A Grateful Guest
When a tree digs its roots deeply, its packs together a mound of dirt beneath and around it. As it feeds off the land, it stabilizes the land. A thick patch of trees intermingles deep below the surface, supporting each other. When great rain comes, water surges through the earth, loosening trees’ foundations. When a collection of trees dig their roots beside each other, they hold the ground firm and weather nearly any storm. But, when trees have been uprooted, the ground moves with the current, toppling and burying trees beneath a mudslide. Having and digging roots deeply is best for a given tree and for its surrounding community.
From small talk that eases nerves and from filling out residential history forms with clients, I often hear how long they have been in Durham. While plenty were born and raised here, many others were not. I very often speak to people who have been here for ten, five, or even two years. It’s not rare for me to speak with someone who has just recently moved to Durham—sometimes to get way from an abusive past. These Durhamites, transplanted and native, young and old, give me a window into the city in which I live. Their view of the city from the courthouse’s towering windows—of the pop fly’s in Bull’s Stadium and the new buildings popping up all around—make me increasingly familiar with the town and its people. I bump into students I know at the grocery store, and swap stories about Jordan lake with my coworkers. Bull City now has a familiar feel to it.
This week, I spoke to three different clients who are newer to Durham than I am. That’s so strange to me. I’m just a Duke student, and I’ve seen so little of the city. I’ve only been inside one of its public schools, to one of its public parks, and to stores within walking distance of Duke’s East or West Campuses. I’m not a Durhamite, I’m a visitor. After two more years, or maybe three if I stick around for a gap year, I’ll be gone for grad or law school. And yet, I am beginning to become a Durhamite. My co-workers live in or near the city, my favorite professors send their kids to school in the area, and plenty of my best memories from the last two years take place off-campus. I’ve bonded with Durhamites over frustration regarding the public bus that just broke down beneath our seats. I am beginning to feel like more of a Durham resident and less of a Duke guest.
I’m glad that’s the case. Duke does a lot of good for Durham, but not as much as it could or should. Durham has given Duke a home, and it’s given me a home. Whether moving between different family members’ apartments over academic breaks or traveling to different programs and vacations over the summer, I have found myself missing a bed of my own. For two years, that bed and stability have been at Duke here in Durham. In gratitude for what Durham offers me and because I believe everyone has a responsibility to serve when possible, I try to learn from and assist Durham. Formerly as a tutor in the public schools and now as an court advocate for victims, my service is stronger when I am more familiar with the context and organizations in which I serve. Nowadays, I do more for the Durham Crisis Response Center in one day than I was able to do in a week months ago. Often, learning just takes time. Planting some of my roots here allows me to add a little support to the community and its service organizations.
But I worry. I don’t want to call Durham my home. To do seems to mean betraying Bull City and betraying my hometown of Pittsburgh. If Durham were my home, how could I justify leaving in two years likely never to return? If Durham is my home, shouldn’t I have a much stronger understanding of what it means to live in Durham, or know the difference between Eastern and Western Carolina barbecue? Or have a tolerance for country music? I’m a grateful guest. I want to know about my host, be polite, help with the dishes, show my appreciation, and help where possible. I want to be a good resident of Durham, but I do not want to call it home. I know I’m going to leave Durham, and it might leave me—but Pittsburgh cannot. I bleed black and gold, I devour pierogies, I’d prefer to say “yinz” over “y’all,” and my ancestors are buried in Pittsburgh earth. That is my home. That land gives nutrients to my soul and holds it steady during storms. In turn, I want to stabilize its soil.
Protect my roots as they bury themselves under Blue Slide Park’s Happy Hill so that countless generations of Pittsburghers will be able to safely look out to the Monongahela river, play catch like the Steelers, and plant their own roots.
David Frisch is a rising junior majoring in Political Science from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is one of seven 2018 Kenan Purpose Program Summer Fellows. David is fascinated by the ethics of law, especially as they intersect with family decisions. This summer, he will be working as a court advocate at the Durham Crisis Response Center in Durham, NC.