Wherever Anne Davis ’16 was, those around her were sure to feel a burst of energy. That’s one of the reasons I selected her to serve as the Fellow for Hunger and Nutrition in the Office of Community Engagement and why I was so looking forward to working with her. I wasn’t sure exactly where we would end up at the end of a year together, but I knew that the journey would be full of enthusiasm paired with real and meaningful action. That was Anne’s way.
I didn’t get to experience that journey with Anne because she was tragically struck and killed weeks before beginning the fellowship while participating in Bike and Build, a national cross-country cycling program addressing housing insecurity. Anne’s death rocked many of us on campus who knew her through an impressive diversity of involvements. Losing her presence in my life has fundamentally changed how I move through the world.
In our last meeting together to plan for the fellowship, we met at Aromas where Anne ordered nothing and instead ate a banana before packing the peel into a Ziploc bag. She was participating in a zero-waste week, she explained, and was carrying around everything she didn’t use—even a biodegrading banana peel. A few weeks after her death, I was walking back from another meeting at Aromas when I noticed a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. Two paces past the wrapper I stopped, turned around, and retrieved it. “Anne,” I muttered, certain that it was her voice in my head bringing me back to that action.
In the months since then, my daily life has been profoundly changed by the charge of picking up litter that Anne unknowingly left me. On my walk from the parking lot this morning, I picked up a mint wrapper. As I head to an afternoon meeting, I’m sure I’ll find a bottle cap or crumpled receipt. I once found a to-do list including “get a tattoo.” Most shockingly, a few weeks ago as I picked up what I assumed was a Wawa receipt, I looked down at a check for $5,000 (returned to its rightful owner, I promise).
Every time I pause and pick up litter I speak Anne’s name in my mind. And when I stumble across that potentially awkward moment as someone reaches out with a handshake and I offer up a soggy scrunchy and a sandwich wrapper, I stop and tell them about Anne. I tell them who she is to me and the task she left me. Sometimes they are puzzled, sometimes they smile, and sometimes they congratulate me on the good deed. No matter their response, it’s a chance for me to speak Anne’s name and give voice to her love of the world. The best moments come when friends and colleagues who walk with me often see me reaching for a wayward scrap and it’s their voice saying out loud, “Thanks, Anne.”
Anne is with me in action. It’s not that every forgotten bit of paper or plastic is the point of connection, it’s the opportunity for change, the direct ability to pick it up and to care. That is what connects me with Anne. There are plenty of little things I don’t do every day, like make my bed, and big things, like dismantling systems of oppression. The bed thing I really don’t care about, but living in a world of justice and equity—a world Anne worked so hard to realize—that matters to me. That world only exists through action. Picking up litter doesn’t make me feel like I am changing the world, in fact it reinforces how much in the world needs changing. But picking up litter reminds me every day that there is work to be done, and I can do it. Every day I take action is a day that Anne is with me, and that is a day when I am doing something right.