This semester I have been living in Over-the-Rhine (OTR) participating in Miami University’s service learning semester. For this program I, along with seventeen students, take classes on urban issues and work at a social service agency. While I began this semester with a naive hope of coming to a comprehensive understanding of complex issues like gentrification, what I have actually learned is to spend less.
Like most college students, I stress. From kindergarten I have been taught the importance of school and have internalized this to mean that school work comes first, no matter what. I, like most people today, feel overloaded; I stress over balancing classes, work, and friends. At times when I am particularly overwhelmed the first thing I cut is time with my friends. OTR has reminded me the fault of this logic.
In OTR, I have learned the fine art of stoop sitting. Stoop sitting is the act of sitting on the stoop in front of your building for an undetermined amount of time and chatting to the neighbors who walk by. I was blessed to learn the art of stoop sitting by my neighbor, Mr. Earl. Mr. Earl has been a resident stoop sitter of OTR for thirty years. And since Mr. Earl worked at the Drop-Inn Center for twenty years he knows everyone in the neighborhood. I met Mr. Earl sitting on his stoop on the first day I moved to OTR, we’ve been friends ever since. He and I have spent many an evening on his stoop meeting neighbors, sharing food, and chatting about Mr. Earl’s latest mystery novel.
Like most semesters, as the air became cold and the leaves changed colors, classes picked up and the stress set in. As October turned to November I found myself spending less time on the stoop and more time working alone. Mr. Earl noticed but it was our friend down the street that called me out on it. I had not seen Bougger, as he likes to call himself, in weeks when I spotted him on the stoop next door one day in November. We had a short chat about where he’d been and just when I was about to leave he asked me a question, “Do you have time for a story?” How could I possibly say no? Had I already, once again, become someone who would refuse the offer to listening to a story, an account of a friend’s experiences? This simple question awakened me to the slippery slope of worrying that I had already so easily fallen back into. I am pleased to say that I did not refuse the offer.
My effort to spend less time working and worrying is a daily struggle and something that only gets harder as the semester progresses. My semester in OTR has reminded me that sometimes spending less means relinquishing some of my responsibilities; trying to do less frees up more time to simply be with others. I have learned to value the time that I spend with my student community and neighborhood friends and not sacrifice it to work and unnecessary worries, no matter how pressing they may seem.
A friend in the CFJ recently directed me to a book of poems written by Murray Bodo, a Franciscan priest who lived in OTR in the 1970s. Reflecting on his own struggle of how to spend time Bobo writes: “I am…more convinced that we all should ‘waste’ time on being who we are; for it is only when we are ourselves, that we contribute anything to others.” Over 40 years later, OTR has taught Bodo and I the same lesson: that we should spend less time worrying and ‘waste’ more time being. While Bodo does not identify stoop sitting as an example of being, I am convinced that that is exactly what he means.
Becky Seipel (left) with classmate Claire McMahon seated at the stoop outside their Apartment in Over The Rhine. Becky is a senior History major with minors in French and Peace Studies. She grew up in southern Indiana as the youngest of five children and loves making food for her family and friends.