Monthly Archives: March 2012

“what did you learn about yourself?”

One of S. Nancy’s favorite questions to ask anyone who volunteers at Casserly House is: “And what did you learn about yourself?” Honestly, I’m surprised that it took this long into the year for her to ask me that question, but it came up over a conversation that we had over lunch the other day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I went into this year expecting to learn a lot about myself, but I didn’t really know what those specifics would be.

One of the most profound things I’ve realized so far stems from a piece of advice I received at our Re-Orientation retreat: stop expecting people to change, because when we go into situations and expect people to change, that holds us back from loving them where they are. That was such a powerful thing for me to hear because it has made me realize how often I unintentionally do that. I think, “If they would just do XYZ, then it would be so much easier,” but that’s not how it works. I have to love people where they are right now, not where I wish they were.

Here are a few other things I’ve learned so far, about myself, and about my relationships with others.

  • I’ve learned that I am a lot more patient than I thought I was or that I was capable of.
  • I’ve learned what I’m good at… and what I’m not, which is arguably almost more important.
  • I’ve learned a lot about what I don’t want to do for a career.
  • <I’ve learned about being with people, about listening to stories, about caring.
  • I’ve learned that sometimes just listening to people can be the most rewarding thing in the world.
  • I’ve learned that I’m really bad at hiding how I feel and that I need to be honest about my needs and desires (and yes, sometimes I am kind of needy and that’s okay).
  • I’ve learned about being open–to experiences, to emotions, but mostly to people.
  • I’ve learned that denial is never, ever helpful, especially when it comes to my own emotions. I need to embrace them, even when it hurts.
  • I’ve learned about vulnerability–about letting myself be open to giving and receiving love, on taking a chance on another person and trusting that even if they don’t meet you halfway, that it was still a chance worth taking. Because when they do meet you there, it’s a beautiful thing.
  • I’ve learned that I still have a weakness for bad pop music.
  • I’ve learned that with some friends distance doesn’t matter.
  • I’ve learned that I’ve already come a long way… but I’ve still got a long way to go.

So, what have I learned about myself?

Mostly that I still have a lot left to learn.

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st. patrick’s day.

It is a time-honored JVC tradition for each community to host a party for the other communities in their region. Usually these parties are themed around holidays (ie. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc.). Naturally, Boston being Boston, our party was St. Patrick’s Day.

casa taj: st. patrick’s day style.

That meant that a week and half ago, around forty JVs from the East coast descended upon our house (along with about twenty more locals that showed up just for the party). It was mildly chaotic at times, but so, so much fun having everyone here. Our house has never been so crowded, but it’s also probably never been so much fun.

so much green food coloring!
Some communities came in on Friday night, but most people showed up on Saturday, and I took a group downtown to explore Boston. That was pretty cool, as I started to realize how good I’ve gotten at playing tour guide. It’s nice to feel like I really know this city now. On Sunday, most people had to head out pretty early, but a few of us went out to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, which was also a lot of fun. The weather was beautiful, which made it even better.

on our way to the parade in Southie.

Along with all of our other JVC visitors, my college roommate, Sakshi, was also able to make the trip to Boston for the weekend. Having her here was wonderful, as she was able to meet my roommates, see our house, meet a bunch of other people, and just experience the ridiculousness that is JVC. It was nice to feel like someone from home, who was such an integral part of my college years, was able to experience what my life is like now.

ROOMIE.

Monday morning felt like the post-St. Patrick’s Day Slump–almost like the way  December 26th feels after all of the preparations for Christmas. St. Patrick’s Day was something I had legitimately been looking forward to since August–and add in Sakshi’s visit–and I’d had a countdown going for weeks.

However, it’s ironic that last week actually ended ended up going by really quick–especially after I finally got a decent night’s sleep. And as always, it’s the little things that make my days, like weather in the 70’s and 80’s (!) almost all week and being able to really enjoy our balcony again (no worries, the weather in Boston has reverted back to it’s normal 40-ish degrees for March… I should have known it wouldn’t last).

And here we are now, in the final days of March… when home and family are just a few short weeks away, the end of Lent is even sooner, and before I know it, it will really be summer in Boston. The heat of last week reminded me once again of the first days of JVC, and those memories have brought back some of the reckless enthusiasm I used to have. So, St. Patrick’s Day’s over, but there’s still plenty to look forward too, after all. (Especially because I will be spending this weekend on an island in Maine. More to come about that!)

1.1 miles.

It’s 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, and I’m locking the front door and setting off on my way to work for the week. My one mile commute to work has been a constant throughout my time as a JV. I have made this walk over 100 times in the past months, and it is one of my favorite parts of my day.

As I walk, I pass other people making their morning commutes to the subway (or as it’s known in Boston, the “T”), waiting at the bus stop, and groups of children playing while they wait for the school bus to arrive. I hear snatches of different languages, mostly Spanish and French Creole along the way. I have made this walk so many times, that I often recognize the same faces day after day. The people are my favorite part of my walk, especially saying hello to the children I work with in the afternoons.

There is much that I notice now that I didn’t the first day I made this walk in August–much that I know about now that I didn’t then: the notoriously violent housing projects just down the street, the small shrine of cheap candles in front of the house where a double homicide occurred last spring, and the men hanging out in front of the liquor store.

