I am still working through my thoughts and impressions of my time in West Virginia, and I’m in the process of writing a much longer piece on the experience. At the end of my time there, I was struck by both my intensity of feeling and by my knowledge of how fast those feelings would fade. I wrote this quick reflection soon after getting back, when I wanted to preserve those intense, raw feelings despite the inevitability of losing them.
I struggled with the idea of transience in West Virginia. We were a group of people that had never met, visiting a place we’d never been, for just a single week. A similar group had made the same trip the week before, and another would come the week after. I resisted what the experience seemed to be trying to elicit: personal transformation, assembly line style. I felt compelled to push back, to assert my individuality, and to prove somehow that I was different, that our group was different, from all the rest.
But throughout the week, I began to let go of my sense of self. There I was, witnessing and participating in a process of community development and revitalization that was in motion regardless of my presence. The way my perception and understanding were shapeshifting in my head felt important, but also irrelevant.
As a group, we embraced ignorance. Our conversations and reflections were predicated on our collective not-knowing. Instead of taking turns saying what we knew, we groped together, in the dark, toward understanding. We existed together in the synapses between learning and knowing, a place that felt deep and rich. A place where I wanted to spend more time.
I’m faced with the contradiction that surrendering my sense of self to fully engage in our experience has, in its small way, helped shape who I am as an individual. I am not naïve enough to believe that I will feel eternally connected to Williamson, West Virginia, or to the people with whom I shared my time there. But walking through the airport on my way home, I felt tremendously thankful both for what endures and for what doesn’t. Transience can be okay. We were bound by moments already dissolved, but the beauty is that the bind existed at all.