I am an island. And so are you. Indeed, aren't we all?
Maybe. In any case, it would seem that there are forces that would have us think so - that each of us plays the lead role in our own universal narrative. Everyone else is either supporting cast or an extra in the motion picture of each of our own lives. And there is certainly no meta-narrative, a story that binds all of our lives and stories together.
Of course when we view the world and society in this way, it has very significant consequences. For one thing, we don't need to be responsible or accountable to anyone or anything. Consider the movies we watch - there's hardly anything a protagonist can do that isn't forgivable or justifiable in some way. Devotees of popular TV shows Dexter or Breaking Bad may know exactly what I mean; and these are questions that The Dark Knight also bring to bear on the viewer. Are Batman's actions always justified just because he's the Good Guy?
Maybe not; but we're still always on his side unless he crosses some imaginary moral boundary that few of us have really attempted to discern. In most cases, we the audience will trust such a character to hold himself accountable.
But what of ourselves? If each person views him/herself as the protagonist of the universe, can s/he similarly forgive and justify anything that s/he might do, without responsibility, without accountability? Where is that moral boundary (if it exists at all)? And If we cross it ourselves, are we able to hold ourselves accountable? And how do I know whether my boundaries agree with yours or with those of my neighbors or the other people riding the subway or my coworkers? And if these boundaries don't align, does it even matter (everyone else is just supporting cast or lowly extras, after all)? Is there anything we can do about it without resorting to violence, extortion, or domination systems (as governments and police invariably do)?
I don't presume to know the answers to these questions. But I bring them up now because they are questions that I've battled with for the past three years. They are hurtles that I've attempted to breach while exercising community in NYC. Indeed, these are community questions. They are questions that haunted me when I'd leave NYC for a month or longer. And they were concerns implicit in my friends' pleas to stay in the city when I met with them in January this year.
I responded to my brothers by going on the road one last time (with their support, of course). And I even wrote a song entitled On The Road to mark this last departure from community. I wrote (to Bob Dylan, whom I've idolized in some ways and who, in my mind, epitomizes the post-modern-island archetype):
Well, I pray that you're doing alright on your own.
As for me, well you know, I'll just keep moving on,
with my comrades and company, this road occupied.
Making all the difference that it's less traveled by.
What I've learned, especially in the past year and with the love and support of my various communities in the city, is that I need not be an island. I'm only an island if I want to be an island. Perhaps it's easier to take on this form in NYC, because that's just the way that most people here live. But it's not what I long to be anymore. The whole universe isn't all about me, I've come to find, and I want to start making the world a better place in community. It's a model that I've tried to live while in NYC - washing dishes at my own apartment, busking on the subway, teaching free guitar lessons at public parks, sleeping and assembling at Zuccotti, ministering to the children and families at TGC, building book cases for Word Up - but neglected anytime that I hit the road these past three years. It's a model that I will continually work toward as I establish a sense of permanence, of rootedness, here in the city and particularly in Washington Heights, where I've increasingly focused my time, energy, and attention.
There are several significant ways that I imagine this will impact my life and community.
1) I will find steady work in the neighborhood. This is something that I've avoided for the past three years but that I'm finally excited about committing to. Part of this will include resuming private music lessons (more on this to come); part of this may mean finding a part-time job. I'm definitely applying wherever I can and weighing options.
2) I will be moving toward financial and residential stability. I'm in debt. In fact, there was only one month that I lived in the city without debt and I spent that money real fast. That was the point where I sought out the freegan.info group and was able to dramatically cut costs, but I've not really been able to stay out of credit card debt or to keep from being otherwise indebted to friends and family. In addition, my living situation is incredibly tenuous right now. I hope to get this squared away so that my roommate, Clinton, and I can continue to be the change we wish to see in this neighborhood.
3) I will more consistently serve my neighbors. Though my time will likely be more consumed with conventional work, I do plan to continue volunteering at Word Up Books, leading worship at TGC, and volunteering my time and energy in other ways around the 'hood. With no plans to travel in the foreseeable future, I anticipate that I will not be leaving my community hanging for weeks at a time and I look forward to serving in whatever ways I am able.
4) OMG, I created an OkCupid account.
All of the above are just symptomatic of a huge paradigm shift in my life. Like. HUGE! I'm entering a new season of permanence and stability, bringing an end to many of the facets that have marked my life since those bike wrecks that occurred in Orlando, 2008. I'm thankful to all my friends in Orlando, Apopka, and NYC that have brought me to this point and I'm really looking forward to marching in community and solidarity with you in the coming years, learning how to do this life stuff together.
I also can't wait to release my new album, Heliotropism, which essentially synthesizes everything that I've learned from and with you guys over these past four years. The release of this album will finally mark the end of this last wintry season; I can't wait to watch the flowers of the next come to full bloom. Peace.
And food rescue tonight!