I Want To Be A Priest
This article originally appeared on The Broad Collective
A common critique that we hear of The Broad Collective is that we don’t represent the Athens that some people are familiar with but rather a white-washed version that reflects a privileged minority. While I don’t agree with that sentiment, I can understand why some may feel that way. To them, the summation of what we do is easily reduced down to a photo of a dozen oysters with a pretty iPhone filter. We are less a team of volunteers advocating for the people and places that are important to our personal and communal health and more a group of annoying newbies with rose-colored glasses and romanticized stories and photos.
We know Athens has some systemic issues – from high poverty rates to the lack of living wages to the slow leak of intellectual and creative capital to bigger markets. And while we can save the debate for another day about the best ways to affect change, we definitely believe a way (emphasis on a way and not the way) to overcome our worst parts is to aspire to our best parts.
When we get discouraged with this type of feedback from people saying that things aren’t as great as we might perceive them, it’s easy for us to succumb to the deflating feeling that maybe everything is indeed wrong. But that would be a lie. Everything is not wrong. In the same way that some people believe we don’t represent their Athens, their experience of our community as half empty glass is not my experience.
The Athens I know is made up of a lot of good people who are doing good things. big and small, to make it a better place for someone else. And you don’t have to be a blind optimist to see it.
I am finding it harder and harder to articulate just exactly what this “good” looks like. But Neal and Pat Priest get awfully close to it for me.
I won’t spoil their biography or history with Athens, as it would rob us all of the chance to experience their enjoyable story-telling abilities that can only be appreciated in conversation.
But know this: they don’t do what they do for followers. They don’t do it for a headline. They don’t really start out to “do” anything, but rather “do” by extension of practicing the lost art of neighborliness. Neal has served this community as an emergency room doctor for years and Pat has been involved in creating radio programs, local writer’s groups, and art series. And they have both found their place in our hearts by being good and decent people towards us. By sending us random messages of encouragement and kindness. Or bags of free books they thought we might like. Or introducing us to other nice folks they think we ought to know. But it’s not just their kindness and thoughtfulness towards us. Mention their name to a lot of people in town and they will give you similar stories of their goodwill towards others.
Their hospitality, compassion, and perspective make them special to us and to this city and they represent for us a fond memory of family and place and a particular kind of grace that is often hoped for but not easily attained.
The thing is, the Priests are one of many. This city is overflowing with people just like Neal and Pat. Good people who are on the right people’s radar but who choose to stay off the sometimes superfluous social media and web radar. They, and so many other people like the Priests, are reminders for us to keep our heads down. Keep building. Keep connecting. Keep aspiring. Role models for us all.
Dear Neal and Pat.
I hope you don’t mind me making a private letter a public one. But we wouldn’t mind acknowledging y’all publicly, with your permission, with the hope of encouraging you in the same way that you encourage us. We had a blast at dinner tonight. Thank you so much for the recipe and the gift of dinner and friendship and books and beans. I don’t want to be weird Pat but we really appreciate y’all. When you were telling us at the table that you found out about Seabear’s ramen night and David Hale and his art as a potential for your artists in residence series from us, that almost made me cry. And I have a cold, calloused heart. Even in bed right now as I get ready for sleep (after reading Jayber Crow, which I know you’ll appreciate), I feel a little more emotional than I probably should be feeling. But hearing nice things from people like y’all that we respect goes a really long way towards refueling our tanks when they had been fairly low. You and Neal are a wonderful reminder to us of just what makes people so decent and this city so good. We feel like we’ve known y’all for a while and yet want to get to know you better. Thank you for being observant and knowing when to reach out with encouragement and kind words. I don’t want you to be weirded out but I’m writing something now entitled I Want To Be A Priest for the site. Hahaha. Alex said I get forlorned when the weather starts to turn and I start to read more. But I think I just have a lot of stuff stirring around as I think about community and I get a beautiful picture of it when I talk to you and Neal. So I wanted to reflect on that and thank you for that. I want to be a Priest.