In March of 2016, I was invited by the leaders of TEDxRVA to guest blog about an inspirational speaker from their 2014 event. My blog proved so popular that, just weeks later, Andy Stefanovich invited me onto the the TEDxRVA stage to give an impromptu talk. Below is the blog that published on the TEDxRVA website.
There’s an 800-pound slab of bluestone in our front yard, on the corner of Grove Avenue and Mulberry Street. It’s the top of a broad table – a table my family built because of something a stranger said, two years ago, at TEDxRVA.
The Table fulfilled its purpose a mere two weeks after it was constructed when – on a warm evening, as we sat with old friends under shimmering lights strung in the limbs of our enormous live oak – a friendly couple happened by. “This is fabulous!” they said. “You guys look so European!”
“Join us!” we implored. “Have a glass of wine!”
“No, no…” they laughed.
But then we explained, “We actually built this table to meet our neighbors. You should really join us. We’re serious.”
And damned if they didn’t pull up a chair. And we served them wine and ice cream. And they shared their story – Chris and Cindy, new to the neighborhood, just bought a house two blocks over. And we shared our story. And it started with TEDxRVA.
In March 2014, Dr. Danny Avula took the stage at Richmond’s second TEDxRVA. I had attended the inaugural event and learned that regional TED talks – and the glorious audience that attend them – are not to be missed. But I never dreamed how impactful his brief presentation would be. His theme? “Dependence isn’t a dirty word.”
Avula’s face glowed with kindness as he opened with memories of college friendships. He shared a beautiful tale, of successful college housemates, scattered to three continents, who ached for reconnection and collectively moved to an impoverished North Church Hill community to once again share their lives and to serve others.
“In the first month of living there, we had had more conversations with neighbors than we’d had in the previous three years in the suburban community we had moved from,” Avula said. The “warm culture of porch sitting” led to “relationships of depth and dependence [that] started to extend beyond [his] circle of friends.” And, therein, he discovered the real joy in life: Dependence.
Then Avula spoke the words that changed my perspective – and my front yard. He said, “Over the last 30 years, human beings have become the most globalized… well connected we’ve ever been, but we’ve also become some of the loneliest and most isolated people we’ve ever been.”
He spoke of the birth of America’s suburbs, saying, “These suburbs… became the new vision of utopia. But the problem with that was that these front porches, where we used to sit and connect with our neighbors, gave way to back decks with privacy fences where we could keep to ourselves.”
That was it for me.
That’s when I realized what we needed to do with our front yard – the corner just beyond our own privacy fence. We needed a community space – a community table – right there. To connect with our neighbors – to the benefit of us all.
Over the last two years, The Table has hosted countless family meals, Scout meetings and “Girls Nights.” Just being out there, steps from a busy city sidewalk, has meant we’ve met hundreds of people. But, as The Table’s story spread, it grew to be a shared space.
A few months after its completion, The Table was host to a pair of young Vietnamese immigrants. When the wife, Tuyet, purchased a used bike from me on Craigslist, I learned they had immigrated here with a very tight budget and absolutely no furniture or house wares. Within days, thanks to Facebook, The Table became the site for a surprise “Welcome to America” party where they met Richmonders of all sorts, including some of Vietnamese descent, and received truckloads of well-loved furnishings.
Two years later, The Table is going strong. “Are you hosting any cyclists?” a friend asked us last fall, during the UCI Road World Championships. “The Latvian Federation is staying in Fan.”
“I can’t feed a team,” I responded.
“We can all pitch in,” she said.
“Are you game for this?” I asked my Facebook community.
Twenty-four hours later, about 50 of us stood in my front yard, tears in our eyes, as members of the Latvian Cycling Federation, seated at The Table, rose to their feet as my friend Mary, principal flutist with the Richmond Symphony, played their national anthem. It was a remarkable night and a powerful example that “dependence isn’t a dirty word.”
“Ideas worth spreading” is much more than the TED tagline, I’ve learned. It’s the TED reality. And it’s why I always will be among the first to buy TEDxRVA tickets each and every time they go on sale. This year’s theme is “Artful” and the speaker lineup looks as passionate as ever. If I don’t see you at The Table, I hope I’ll see you there.
View my TEDxRVA talk here.