Sore Muscles, Warm Hearts

My go-to social media outlet these days is Instagram. Saturday evening, I was stretched out on the bed of the Days Inn room where Theresa and I spent our weekend, scrolling through my feed.

“Anything good?” she asked me.

My feed, though filled with artists and dancers and coaches and other inspiring folks, is dominated by activists and activist organizations. In those few minutes of scrolling, I had read about voter disenfranchisement in Georgia and watched a video of a 14-year-old African American girl who was being restrained, face-down in the grass by a sidewalk, while a police officer punched her repeatedly in the side.

“No,” I said, and didn’t elaborate.

It would be easy to unfollow the feeds that keep me apprised of these happenings. It’s even appealing. And yet it’s important to me to have the information that allows me to be an active participant in reshaping this world.

It would also be easy to sink headlong into the despair and anger that I feel in confronting what needs to be fixed, changed, and subverted; it would be easy to forget that there are also complementary avenues of activism – that alongside reacting to atrocity, we can also be creating the world in which we want to live.

Sometimes, that building is quite literal.

Yesterday, Theresa and I returned home from Wilkesboro, NC, with sore muscles and warm hearts after spending the weekend with the Habitat for Humanity Road Trip Crazies. It was my second trip and her first with a group that has been traveling around the country (mostly the Eastern states) to partner with Habitat affiliates for years now.

When we arrived in Wilkesboro on Friday evening, the lobby of the Days Inn was crowded with a family reunion of volunteers who had traveled on their own dimes. We ate barbecue carted in by a couple of servers from the restaurant next door and friendly smack talk was as thick as the honey-flavored whipped spread that came with the hush puppies.

Saturday morning, the work site was filling up before 8am. There was a cinder block foundation, a pile of pre-assembled rafters and a handful of pre-assembled walls. Though Theresa is handier than I, neither of us have home building experience and we jumped in where we could, following the instructions of professionals in building pieces for the roof, carrying this and that, and joining 15 or 20 other volunteers in hoisting rafters up to those brave souls who were standing where the roof would go.

As so often happens in volunteer situations, the usual social dynamic was flipped as people approached one another with the assumption of potential friendship rather than the wariness of stranger danger. Hugs were as abundant as the little bottles of waters circulated almost constantly by a few local volunteers. People took on tasks as they felt able; age and gender were nowhere to be seen in the list of that equation’s variables.

At lunchtime on Sunday, the woman who had put in over 100 hours of sweat equity in her efforts to secure this home – Habitat doesn’t give away homes; it makes earning homes more achievable for many – brought her  two young daughters to the site. The older, a second grader, asked if the many strangers eating subs on the grass around her were their new neighbors. When she was told, “No, they’re building your home,” her eyes got wide as she scanned us anew.

These efforts, these homes built for one family at a time, could be seen as frivolously small in a world with a lot of need. By the time Theresa and I left on Sunday afternoon, the better part of a home did, indeed, sit on what had been a foundation the morning before – a home in which a single mom will continue to raise her two young daughters. But it wasn’t just about the three of them, as much as we were all moved by being a part of their story. It was also about the community that is enriched by affordable homes for hardworking people.

Only, it wasn’t just about that. It was also about the local and Crazies volunteers being reminded, through the literal swinging of hammers, that we can reshape this world and do so with joy and play and connection. And in that, the seeming selflessness of volunteerism comes full-circle to the most beautiful kind of selfishness where each person present built ourselves up by building up this house, this home.

As the wonderful artist and card maker Emily McDowell recently posted by way of an intro to her many new Instagram followers, “I talk about politics, feminism, and racism because I believe that as a white woman with a  voice and platform, it’s my responsibility to do this. (And also, because: rage.)”

The rage matters. The speaking out matters. The thoughtful use of our privilege matters. (And, as a reminder, we all have privilege compared to someone – use whatever you have for whoever you can.)

The joy matters, too. Seek the joy, my friends. I’m not sure whether joy itself can change the world, but I’m positive that it raises us up, energizes and enlivens us, so that we can keep changing the world, one hammer swing, one donation, one tough conversation at a time.