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Surfin the Wave

by Ailen Arreaza

April 6,2007

This past Saturday, I was driving back from the County Recycling Center, having deposited bins of metal, plastic and glass, when I saw and heard an SUV crash into an old small Ford Fiesta. The sight and sound of a car accident is jarring – immediately awakening your senses and jolting your heart. As I drove carefully up to the scene, I saw a middle-aged woman of seeming modest means step gingerly out of the twisted Fiesta. Knowing clearly that she was hurt, I asked her if she was ok. She said, “honey, life is full of accidents and trouble. I’m just surfin’ the happy wave. Today is a blessed day.”

Well, that stopped me in my tracks. I called 911, gave her my card in the event a witness report was needed, and drove away after the authorities and paramedics were well into their display of administrative competency. All that morning, I thought of private and public concerns, the city and our small roles in it, and the pound and rhythms of the daily surf.

For nearly my entire adult life, but certainly since arriving in Charlotte, I’ve been in this mode of participating. I care and I want to contribute. This city makes it easy for people of the same sentiment to do so. Thousands of Charlotteans plug in and turn on everyday, despite accidents and trouble, and make the city a more compelling place.

In the last two weeks alone, here are some of the experiences I‘ve had: sitting a few feet away from Chef Emeril Lagasse as he talked about career excellence while demonstrating how to cook Oysters Rockefeller to an audience of rapt Johnson & Wales University students; attending the Chamber of Commerce Work/Life Awards, and listening to Carol Coletta, president of CEOs for Cities, talk to a room full of business executives and citizen activists about how to better attract and retain talent; attending the Levine Museum Taste of the New South fundraiser and visiting with friends who are involved in every aspect of city life; taking notes at The Echo Foundation anniversary celebration while Elie Wiesel talked to an auditorium of civic leaders about ending indifference and working toward a more just and humane world; serving as a Knight Creative Community Catalyst and convening a group of citizens at Caribou coffee to better understand how our region is perceived; spending an entire Sunday in a board development workshop with Carolina Theatre Preservation Society colleagues; and hosting a get-together at my home where some of the brightest lights of my generation in Charlotte enjoyed wine and good food without any agenda other than to relax, connect and aspire.

At each of these events, I look around the room and see exceptionally committed citizens of all design and stripe. The breadth and depth of talent is impressive. I know that each one of them has their own litany of recent events that they have participated in, from non profit board meetings to task forces tackling some of the city’s most challenging issues. Calculating the extent and variety of volunteer hours in this city is no small trick. I also know that each one of these citizens manage personal challenges, from financial concerns to sick spouses. And yet they contribute.

The good will and resilience of the people around me fuels me to do more. Each has their own story to tell. Each is a protagonist in their own hero or heroine’s journey. Each has tests, temptresses and tempters, dark forests, and antagonists to overcome. And they do. They “complete” their journey daily, returning with new truths, abilities and opportunities – altering the kingdom forever.

The city has its accidents and troubles. We can dwell on them, and we do. I’m concerned about the growing economic divide that is making what should be amenities for all unaffordable for the vast majority of Charlotteans. I’m concerned about divisions between townships that are fraying common interests. I’m concerned about violence toward and between the least among us. The list goes on. But what gives me hope – mesmerizing, uplifting hope – are those unassailable citizens who despite their hurt, manage to ride the wave.

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