts. A temptation to follow someone else’s path. Then deeper, a nugget of self-knowing. Lured back and forth between the prayer circles and poetry writers, I perched chameleon-like. Observing. Absorbing both, picking neither.
When has a chameleon-like nature helped create a more authentic you?
File the volunteer effort in Virginia as a pivotal life moment and fast-forward. On the cusp of my six-year wedding anniversary, coinciding with the six years I’ve lived in Turkey, I feel once again the tinge of that same mismatched, yet aligned collision of worlds. Word wrangling unique lingo. A cultural ambidexterity. Small talk with the tea-drinking aunties who pile baked goods onto my plate. Conversations with cultural innovators in round-table discussions. The call to prayer echoing in surround-sound in my neighborhood. A pack of tarot cards on my bed.
The challenge is staying nimble. Un-stuck. Always listening. Relentlessly authentic when it might be easier to pick something that feels ‘almost’ right. Staying poised between hymns and hammers.