Living on the old campus means that I am steps away from the well-worn, dirt track that has now become a community space. Over the past year, I have worn millions of footprints into it’s soil and run countless laps around it’s tedious loops. I have shared important conversations with friends within it’s walls and sprinted out tears along it’s straightaways.
But returning to the track in August after a 2-month hiatus brought a new appreciation and comfort. This track is a symbol of routine for many of my neighbors and is the embodiment of community. At 6:30 the first of the locals arrive for morning walking and stretching. By 7:00 dozens more have joined along with taiji folk and badminton players. The space clears by 9:00 and within a half hour, grandparent time begins. That is, the time where all the yeyes (grandpas) and popos (grandmas) venture out with the little tykes, too young to go to school yet. The track lays vacant for the greater part of the day, with an occasional walker, but enlivens again after the dinner hour, inviting more walkers and kids on bikes.
My favorite time of the community track “schedule” is at 7:00, which has been a standard in my own routine over the past month. This time of year, the sun peaks above the horizon around 6:30, warming the 50-degree air to a perfect morning temperature. I lace my now dust covered tennis shoes, cross the street, and walk along the driveway leading to the track. Upon entering the track, I start jogging counterclockwise in the flow of other walkers.
I’ve realized this routine is incredibly important to my day, not just for the exercise regime or emotional release, but rather to feel a part of this community. I have come to know the faces of the 7a.m. hour. The man in white is the leader of taiji, leading a group of four in the middle of the track. The woman with the crazy curly hair plays badminton with a friend most days and then hangs upside down on the gymnastic bars. One other man serves as my fellow jogger. He always wears a green jacket. Every once in a while, a younger jogger will show up. He always wears a striped, purple polo shirt. And of course there are dozens of old men and women who stand at the bars gossiping and swinging their legs back and forth. I don’t have names for these faces (I haven’t spoken a word to most of them), but their smiles say enough. Their smiles tell me that they recognize me and know me in a strange way. Their smiles show love and acceptance. Their smiles validate that I have become a member of this community.
After living in Guyuan a year there is finally a peace that hangs in my soul knowing that I have a role in this community. And that peace feels good.