This practice of authenticity prompted us to share something raw and honest about ourselves. Well, I had said “if you really knew me, you would know I hate being last.” But, it is something that always happens and unsurprisingly to me, I found myself being the last person in the group to share something. While other people were sharing their hopes, worries, and concerns, I was reflecting on each of their stories, trying to think of something to share about myself. When it was my turn, I had a rough outline prepared, but as I spoke, that script disappeared. Instead, I was just talking. Ideas popped in my head. Words between hesitating pauses tumbled out of my mouth. I wasn’t reciting a flawless carefully crafted answer; I was spontaneously and genuinely speaking, communicating my thoughts in a raw form—from sprouted thoughts immediately into a verbal form. I realized that this act of doing instead of thinking was being truly authentic and genuine.
Authenticity requires you to be honest. While this definition is generally true, I have also realized that some forms of authenticity requires some degree of pretense. As I was MoGo-ing to Whole Foods this weekend, I passed by several churches which led me to think about and reflect on the Underground Railroad Living Museum tour at the First Congregational Church that I went on a few weeks ago.
The First Congregational Church was one of the last stops before runaway slaves finally escaped to true freedom in Canada. The tour was a reenactment of a runaway’s journey north. The tour group all wore silver wristbands with the word “slave” printed on them: we were all playing the role of a runaway, (very, very partially) experiencing all their hardships and fears. I found that to truly take in this experience, I had to challenge myself to stray from reality and wholly immerse myself into this role. We were guided through the basement, which was transformed into a maze of dark forests, rivers, and small cabins. Throughout the tour, we were constantly asked to help read signs (slaves were not allowed to read) and point out the north star. We had to actively participate and play our part as the tour guides simultaneously played theirs. Don’t think. Just do.
After the tour, I realized that in order to gain value from this experience, we all needed to buy in to what the tour guides were showing and teaching us. The down sides of some aspects in the production of the tour needed to be overlooked in order to focus on the deeper message and its purpose, which is what’s important. Why are we here? What are we here to experience, to learn, and most importantly to reflect on?
I have come to realize that being authentic is about reflecting--on thoughts, surroundings, experiences. It requires total immersion for one to fully feel and observe what is happening around him or her. Authenticity, however, does not stop there. The period of reflection that ensues is arguably just as, if not more, important as the initial experience.
One thing that caught my eye this week on the way to Whole Foods was the bright red color of the St. Paul Episcopal Cathedral’s doors near the First Congregational Church. On the walk to the museum a few weeks ago, I had asked Andrea, our site coordinator, if she knew why the doors were painted that color, to which she replied no. Since, that question had slipped my mind until I passed by it again this week. My curiosity for the answer began to grow again and I googled it immediately after coming back to the dorms. The red doors represent sanctuary, refuge, and safety; once someone enters those doors, they are protected from any physical or spiritual evil.
As I went down that same path to buy groceries, I saw the same things that I have been seeing for the past few weeks. But with a more proactive mind and intention to immerse myself into the city, I began to revisit and explore my previous thoughts and curiosities, truly interpret my surroundings, and most importantly reflect on all of them. To me, reflection from observation is what completes the definition of authenticity. This practice of actively consuming my environment makes me feel more viscerally connected with the physical city of Detroit, making it feel more familiar and more like a home.