Living Democracy

What My Ten Weeks in Linden Taught Me

Cristiana ShipmaAs my time in Linden draws to a close, a bit of reflection is in order. A cliché question is in order, one that I have asked myself several times the last couple days: how has Living Democracy change me?

Here are my answers.

Living Democracy has changed the way I look at towns, at industries, at local economies. Several dinner dates and lengthy car rides with Brenda Tuck have taught me to view each business as a person instead of a business. Now, I look to find the industrial parks in the towns I drive through. I was excited to find one in my own. I get unnaturally excited about the possibilities of bringing new businesses into small towns like Linden.

Living Democracy has changed the way I look at my school. Although I knew Auburn had deep traditions as a significant agricultural school, I had hardly ever given thought to how my university affected the state. I had no idea that Auburn University was such an integral part of Alabama before this summer.

But it seems that everywhere I go Auburn has made a difference. I thought my school pride could not rise above my love of the campus and my athletic enthusiasm, but when I hear that my university has made a significant impact here and there throughout the entire state, my heart fills with pride. I am proud to be an Auburn woman. I am proud to have worked with Marengo County Extension Coordinator Kathryn Friday. Extension has such an amazing influence among many segments of the population; one that I believe is often overlooked by the student body at Auburn University.

Living Democracy changed the way I view friendship. As a college student, I am constantly surrounded by people my own age. The only times that I engage with older individuals is in class or at church. One of my greatest fears before moving to Linden was whether or not I would be able to make friends my own age. Ten weeks later, I’ve realized that the best friends I’ve made could be my grandparents (or even great-grandparents). Age brings wisdom and good stories also. I have cherished every tall tale and witty phrase I’ve learned, and I’ve loved repeating them to my friends and family back home.

Living Democracy has changed the way I view community, both others and mine. Linden is small, it’s true, but it has a community that is intimate and highly invested. Everyone knows everyone, which is more comforting than intrusive. I’ve realized the importance of being active in one’s own town, the value of stimulating the local economy. I see now that active citizenry is not limited to local politics. It’s mainly about looking out for your neighbor and knowing that he looks out for you too.

image of Living Democracy student Cristiana Shipma talking with person in LindenLiving Democracy has introduced me to people who changed me.

I met Miss Velma, a 93-year-old lady who volunteers at the nursing home. I will never forget her words of wisdom: “We spend too much time begging God when we should be thanking him.” She’s the closest person to Jesus I think I’ll ever meet.

I met Betty Jean Tucker, the 83-year-old author of “On A Darkling Plain.” I have cherished every moment spent in her living room and at the Senior Citizen Center listening to her stories about a different world.

I had the opportunity to live with both my partners, Brenda Tuck and Kathryn Friday, and both taught me valuable lessons on how to handle unruly people, how to handle disappointment and criticism, how to be tactful in business, how to be efficient and, most importantly, how to love those whom you serve and who serve you.

Joe Friday, Kathryn’s husband, taught me lessons on his own.  His words of wisdom concerning anything from pressure-cookers to fishing have kept me laughing.

There are so many other friendships and chance meetings, too many to recount right here. But I have the memories and I have the lessons.

I am thankful for an experience such as Living Democracy. I have seen more of West Alabama than most. I’ve eaten pie at the Pie Lab, met Gee’s Bend Quilters, eaten at the Valle Gran Mexican Restaurant and discovered shrimp ponds.

As I introduced myself to people over the ten-week time span, I was asked several times how I was able to participate in such a great program so early in my college career. I consider it being in the right place at the right time, but I realize now that Living Democracy is a blessing that few are able to experience.

Hindsight is always 20/20, they say. And from where I stand now, I can see clearly how all my fears at the start of summer had their ways of working out in the end. I am forever grateful to have lived in Linden, and I can’t wait for the first of my many return visits.

By Cristiana Shipma
Last Updated: July 16, 2014