My hope and purpose with this article is to share my experiences and put faith in the humanity of “strangers.” I do my best not to feel so self-important as to think my story is any more worthy than another person’s. I simply hope to share my message and reach out to my new communities.
In May of 2011, I completed the Pittsburgh Marathon before moving away from my beloved City of Bridges; this was my second event as a member of Team in Training, an organization through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that helps people train for and complete endurance events while raising money to fight blood cancer. This cause is very close to my heart, as my mother passed away of leukemia Nov. 13, 2010.
I saw the marathon not only as a beautiful way to say goodbye to my friends, family, neighbors and city, but also as a taking of flight. I had been accepted to the Eastern North Carolina 2011 Teach for America, an Americorps program dedicated to closing the educational achievement gap by sending new teachers into at-risk/low-income communities. I was a young woman moving from home to embark on the challenging journey of teaching. I imagined myself as a robin soaring from the dogwood near my childhood home and seeking out new forestry.
The summer that followed was the most intense, challenging and painfully life-shaping experience I had encountered up to that point (and this was taking into consideration my mother’s death.) It began with a week of induction in Rocky Mount and continued with six weeks of intensive teacher training, which included teaching summer school in the Mississippi Delta. I was assigned creative writing for high-schoolers, and they ate me alive.
I was thrown into the waters of teaching and truly felt like I was drowning. I was averaging 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night, and a great deal of failure and self-reflection rocked me to my core. It wasn’t until I returned to North Carolina that I began to feel I was standing on solid ground, though my legs were shaky.
Finding a new home
I moved last August to Warrenton, a small, rural community an hour northeast of Raleigh. It is a quaint town with a strong history in education and environmental justice. I was blessed to quickly find a dream home and two wonderful roommates, who are also first-year TFA teachers. I worked very hard to find my place within my new surroundings. I found a new faith community at Wesleyan Methodist Church. I bonded with the staff at my school, Warren Early College High School.
The school year brought its own challenges, but after summer training I felt ready for anything. I love my students as my own children, and as the school year comes to a close, I only hope they are leaving me for the summer as more independent thinkers, readers and writers who see the value and purpose in self-reflection.
As wonderful as the community of Warrenton is, my roots were yearning for city-living. In November, I ran the City of Oaks Half Marathon in Raleigh as my third event with Team in Training. As the Pittsburgh Marathon was a farewell to my hometown, this run was a wonderful greeting to a new home city. I was so pleased and impressed by Raleigh’s beautiful residential area, shaded with diverse foliage and brightened with Southern hospitality.
I’ve begun to venture into the city about once a week or every two weeks. I feel I’ve found a happy, healthy balance between simple rural living and exciting city living. I also feel I have found a more mature, content version of myself, developed over a year of hard work and great experiences.
One additional thing I found is myself committing to embark on another marathon journey with Team in Training. TNT has been a wonderful stabilizing entity for me over the year, as there are teams across the country. I am now a mentor with the program.
World of Beer in North Hills shopping center in Raleigh has graciously agreed to hold “Bridging Roots,” an event to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as I train for my fourth event, the Mayor’s Midnight Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, this summer. The event, beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, April 20, will include drink specials, raffle baskets and goodies from local business.
To follow my journey or donate to LLS through my personal blog and fundraising page, go to pages.teamintraining.org/nc/anchor12/EmilyRuthNordquist. Also, please join me as I continue my work to become a member of my new communities. I am hoping to meet kind people, find common ground, share my city with yours and support a worthy cause.