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“Why I Serve”: Sunrises, Scholars, and Perspective

March 13, 2014

Mornings in New Orleans are arguably the most beautiful times of day. Especially early mornings, the ones we are familiar with, are even more spectacular. If you ever want to truly feel what it’s like to be a solitary one, a mere individual, then ride your bike through New Orleans at six am, preferably passing by a cemetery. First thing to consider is how tired your body probably is. If you’ve been responsible you have gone to bed before nine but many times this will not be the case. You will have had to shower, eat, and plan lessons for the next day, a feat that usually cannot be accomplished in under ninety minutes. After quickly downing a cup of coffee, banana in backpack, your body will perform the motions of unlocking your bike and fastening your helmet. Your bottom will find the seat and from there, it’s go time. As your knees begin to turn you feel the shift in your body and mind as life begins to seep throughout your frame. You are always surprised by the number of people that are awake with you so early in the morning. One man sits every day on a bench across the street reading the same giant book, mug of coffee in hand and eyes intently focused on the pages. In your mind you’ve named him Derek and silently wish him good morning every day as you knock the kickstand up and take off onto the sidewalk. The dawn air is cool but refreshing and steadily pulls you from your sleepiness as your legs determinedly pump. You are fully awake now, you have no choice, your body is in motion and is determined to reach it’s final destination.

The sun is not quite up but the shops along your route are beginning to peep into the day. Shutters are opened and signs flipped to open and you’re overcome once again with the knowledge that you are so very far from home. You think about your family and wonder if they are awake yet. Your mother probably is; she made sure to always wake up before you when you were a child to have hot coffee brewing before you went to school. You can see her sitting at your kitchen table at home, one hand cradling a steaming mug of coffee while the other writes out her to do list for the day. As you ride, you ponder your to do list and the first one is almost halfway down; bike to Langston Hughes Academy. Your fingers grip the handlebars and you think about one of your students Kenneth* who is learning to write.

He is five years old and has already mastered the art of the perfect pencil grip, the much too large tool gripped determinedly in his small left hand. You were so excited yesterday that he remembered how to write his name; you never realized just how beautiful the upward slopes and curves of the letter “K” could be, especially when created by a tiny solemn being. You love Kenneth and he loves you and the thought of him pushes your legs to cycle faster. Your chain is rusty and you feel it dragging but you’ve reached the French Quarter and the sight of Jackson Square is cause enough for distraction. The pink glow of the sun bathes the square in steamy light that feels like a mirage. Different colors float from the sky and create patterns that rival those of pane glass windows and you realize you have not once stepped inside a church since arriving in Louisiana. The thought does not worry you, perhaps because you’ve found some other God, the kind that drags you against all nature out of bed at the very UNGODLY hour of five am!? What is fueling you these past few days to rise so early? These past few days making up the months making up the one year that will be your time at City Year? Your handlebars take on a greater burden as you lean forward and a second wind inhabits your body as energy floods throughout. The Bayou is on your horizon and you suddenly remember the time over the summer before City Year when you first glimpsed the Bayou. Perhaps New Orleans is similar to the waters that flood throughout it? The mighty currents of the Mississippi coupled with the softer tones of the Bayou are enough to make anyone realize the insignificance, yet also great power, of one person. You are only one, just as your student Kenneth* who is learning to write his name is only one, just as each person on your team is only one. They are arriving at school just as you will be at any moment and you understand that together you are all one, but a powerful one, and this knowledge is the fuel to your gas-less vehicle. All of this is understood quite suddenly and it is not even 6:30 am. You wonder what your day at school will bring.

*Name changed to protect identity

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brie permalink
    March 13, 2014 1:43 pm

    I love this! It’s so poetic and I definitely have to agree that NOLA mornings are some of the greatest.

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