Last night, my roommate’s coworker came over to host a “social justice night” for us. The evening was filled with chili, beer bread, wine, and a lengthy discussion about race. Our conversation about race and the racist issues that still plague our society was difficult and heartbreaking, but necessary and valuable for all of us.
The discussion was great, but I really want to highlight part of our casual dinner discussion with our guest. Once the chili was sitting heavy in our stomachs and we were fighting over the last crumbs of beer bread (I’m telling you people- you MUST try this stuff) our guest posed us a question: “What have you learned this year?”
She followed that by saying, “I’m sure you get asked this question all the time.” Actually, I can only think of one other time someone has asked me this question, and it was back in October. Back then, I was still having a difficult time processing all that was my life in JVC. Now I was able to fully embrace the question and spit out multiple lessons I’ve learned from my year of service.
At this point, it’s more common for people to ask me the anticipated question of: “what are you doing after JVC?”. I could go on a rant for days about this question. Everyone who’s graduated from college knows how frustrating it is to be asked this over and over again; even when you know what you’re doing post-college/JVC. So I was overjoyed when our guest asked us a purposeful question that holds so much depth to it. Back in October when a Jesuit first asked me what I’d learned so far through JVC, I was a little stumped. This time I felt stumped again, but for a completely different reason.
There are so many elements that go into a year of service. There is in explainable amount of spiritual, intellectual and cultural growth occurring. These elements can tear your heart open or fill it with joy. And trying to communicate all of this is overwhelming. Essentially I was stumped because at that moment I thought of a million and one things that I’d learned from my year of service. You’d get bored reading through a list 1,000,001 bullets long, so here’s a peek at a few:
- I’ve learned that life is about cultivating meaningful relationships. To truly listen to someone’s story doesn’t take much. All it takes is for you to stop worrying about the rest of the world for a moment, stop worrying about yourself, and open up your heart. Allow yourself to be immersed in someone else’s personality and passions as you give your all into listening to their story. This is how you will create relationships.
- Utilize your voice for the voiceless. It is shocking how our society marginalizes, discriminates, and belittles others for being different. Creating a voice for someone who doesn’t have one is powerful. It’s also just as important to keep your voice when you hear negative or wrong things being said by others. Don’t lose your voice in these moments and remember that standing your ground and saying something is more important than not saying anything.
- Free events aren’t hard to find. Free events fuel a JV’s soul (and social life). Searching for these free events has taken me on some of my favotire adventures this year. Free ninety nine is the best kind of price to pay anyways. So explore your neighborhood or get online and search for local activities. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
- Timing is everything. My roommate Gavin always says this, and I think he’s found the answer to life. If I met my community members in college, I may not have been friends with them. But now I can’t think of my life without them.
- Differentiating between needs and wants. JVC is all about trying to teach this lesson. When you start doing only things that are needs, you eliminate a lot of waste. It has helped me become less materialistic and conscious about the purchases I make. Do I need or want cable? Do I need or want that cookie? (The answer is always YES- you need that cookie).
- You can’t do everything. It can be so frustrating seeing so many social injustices on a daily basis. I am passionate about fighting for equal and substantial education. I see how school systems have failed so many children on a daily basis. But then I turn around and see how our government has failed so many people from earning adequate healthcare or housing. Or I see that there’s a food dessert just blocks from my house. And I become fired up about these issues and think that I need to help advocate for those issues also. It’s frustrated when you’re reminded you can’t do everything. Then I come home and hear the triumphs of my roommates who work in free care clinics and with migrant workers. I’m reminded that there are amazing people who have passion for other issues that I’m not directly involved in. And slowly but surely, as more people reach out to all the areas in need of help, we will begin to collectively fix things.
- Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has taught me so much about myself. When you become too comfortable you stop learning. It was uncomfortable to have a discussion about race. But I learned so much from it!
I get chills everytime I think about how much I’ve learned this year. Now that it’s been more than a year since graduating, I think it’s a good time for everyone to reflect on how they’ve changed or grown this past year. For me it’s a reminder of the adventures I’ve gone on, the people I’ve met, the lessons I’ve learned, and how I’ll use all of that to move forward.