Warm greetings from the Sacred Grounds coffee shop on Hayes Street just a couple blocks from the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. I managed to pay for my $3.25 drink with three dollar bills, one dime, two nickels, and five pennies, which was quite the accomplishment since I successfully avoided breaking one of my two remaining twenties for the month of September. I figured if I was going to sit in here and write I should buy something, so I went with small, cheap-ish, and a drink I did not expect to be on the menu: hot apple cider. I’m going to have to look for Fall wherever I can in a city that, let’s just say, does not do my favorite season quite like the Midwest. I’ll miss the dramatic color changes, pumpkin patches, blanket scarves, and even the rows and rows of dead corn stalks, but in all honesty, I am truly happy to be here.
For those of you who are not quite sure exactly how I ended up out here (and to be honest, that is still me from time to time), allow me to fill you in. Prior to graduation, I decided that I wanted to participate in a year of service program. I made this decision for many reasons, one of them being that I don’t know what to do with my life yet. I know, I know, but who does, right? I suppose that instead of going right into graduate school or finding a job, settling down, and living on my own, I wanted to do some more exploring. I wanted to do something that would allow me to learn more about myself, my faith, and my world. After all, I’m still young and free, so why not throw caution to the wind and move across the country to a place I have never been, move in with people I have never met, agree to live on a very small stipend in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and work in a field that I have no experience with? When I put it that way, it does look scary, even to me, but I have learned time and time again that leaps of faith pay off.
I came across Mercy Volunteer Corps at a service organization fair at my Alma Mater, the University of Dayton. At the time, I was seriously considering Jesuit Volunteer Corps, but I looked into Mercy since I knew someone in the program who was enjoying it. I decided to apply to Mercy along with a few other programs, and I began the process over Christmas break. One of Mercy’s application questions particularly struck me. It asked me to break down their mission statement and relate each piece to my life and values. I thought that was a great question to ask because if I could not align my life to their mission statement, it would be a pretty good indication that I was being called somewhere else. As I was answering the question, it became clear that my participation in this program would reflect both who I am and what I am passionate about. The mission statement is as follows:
In partnership with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, lay women and men enter into relationship with people who are economically poor and marginalized. In a spirit of mutuality, volunteers cultivate mercy and justice in the world by embracing compassionate service, social justice, spirituality, and a simple lifestyle in community.
I won’t break it all down for you, but I do want to share my reflections on one of my favorite phrases: the “spirit of mutuality.” It is an attitude of reciprocation, an idea that I will receive just as much as I will give while on this journey. It is difficult for me to adequately express the importance of this idea. To be perfectly honest, I hesitate to call this year a “year of service.” To me, this language invites further division. It implies that there is a primary service provider (me) and a service recipient (them) which is not the case. Instead, I like to think of it as a year of relationship where there is give and take on both sides. I have not set out to improve the lives of others. I have not taken on this year to fix other people’s problems. I know that I won’t. I would be crazy to think that I could. Instead, I am here to close gaps, to make the world a little bit smaller. I am here to listen, learn, and love, to know and be known, to share and receive. The more stories I hear, the more people I meet, the more barriers are broken and authentic love and community can find its way through. I am not here for me. I am not even here for others. I am here for us. There is only us – us walking together in solidarity on the journey of life with equal dignity and worth. I am here to give us the chance to walk that road together just as we were always meant to.
Thank you for your support and for reading my thoughts. By the way, San Francisco makes a pretty good apple cider!
Peace and Love,