Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Amy Steinnagel, Abby Ross, Cody Halcox, and Random Acts of Kindness

Hot Chocolate, Straight from Eastern Tennessee.

This all started with hot chocolate. Last Tuesday, I was walking along the BU region of Commonwealth Avenue, daydreaming about being in California, in Cleveland, even, with a good friend. Essentially, I was wanting to be away from the cold air cutting against my skin, and the distant fellow city dwellers, who seemed to be, in the words of Timothy Levitch, "running toward their destinations and away from themselves." Then I looked up and saw two warm faced, rosy cheeked folks with cups and a warm thermos. They asked if I wanted hot chocolate. Refreshingly floored by the possibility, I accepted. Then we started talking, and they agreed to share some of their stories. A warm afternoon in subzero weather, midwinter blues was abated by something called random acts of kindness.

I should note that I am not a religious person, in the "capital R" or "lowercase R" of the term. Also, what you read below would hopefully not be critiqued as preaching or soapboxing. Keeping in mind the blog's mission, I am here to offer moments into people's lives, to bask in conversation, to voice people's convictions with respect. As this is an evolving platform, constructive comments are welcomed, and when appropriate, should address the editor/interviewer, and not necessarily the interviewees.

Without further adieu, three members on behalf of a mission group from Roane State Community College's Baptist Collegiate Ministry. From Harrimon, Tennessee, to a room in a church on Commonwealth Ave., Boston.

Interviewer: Shahin I. Beigi
Interviewees: Amy Steinnagel, Abby Ross, and Cody Halcox.

CE: It is Wednesday, Tuesday, March 6, Marsh Chapel, Boston University. Outside, you guys were giving hot chocolate. What was the idea behind that?

Cody Halcox: Random acts of kindness. Cuz it was a really cold day, and it would be like givin' someone a cold glass of water on a hot day (affirming tones from group).

Amy Steinnagel: Yeah, we're here from Tennessee and this is our spring break trip. It's kind of like a mission trip. We're just doing random things throughout the week. We're going to Chinatown after this to teach little kids how to speak English, stuff like that. But you know, east Tennessee is a lot different than Boston, so what we're going to try to do is also see colleges in Boston.

CE: Have you met anybody interesting on the street so far, any interesting stories?

Abby Ross: About the second cup of chocolate we gave out, this one lady was like, "Why are you doing this? you know, this is so nice." She was like, "God bless you, you guys. You know that was so awesome." She just all started crying, she's like, "That is so nice, what a refreshing idea, you know, doing random acts of kindness like that, thank you so much!"

CE: The surprising this is just that, uh, Boston, it's not so common. I mean if you go looking for it, definitely. There's communities where people give. In those specific areas, people will seek your guidance and comfort and stuff. But, outside of that, I feel like a lot of Boston has been, "cold"? I mean, it's very much a city of surfaces, and people kind of being away from each other, and I personally have been trying to infuse some sort of community in there by doing this sort of thing. It was great to see you guys do this random acts of kindness. Do you folks do that in Tennessee, or is there something similar? How does your relationship with the community work there?

Abby: I know that random acts of kindness goes for different kinds of projects that we do. we've been trying to start up more mission opportunities back home. We go to nursing homes. We try to do stuff back at school. On Wednesdays, we feed our students [any Roane State students], they can come to our building and get lunch for two dollars every Wednesday. BCM [Baptist College Ministry] is always open. If people need to talk, or pray, or just come over and have fun and play ping pong, that's the big thing that we do, and just different stuff like that. We've been just trying to get more missions opportunities going, and just about everywhere we go we try to talk to people.

CE: Is this a specific denomination, or is it cross-Protestant, or?

Amy: It is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. But our students are from every denomination, it's not just made up of Baptist students. We have all types of Christians that come and are apart of this very group.

CE: How long have you folks known each other, personally, and through the church?

Amy: Some of us have been together for two years now and the rest of us, just since this school year. We're kind of growing to be a family, since this past fall.

CE: Five years from now, how do you feel the kind of thing you're doing now will affect yourself or others, because people always remember this kind of compassion and this kind of community?

Amy: You realize, New England is just totally different than Tennesse. I went to school here in Boston and was raised here in Connecticut. In Tennessee, out there there are churches that do ministry work like this all the time. Basically, with these random acts of kindness, it might not turn into a conversation where you know, right now we're talking to you for a very long time. You don't really come across that very often where you actually talk to a person by giving them a cup of hot chocolate, for like hours or anything. I think all of us really believe that, you know, showing the love that we feel from God and from Jesus Christ, by showing people that love, it's kind of like showering seeds and planting seeds, seeds of love. And those seeds of love, they can get uprooted or something like that, but they have been put there. Your question was, "How does this go like five years down the road, these random acts of kindness?" You know, we may never see some of these people again, ever. But, they have experienced love on a very cold day through a simple cup of hot chocolate.

CE: What do you guys like to do as a group, some of the fun things you like to do?

Cody: I like to ride my four wheeler and I like to go fishing and ride around in my bass boat and i like to go deer hunting, or deerhuntin, I like to meet new people. I love the outdoors. I spend a lot of time outdoors, trying to catch fish and just see the country.

Amy: In New England, we're just having fun walking around, and trying not to get hit by cars and stuff like that. Just seeing the city. Tennessee is a lot more outdoorsy, climbings a big thing, hiking is a big thing. I think a lot that we do that's fun together is just hanging out, because when you become a family, you really just love spending time together, whatever you're doing.

