Day 8: Josh, Little Rock
Half a year ago, my younger brother loaded up his compact car and drove from our parent’s house in Maryland to Little Rock, AR. Zack has always been a sharp thinker and dedicated worker, but had been struggling to find somewhere and something to really put his energy behind. Drifting from culinary school to a few short term jobs, some folks back home wondered about his nontraditional path.
I’ve found it more and more absurd how high the expectation is on young people to jump right into college and determine the careers that many will stay in for the rest of their working lives. In a society that defines by position and profession, the path of self-exploration and personal enrichment seems rarely looked upon favorably. I’ve caught my own mind before in the trap of thinking that the worst thing to be labeled is “lazy”.
As Salam, Conor, and I pulled up to Zack’s apartment in Little Rock, I could see his idealistic energy had found a place-for now at least-to call home. To a stranger’s eye, the untidy two bedroom dwelling could be called many unfavorable titles, but through the stack of dirty dishes, scattered papers, various books, and personal artwork, I saw my brother’s personality had marked the place.
Zack is not one to “fit in” for the sake of winning approval. What others would call a mess, he would see what hadn’t been explored. The paintings hanging on the apartment’s walls and ceiling that he and his roommate had made were monuments to the seldom-valued acceptance that one’s own creation is more valuable than a copy of another. Though Zack works for Americorps doing environmental engineering, the collection of books on his self-built table illustrated that his job served his passion, not the other way around.
But Zack’s passion couldn’t stay contained in a job; many of the other community projects that he had described to me on the phone now had faces and locations behind them as we toured the city. The place where we gave our presentation that night would also serve as the sight where Zack would soon be teaching classes on the food system and other topics he had researched and learned about. He had found, as I have, that passion and curiosity aren’t limited to college degrees or professional titles. And Zack’s friends in Little Rock shared the same eye that can see the beauty in disorder.
For somebody who might think that Home Depot holds a monopoly on home improvement products or that Better Homes and Gardens is they way, the truth, and the light for remodeling plans, the house where we stayed that night stood as joyous proof to the contrary. Zack’s friend Joseph, a 50-year old newspaper delivery man, echoed through his quiet wisdom and spectacular construction the reality that the popular way is hardly the most beautiful. The floors of his home were glimmering mosaics that he had created out of discarded glass that he’d found in dumpsters. Scrapped wood was transformed into chicken coops, sheds, and a tree house (with a swing on top of it), interspersed amongst the gardens in the yard.
Our night ended in Joseph’s kitchen, each of us with an instrument in hand and my brother’s home brewed beer on the table. The music we played wasn’t close to professional, but it was our own song to mark new and old friends. The beer was poured into recycled jars and in the absence of the company names and designer labels, we saw through the clear glasses a cup half full of a drink made in a home and the other half of the cup was full of the scene of smiling simplicity on the other side of the unmarked glass.