This story begins with a skunk, a watch and a column (not mine).
Just before midnight earlier this week, I strolled out of DeWolfe and couldn't help but be intrigued by a black and white animal bounding across a final club's lawn. I looked away, blinked, confirmed; it was indeed a skunk. I was yearning to procrastinate, so I followed it. Turns out it was going my way: toward Pinocchio's Pizza. I took the skunk's suggestion and decided to grab a slice.
I gave my order and, thinking of the skunk, began to look away from the counter. The person who took my order smiled at me and asked, "Well, you must be a senior by now?" "No, a junior," I responded as I thought how I had been to Noch's too many times. "It's going to go fast, though," I continued. We both agreed and switched topics: We talked about our families. I asked him about Mexico and he asked me about Connecticut. The pizza was ready; I thanked him and headed out the door. Just then I realized that it took my 131st trip to Noch's and perhaps the intervention of an urban skunk before I really engaged in a conversation with anyone who worked there.
Now to the watch. I love my watch. It goes with everything, has sentimental value, couldn't be better, but I decided that it would be my last night with it on. I recall asking my stepfather why he didn't wear a watch, and he told me that ever since his heart attack, he had refused to put it back on. Life held too many moments to conform to a schedule, he said. We all have times when we realize that life is too short and that each day is precious. Too often, these times are when we lose someone we love. But that's not the only impetus. Understanding that life is what happens to us while we're making other plans is essential. When we really listen to what other people say, a set of seemingly incidental conversations can create powerful connections.
These two paths lead back to the column. It frustrated me to read the letters last week in response to the Feb. 29 column by David A. Fahrenthold '00, debating who service is for. The reality is that service can and needs to be both for us as college students and for the community members with whom we work. These programs provide the opportunity to have conversations with individuals about whom it seems we might share next to nothing; I have seen this over and over again in my community service time here. When I really talk to others, I feel the impact; it is much stronger and more personal than my response to the disasters I read about it the newspaper could ever be.
The column, the skunk, the watch: they all point to the conversations I should be having and the time I should be spending. I should be worrying less about where I have to be in five minutes and more about where I am right now.
Horribly, it seems easier to ignore than to acknowledge people. I'd spent three minutes for three years waiting for my pizza and deliberately not looking at people. I couldn't help but think of the countless times I'd walked by the woman on Mass. Ave. asking for "change, please" making an effort to avoid eye contact. Certainly, I agree with those reminding Fahrenthold that service needs to involve and engage community members, not just be self-serving. However, it's in that process of service and reflection that we learn about the world and its troubles and become inspired to fight the injustices we perceive.
Harvard, the institution, fails in any attempt to educate us to be socially responsible. Yet some of Harvard's incredible people do make the effort to connect with other people and work toward community change. A lot of us are disconnected from our surrounding community--and not bothered by it in the least. I know Boston well enough to give cabbies directions in Roxbury, but only after hours listening to the man in charge of bus routes for Boston public schools. And even I slip into Harvard mode too, and find myself barely saying hi to workers in my House.
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