I have also seen change–the new house being built up the streets, the leaves changing colors and falling (and hopefully returning again soon), and properties that have now been abandoned.

My commute also makes me aware of my own privilege: I choose to walk, even though a monthly bus pass is included in my stipend, but I know that for many of the individuals whom I work with, walking is not a choice; it is a necessity for those who cannot afford the cost of the bus.

My walk is twenty minutes of the day that are my time to reflect, to prepare for the day, and sometimes to give myself pep talks. On my best days (and sometimes my worst), they involve some of the most honest prayers I have ever uttered.

My work isn’t easy. My main responsibility is coordinating an After School program for 15 neighborhood children, and they make me laugh, break my heart, and worry me to no end–all in the course of one afternoon. They come from a variety of backgrounds and family situations–single parent households, homes with a history of domestic violence, stable and loving families–but most have parents that are recent immigrants. My students struggle with school, don’t like reading, and consistently receive low marks on their report cards.

And at the end of the day, as I prepare to leave to head home, it’s the faces I go back to–the stories that have etched themselves so deeply into my consciousness over these past months.

I’m so grateful for them. And I’m so grateful for this walk that reminds me of why I am here and keeps me humble, day after day, mile after mile.

month seven.

So, I’m now officially seven months through this crazy journey of JVC, and the most surreal part (at least the most surreal part today) is that I spent a large part of the afternoon talking to potential JVs for next year, ie. the people who will possibly be my replacement (the “new Megan” just like I was/am the “new Amanda”). It was almost exactly one year ago today that I was exactly in their shoes: interviewing with placements (while on spring break no less!) and trying to sort through this whole process.

I’ve come a long way since then… but I’m not done yet. I’ve still got a lot of learning left to do, and while it’s sometimes tempting to put myself on autopilot, I don’t want to coast through the rest of this experience. It deserves more than that. I deserve more than that. Most importantly, the people I walk with deserve more than that.

The conversations I’ve had recently about Casserly and JVC as a whole have reminded me of why I love what I’m doing and why I’m here, which is a good reality check, because that’s something I feel like I’ve lost lately in the day-to-day mundane business of life. It is a blessing and privilege to be here, even when I don’t see or feel it.

And in closing, it’s good that it’s almost spring. Happy Daylight Saving’s Time. As Florence & The Machine says, it’s always darkest before the dawn, after all.

month seven.

boston movie day: the departed. district attorney visits to Casserly House. valentine’s day craziness. chocolate covered strawberries. the cold that wouldn’t end. fundraising workshops. many, many meetings. theology untapped. jvc staff visits part 2.

our president’s day party; bobby kennedy, jackie o, an intern, & teddy roosevelt.

jvc weekend visitors. too much public transportation. bc hockey game. feeling really inappropriate. the purple cactus. partying like the presidents as jackie o. remember the titans. afternoons at the common. mass at st. cecelia’s. president’s day off work. exploring cambridge. toscanini’s. infinity scarves.

brown butter brown sugar brownie from toscanini’s in cambridge. so good.

february break. beignets and king’s cake. ash wednesday. journaling every day. science projects. lots of library books. st. cecelia’s. pavement. bridesmaid dresses. jp licks with sarah. dinner with drew and trisha. no more facebook.

hillary’s visit. some thoughts on lent. st. patty’s invites. one-on-one. dinner at the dogwood. abby’s parents visit. really bad movies. brunch. target. dinner at bread co. glitter nail polish. the pour house/foley’s. being overdramatic. st. cecelia’s.

s. nancy’s vacation/no after school. being the boss and getting better at it. game night. lots of new volunteers. community reflection time + prayer partner beginnings. call me maybe. speakers at the bpl. the laziest weekend ever. buying my plane ticket home for april. becoming addicted to the vampire diaries. daylights saving time. spiritual direction.

these forty days.

Since we are are currently in the midst of Lent, I’m trying to approach the season with a bit more purpose than usual–particularly in the light of the four values of JVC and where I see the most need for growth in my own life.

Specifically, I’ve been trying to take these 40 days as an opportunity to both grow in my spirituality and to embrace simplicity. For me, that has meant committing to writing in my journal every day, reading daily reflections, and cutting out some extra background noise. Most notably, I gave up Facebook (besides 15 minutes every Sunday and the Casserly House account, of course).

And honestly? All this feels really good–liberating almost. Giving up Facebook is an idea I toyed with for awhile, then last Sunday, I finally bit the bullet and just decided to do it. It’s funny because during college there were a few times I temporarily gave up Facebook during exams and such, and it always drove me crazy. I was always so tempted to log back in.  Now? I really don’t even want to touch it. The idea just seems emotional draining (in all fairness, I find many things in life emotionally draining these days; I think it’s just part of being a JV).

I’m also trying to cut back on other parts of my “online” life–Pinterest, reading blogs, etc. Those who know me well also know that I love reading blogs, but I had started to resent Google Reader as an obligation. Gradually, I just went through and started deleting things from it–and I honestly don’t miss them either.

I guess that’s one of the interesting things about simplifying your life–you start to realize how much you don’t miss the things you previously clung to. Needless to say, I’m excited to see where these next forty days will lead me as I take more intentional time for reflection and being quiet.