Published: Nov 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 10, 2012 04:42 PM
I was engaged by each of the readers who shared their contributions to the 27 Views of Durham anthology at the Carolina Theatre a few weeks back.
From my seat in Cinema One, I chuckled at Ceil Clevelands terrific rendering of a conversation she had at a party in Chapel Hill, soon after shed moved to the area, with a man who wondered why on earth she and her husband would choose to live in Durham.
As I listened to historian Jean Bradley Andersons richly woven account of the life of D.C. Parrish, one of the fathers of this town first known as Durham Station, I wondered why Id never heard that a pioneering newspaper here was called the Tobacco Plant one of the most ingenious names ever to grace a masthead (or one of the most inane, depending on your taste in publication titles and your knowledge of Durhams history).
I caught glimpses of myself in both Adam Sobseys making his escape from Durham at 18 and never intending to come back, and Pierce Freelons love letter to Durham that celebrates his birthright and the charms of our hometown.
Still, what has stayed with me most is a comment Steve Schewel made as he kicked off the reading. The way he defined Durham grit was new food for thought: a combination of Durham grace and Durham wit.
I cant remember if he attributed that definition to someone else or offered it as his own. Either way, though, that notion of equal parts grace and wit adding up to grit really spoke to me.
On that day, I hadnt shown up at the reading with only a column idea in mind. I was also making a conscious effort to shake off the psychic residue of a tough couple of weeks.
In this sometimes bewildering new world I find myself in, space can be tight. Too often, money is even tighter. And Im definitely in what one of my friends aptly called as a professional hiccup. (Translation: doing work Ive never done before that is pretty far afield from the writing/editing/teaching path Ive been on for more than a decade.)
Of course, thats life for a lot of people in 2012 a less-than-were-accustomed-to place many of us have been in for a year or two, or three. Hoping and praying that as the countrys fortunes turn around, our worlds will right themselves too.
With those thoughts not far from top of mind that Sunday afternoon, I saw a direct correlation between my hometowns character and my own. Durhams grit equal parts grace and wit was, is, at my center too.
I know those qualities, which I can only credit to a higher power, are at least part of why Im still standing reminding myself of what Im blessed to have, and working on letting go of what Ive lost. That was the light-bulb moment, aka revelation number one, of the day.
An excerpt Schewel read from his 27 Views introduction was light-bulb moment number two. In it, he references Pauli Murray, another daughter of Durham, and her need to leave this town behind back in the 1920s, 30s and 40s to find her voice and her future.
Schewel draws on Murrays memoir Proud Shoes to shed light on the significance of her annual tributes to her grandfather after his death in 1919. Murray, born in 1910, was young but already familiar with the slights and stings of segregation and bigotry.
Given the racism she and her family experienced, Schewel writes, Murrays bold placement of an American flag on her grandfathers grave each year, in plain sight of a white cemeterys field full of Confederate flags, is a reminder of the ever-present hard truths beneath our citys prosperous new cool and a reminder, too, that in Durham people have always fought back.
Its that last phrase, about fighting back, that provided another flash of insight and moment of newfound kinship with my birthplace that I needed.
My mother has reminded me more than a couple of times over the years that I was born a fighter, delivered two months early in Duke Hospital and weighing in at a mere 3 pounds and an ounce.
So, as sure as Durham flows through me, lives within me, continues to shape me, Im destined to stay in the ring.