Can I Take a Minute?

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Telling stories, story-telling and finding balance in a Common Hour.

We talk a lot about the need to slow down; the conversation itself has become a cliché. And it’s led to little progress. I, for one, am still in a hurry; I bet you are, too. This semester, though, the college struck a blow for balance, resuscitating an old idea, a “common hour.” In a pilot program, a new Common Hour is now part of the official weekly schedule. President John Kuykendall embraced this revival, kicking off the shared hour with coffee and doughnuts on a snowy Tuesday in January. Nikki Giovanni followed up with a bright exclamation point the next week, flinging opinions and poetry into the Duke Family Performance Hall audience like so much brilliant confetti.

On Thursdays, the Common Hour can be used for those oh-sohard- to-schedule meetings that include members of the faculty— who, dagnabit, always seem to be so busy teaching. And talking to students and writing recommendations and finishing an article and analyzing data and grading papers. Seriously busy.

As you can imagine, this experiment is not universally embraced. It comes at a price—a two-hour price—that puts pressures on other parts of the semester’s 15-week academic schedule.

I hope we will survive, like we did during that January snow week. Offices opened late and closed early; professors who couldn’t make it safely out of icy streets and driveways cancelled classes here and there. Area schools closed for days on end; childcare arrangements disappeared like mittens. Someone needs to keep the hot chocolate flowing and the dryer running. So things simply moved at a different pace for a few days, you know? Like most of us, creeping our way along glassy walkways, arms grabbing at the air for balance.

About that time, we learned that a senior with a campus-brightening smile had died on New Year’s Eve, an automobile accident. We all stopped a moment to absorb the thought of a terrible loss. Hundreds stopped for an hour, filling the sanctuary of Davidson College Presbyterian Church to remember John Frankel, to hear stories of his shining life.

I did not know John, but I have been thinking about him. People say he always had time for a friend. No easier to sum up than you or me, but we try. I just did.

I recently asked a senior why she had chosen Davidson. She told me: “When I was visiting colleges, I could usually identify the type of person who would go to each school. But here, I couldn’t pinpoint a type.” Exactly. So I worry about that other thing we do when we hurry: we speak in platitudes. We do it all the time: alumni are leaders and servants in the global community; students are engaged and curious; faculty are exceptional teachers and scholars; staff members are dedicated and hardworking. John Frankel was fun loving and bright.

As a communicator, I know we need those short-circuiting descriptions. But as a human, sitting in a church with 1,000 members of a community diminished by the loss of one young man, I become dissatisfied with generalizations.

Telling stories can help. About the boy from India and the American family who embraced him when he arrived at Davidson College. About the young man with a mission to improve education in inner-city Baltimore and the younger man who serendipitously took on the same mission. About a college president who walks every morning with his dog. Even in the snow.

The Davidson Journal is no cure to our malaise of busy-ness. Nor is the common hour. But both can remind us: our people are anything but common.

Photo Credit: Bill Giduz

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