This must be the place: Indonesia to Carolina and back again
“I’m glad you’re here right now.”
Standing in line at the Old Europe coffee shop in downtown Asheville, I said that to my old friend, Jerica. It was a rainy Sunday evening and we’d just gotten out of a documentary screening (about Tim Leary and Ram Dass) at the Grail Moviehouse. While I was mulling over the cosmic nature and theme of the film and what our place is in the universe (as per usual), I looked over at Jerica and smiled.
It had been years since we’d last seen each other, which was probably at some random after-hours house party in the wild college town that’s Plattsburgh, New York. Let’s see, that would have been around 2009 or so. I had just returned back home after a stint as a small-town newspaper journalist in Eastern Idaho. Jerica was finishing up her undergraduate degree at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
And here we were, wandering the streets of Asheville, rehashing foggy memories of nights running around downtown Plattsburgh, red paint buckets in hand, ready for whatever the unknown night had to offer. It was a time before Jerica took off to Indonesia and greater Southeast Asia to conduct research about the rapidly disappearing cultures there. It was before I bounced around the United States, writing stories for pennies in an effort to get enough gas in the tank to make it to the next subject, eventually landing in Western North Carolina in 2012.
It was before mutual friends got married and started families. It was before some of the folks simply dropped off the radar, where you find yourself asking, “What did ever happen to them?” It was also before some of that social circle also fell victim to drug overdoses or the depths of depression and an eventual suicide — their essence forever remembered in conversation with those who knew them well, and loved them.
It’s surreal, and somewhat jarring, when a voice from your past suddenly reappears. After living in Haywood County for the better part of the last five years, I sometimes find myself so removed from that past life in Plattsburgh that it almost seems like some half-asleep dream where I sort of remember being there, and yet I’m not sure I remember wholeheartedly who that person (me) was back then.
But, with Jerica in Waynesville this week, I find those dots being connected with such clarity, where my life is one long and evolving timeline, and not just chapters of a book that comes to a close every few years, a fresh, blank page emerging with no reference to what came before it.
It’s not that I don’t acknowledge where I came from. It’s more of a whirlwind of day-to-day shenanigans and obligations within Southern Appalachia that occupies the confines of my mind. To which, it isn’t until a familiar face from way down that timeline comes into view that you realize not only how far you’ve come in your pursuits, but also just who and what was there in the beginning when initial dreams seemed like mountaintops high above your starting point at the trailhead of your desired route.
Strolling in the slight drizzle of downtown Asheville, Jerica and I sipped our coffees, the banter never ceasing, as if topics were tennis balls eagerly and joyously hit back and forth over the net of thought and sentiment.
She spoke of her work, running around Indonesia and trying to find out just how globalization is either positively or negatively affecting the native people, their heritage and economies, natural resources and outlook on the future. I spoke of my time here, wandering throughout Southern Appalachia, trying to track down the rich culture of those who inhabit these ancient mountains, where there’s an increasing urgency to preserve and perpetuate these artisan and traditional trades before they’re lost forever.
What remains is the notion that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there are people just like you — around the globe — trying everyday to also make that difference in our world, all of which bringing us closer to a better place for humanity and the natural world. You might not think what you’re doing has an impact on the grand scheme of things. But, when you put it into the context that the grand scheme is also working for positive change, that you’re one entity among billions (of people and possibilities), then you can see the true value of your intent and purpose right in your own backyard.
And it is within those interactions with old friends that brings about that renewed sense of self, those added logs onto your internal fire just when you felt the blaze starting to putter out. There’s a reason those individuals came into your life those many years ago, and there’s a reason you still cross paths with them further down road on the journey of life.
1 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host the Jingle Bell Bash with Dulci Ellenberger & Kevin Williams at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9.
2 The Festival of Lights & Luminaries will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 9-10 in downtown Dillsboro.
3 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host popular Western North Carolina act Porch 40 (rock/funk) at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.
4 There will be a live radio play production of the classic film “It’s A Wonderful Life” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9-10, 12 and 16-17, and at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18 at the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre in Bryson City.
5 “The Nutcracker Ballet” will be performed at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.