Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is your purpose?

Today was a day to acclimate and get to know each other before the real work begins tomorrow.  We got to sleep in until 8:30 AND had a special breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, sausage, and eggs.  After breakfast we took most of the students down to a Catholic church in town for services.  While they were there Katie and I walked/jogged along a path downtown.   I’m pretty sure Katie would have liked to run more than walk, but I created quite a bit of drag.  I didn’t come prepared to run and haven’t been keeping up with my training schedule.  I suppose the wheezing and burning lungs served me right!

View down the jogging path towards a strip mall close to downtown Harlan.

Small creek along the jogging path with mountains in the background

The office of jailer is VERY popular in Harlan.  At least five people were running for the office that I counted and we still aren't completely sure what a jailer does.

A little pick up soccer post-Sunday mass
The amazing view from our hilltop cabin

Our caravan for the week

Beautiful log cabin accomodations

We returned to the cabin, showered, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  I can’t even remember the last time I ate PB&J on white bread.  Yum!  We packed up lunch, hopped back in the vans, and took off for a park about five miles from our cabin.  It was a little overcast, but warm enough out that we didn’t need jackets.  We sat on the grass on the edge of a lake, ate our PB&Js and listened to one of the students strumming away on his guitar, a sound that has become ever present during our short time in Harlan.
As soon as they were done eating, the students jumped up and started a flag football game using the bandanas we were all given by the coordinators on our ride down.  While most of the students played football and small contingent of us meandered down the bank of the lake, slipping and sliding in the muddy shore, taking photos and collecting seashells.  We had a lively discussion about quicksand because of the muddy shores that claimed more than one of our boots when we got too close to the water.  We reminisced about how quicksand was such a terrifying thing when we were kids and now as adults we realize what a relatively small threat it plays in our lives.

Rockstar student coordinators.  They planned and executed our trip start to finish.  Amazing ladies.

Impromptu football

View of the lake 

The water color in Harlan was so green.  Really beautiful landscapes

Intense flag football...last play of the game.

After the park our coordinators sent us on a scavenger hunt through downtown Harlan.  We wandered into an antique shop, The Treasure Chest, virtually the only local store open in the downtown area on a Sunday, and had a wonderful chat with the owner.  He raved about COAP, the organization of carpenters that we work with on house builds, and he introduced us to the DJ from the local morning radio show, who happened to wander in while we were there.  The owner of the store was so friendly and hospitable.  He gave most of us small pocket knives for free and offered us a 10% discount on anything we wanted to by.  When we got ready to leave he told us to have a safe and wonderful trip in Harlan and to be sure to come back and visit if we had the time before we left.

Coal mining has been a huge center of the economy in Harlan and this memorial was dedicated to all those who lost their lives in the mines.  While technology has improved, this is still an incredibly dangerous career.

The town of Harlan created a time capsule that will be opened in 2076.  We joked that we would all return for the grand opening.  Most of the students will be in their 80s and I'll be the ripe old age of 94!

These bumper stickers and ones like it can be found everywhere throughout the town.

Main St., Harlan, KY

Our outing ended with a trip to WalMart to pick up odds and ends, some food for dinner, and to get precious cell service.  We have no cell service at the cabin and even in several places downtown I have to fight for a few bars of 2G. 

This crew is incredibly musically talented and this scene was a regular one morning, noon, and night in Harlan.

No cabin retreat is complete without games!

Reflection tonight started with group activities.  We broke out into our van groups and were asked to choreograph a 30 second dance to a song.  The Survivor van was assigned “It’s Getting Hot In Here.”  Being asked to dance on demand in front of a group is not on my list of things that I enjoy, so it was uncomfortable to say the least.  But, we did it and we laughed a lot.  After the dance off we sat in a circle and were asked to think about our purpose in Harlan.  The students on this trip have such a passion for service and so many of them spoke about how they feel called to service in general and to Harlan specifically.  They spoke about challenges they’ve faced, some in the past and some in the present, and how this trip is a way to reflect, rest, and rejuvenate.  I talked about the privilege I feel to be here in Harlan, but really at La Salle in general.  To have the opportunity to teach full-time at an institution that I love so much, even if only for a year, is something I feel very proud of.  And then to get the opportunity to participate in such a strong tradition just adds to that privilege.  I feel like my purpose here is to support the students through their week of service and hold this space for them, as well as for myself. 

Beyond that I’m already starting to see how the things we do here are microcosms of the bigger picture.  Last night talking about hopes and fears and tonight talking about my purpose…it creates a train of thought greater than Harlan or this week of service.  It makes me want to reflect on things like this in an effort to be more present each day, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

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