Ways of Seeing: Coexisting, in dorms and the 802
In late September, I headed to the West Coast to go to school at U.C. Santa Cruz. Among the many changes the move brought to my life, perhaps the greatest was that I suddenly lived in a building with 150 other people. The contrast from peaceful quiet Lincoln was obvious from the day I moved in. I share a common room with the whole house, a two-stall and two-shower bathroom with my floor, and a small room with two other young women. The three of us have very little in common, but in just one quarter I learned to love them, not despite that fact, but because of it.
One grew up not far from the Mexican border, and the other in a foggy northern city. One was a cheerleader in high school, and the other did debate and mock trial. Although it was awkward at first, we got to know each other and moved beyond these high school categorizations, to a place where we love to hear about one anothers’ childhoods, marvel at our differences and learn about what made each of us who we are. My room and my house are diverse, hectic and fun places to be. We don’t all share beliefs, opinions, or values, but we bond with and tolerate one another. We have no choice but to live together, so we choose to do it peacefully.
Soon into the quarter, I got a job canvassing for California Public Interest Research Group on a campaign against an herbicide made by Bayer Corp. I went door-to-door raising awareness and each day I met and talked with a striking variety of people. Every door was a gamble — some people were supportive, others disagreed, some didn’t care about the cause but loved to talk, some were unnecessarily mean and some were extraordinarily kind. Some people hugged me, some people yelled at me. Some looked at me as if I was something rotten on their doorstep while others ushered me in for a glass of water. Doors were slammed in my face, huge donations were made in coins, I met a pet pig and was informed that the illuminati was listening. Despite the variance, these people all had one thing in common — they live next door to one another.
Doing that job made me realize that the house I lived in was a tiny reflection of the greater community and world.
I think of Vermont as a place of commendable coexistence. Drive around and you will see bumper stickers announcing a great variety of beliefs — political, social and environmental. You may see a Coyote hanging from a mailbox next to a Bernie sign or a Prius parked beside a truck, and no matter what your beliefs are it’s hard not to admit that in a strange way it’s kind of wonderful.
Although we cannot all live the same way or agree on everything, in Vermont there is no separating ourselves or hating one another and that shows strength. In a world where internet algorithms, fake news and greedy politicians do their best to divide us it is radical to live peacefully alongside each other. It is powerful to exist adjacent to people you do not understand, and I am grateful to have grown up in such a place.
But just like my dorm, Vermont is small, and just like me, many of the youth leave and go elsewhere for school or jobs. So to all the grandparents and parents reading this, raise your youth to be deliberate in their acceptance of each other. Teach them it’s okay to love what they don’t understand, and to recognize the power in that. And in case you need a reminder, I’m sure if you look around you’ll spot a bumper sticker that says “Coexist.”
Leeya Tudek is from South Lincoln. She enjoys painting, being outdoors, good conversations, and writing.
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