Abby: We like to go places together. But when we're at BCM, we play ping pong, we play pool, different things like that. But one thing we really like to do that people wouldn't think is necessarily fun: we like to have bible studies, we like to pray, we like to have that close-knit kind of family situation, so even if we kind of get off subject, we're still talking about God and we still have that, we still have that connection and it's really important. No matter where we are, we could jump in: if we have a question about something, we could talk to each other and just pray with each other, no matter what time and it's really important. That's what we like to do.

CE: That's really beautiful. Being a nonreligious person, I come to the church through literature, through music. There's that Bruce Springsteen song, "Reason to Believe." He keeps saying, "At the end of every hard earned people find some reason to believe." I think it's very important, you know, the version you guys are sharing, the community building, the talking, the interacting and the growing together through focusing, speaking, and doing good work. As opposed to what we see these days: the separating and dividing and all this other stuff.

Amy: One thing you said was, this community that we have. I think so much of religion today is exactly that, it's Religion. It's man-made. We have all these different denominations and all these different, you know, beliefs and everything. So often, and I know myself, because i used to be a "religious person"... I went to church and I didn't really know God, at all. And i know for me, religion is very different from the God that i know. The God that i know loves me, and I feel that in my heart.

CE: I want to hear a fun story about ping pong or bass fishing, just a fun time, a good story.

Cody: Something i like to do is go catfishing. When i do that, i like to try to catch them them ones as long as your leg. me and my friend Nathan, we always go out there, nighttime, cast the line, put up some nasty bait, and we like to hang them big ones and just fight them in. it's like fightin' a seamonster.

CE: Do you eat them?

Cody: I eat the small catfish and the crawfeet, but i don't eat the big catfish cuz they have had more time to get nasty stuff in them like mercury, and radiation, nasty stuff. More fishing questions?

CE: Funny stories?

Cody: Oh yeah, one time me and dad was in his old bass boat. He would do over 70 miles per hour on the water. and there's this yacht that made big waves several feet tall. Me and dad hit that wave, doing bout seventy. We got some good air time. We pulled some dukes of hazard on the water [all laugh]. Yeah, well i guess that's ll i have to say.

Amy: I have a funny story about how to shoot. Up in new england, the only people who have guns are authority figures, you know police and stuff, or criminals, and i was neither. But then in Tennessee, people have been shooting guns, pretty much since they're out of the womb. So one day we were over at a friend's house and he had a rifle and it was unloaded. So it's an unloaded gun,, i was like it's alright, and started waving it around, toting it around because it's an unloaded gun. Everyone starts screaming at me, because apparently there's two rules that you aren't supposed to break, ever, with a gun: always treat a gun like it's a loaded gun, and never shoot, and don't point a gun at something you don't intend to kill. I did both. I actually pointed the gun right at my friend's chest and it was a 12 gauge, which you could pretty much blow a hole through anything. Everyone was freaking out and this stupid Yankee over here is laughing her head off.

But it actually taught me a really good lesson: that me, having no preconceived notion, assuming that an unloaded gun doesn't harm you, had no concept of how dangerous that actually is cuz I've never shot a gun. I know it kills people. They were telling me afterwards how many deaths and accidents because of "unloaded guns," and it brought tears to my eyes to think I literally pointed that thing at my brother-- he's not biologically my brother but he's like my brother-- at my brother's chest...and to think i could have killed him. It made me realize how often so many of us do things that we have no idea how dangerous it really is. That just opened my eyes to other things that we do that are really dangerous, that we have no idea how dangerous it really is.

Cody: The first date me and my girlfriend Jamie ever did. Instead of taking her out to dinner and taking her to watch a movie, like everyone else does, I was, "Hey Jamie, you wanna go ride four wheelers and then shoot guns after that?" She was like, " yeah sure." So we went: rode four wheelers and hit mud holes and I showed her how to drive. Then after that, I had an old lawnmower sitting in the cow pasture. "Jamie honey, we're gonna shoot us a lawn mower!" We just blew that lawnmower to pieces. and she's been the coolest girlfriend ever, and it seems like you know, I've taken her fishing before and, she doesn't do this [ makes a disgusted face] [all laugh] .

Abby: A couple stories we have about playing ping pong at the BCM. We play just about every day. We're each starting basically to get addicted to ping pong. We each have our own paddles that we like to play with, that we've bought ourselves.

CE: Do you have names for them?

Abby: Our friend Adam, he has this ping pong paddle. He loves the Red Sox. He's written on it in permanent marker, with the two sox on one side, and his name on the other.

And then one of our favorite movies we like to joke about all the time is Anchorman. One of the sayings in that, a name from that, is "Brosef," and that's what he's named his ping pong paddle. We kind of name each other, like "Hey Brosef, what are you doin'?"

One thing we like to do is have tournaments for ping pong. Basically, after Noonday-- which is what that meal is called, on Wednesday-- we have our own little tournament, and we make brackets, and all this kind of stuff. It always comes down to basically the same two people every time, and it will be like the most intense game ever, and the same person will win. It's so funny,and [the loser], they'll get so frustrated, and it's like, "It's just ping pong." They'll get frustrated and throw the paddle all over the place, but it's just so funny too see how intense we get over a game of ping pong. It's so funny.

CE: Any fun places in Boston so far? How long you been here? Since Friday?

Cody: We went to Brown Sugar Cafe, a Thai restaurant. It was good. I had seafood, it was great. I love seafood.

Amy: We're kind of on a limited budget, staying at a church. A lot of the meals we've been eating are together, we're just cooking at the church and eat there. But we are going to treat ourselves. On Friday, we're going to be going to the North End. We'll be going to La Familia Giorgio's. It's good, it's good and it's not too expensive either. Of course, we'll be going to Mike's Pastry for some cannoli, because most in our group here have either never heard of cannoli, or never had it.

CE: Thank you so much, and keep enjoy doing these random acts of kindness.

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