The Second Year: Over Snow And Underground By Eli Bowe

October 11, 2019

The snow is falling wet and heavy, the sky above is gray, and the streets are quiet. Nothing to be surprised by, until you realize it’s still September.

Did the early cold-snap make me regret my decision to live in Montana a second year? Not in the slightest. Never one to miss an opportunity, I donned wool socks and headed out for a hike. AmeriCorps members know how to make do.

Not so very long ago, I completed a year of VISTA service in Bozeman, MT, and you can find my old blog here if you’d like details. Times have changed, however, and I now serve in Missoula as the MTCC AmeriCorps Senior Leader. My varied responsibilities range from performing host-site visits to designing business cards and organizing carpools for our AmeriCorps Leader trainings (not as easy as you’d think!).

But one of the most meaningful activities I’ve performed since starting service in September has been delivering a ‘Thank you’ basket to the Missoula County 911 Dispatch in commemoration of 9/11. I was joined in this endeavor by fellow AmeriCorps member Chandler Padgett (who can be seen on the far right in the photo below).

For those who have never visited a dispatch center, the experience is rather unnerving. It involves descending underground, deep into the basement of the County Courthouse. By the time you enter the overwhelming fluorescence of a narrow hallway, you have to admit that the aesthetic, overall, is Kafka-esque. To the left is a single door, beside it is an intercom and a sign reading, “SECURE AREA. USE INTERCOM FOR ACCESS.” At that moment, I think both Chandler and I wanted to turn around, leaving well enough alone. But somehow I summoned up my courage and pressed the call button. After explaining what brought us, we nervously waited.

Within a minute, the whole world shifted. In a flash, the door was open, and an infectiously friendly woman greeted us. We were ushered in and brought to the heart of the center. All around were phone line operators stationed at sets of enormous monitors. The sleek space felt futuristic, suffused by a sheen of electric blue light— certainly not what I expected to uncover in the basement of a courthouse.

As I left this concealed nerve center, I felt inspired— and reassured. Ever since I was four years old, I knew that if I dialed 911 someone would pick up the phone and help me out. But to experience the other end of the line in such a tangible way, to see how grateful these welcoming people were to receive a gift basket, it contextualized and humanized what truly should be one of the most human experiences: a person in distress asking for help, and a stranger providing.

So as I trudge through snow in September, I don’t mind that I’ve stayed in Montana another year. I’m just glad to live in a beautiful place, performing service that brings me face-to-face with beautiful people. Because in a day or two, the slush dissolves, the grass turns tawny, and the hills fall into autumn.