Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The End of a Year: What I Learned

As some of you know, I have just returned home from a year of Volunteering in Chicago. As I reflected on this past year at the end of year retreat, I wrote this little essay:
When looking back at what I wrote at orientation for “Who am I” I noticed a few things. Many of the items listed were things and people who I loved, schools I attended, and even TV shows I enjoyed to watch. Yes all these things shaped me, but they weren't who I was. Like many of the things listed, their importance are bounded by time. Time seems to be the hardest part to accept, especially for someone who's undergraduate career was so technical and could predict failure over time in a design based on certain initial conditions. When I look around at the physical world, I believe everything is defined by an equation. Some are algebraic, while others are non-linear time independent polynomials which with some work can be solved and the result can be known beforehand. There is comfort for me in knowing this and it almost gives me a sense of power to have this ability.

My mind analyzes everything and systematically gives me results of perfection or how things should be. I grew up in a pretty safe environment and things always went my way. My brothers paved a wave for me growing up and I had a self confidence that sometimes bordered on cockiness and controlling.

I entered this year pretty excited about the work I was to do at St. Rita and I enjoyed every moment with those Rita men. Coaching flag football and swimming allowed me to see and listen to them outside of school. Being the sacristan of the chapel allowed me to show the students that mass is not always boring and what the parts of the mass actually mean. Retreats were my favorite part of my job, especially the senior kairos retreat, because of the transformation that I saw in them over four days.

Enough about what I did and my work. Being in ministry I know that I wont see the result of the work that I did which leads me to what I learned about myself, or more importantly how I changed. I mentioned earlier how I like to know or solve everything. I loved to hold the steering wheel of my journey with both hands. In my commitment statement during orientation I said I wanted to better understand myself through my community and to grow in faith, a faith which was already strong.

My community and this volunteer year has taught me something that is 22 years too late: Patience. Its the same thing that I wrote on my stone at mid-year. I know that everyone has trouble in their life but listening to my house mates at dinner and at community meetings was what I needed. Also going through some personal rejections myself helped. How about the patience that Amanda showed when Ms. Lee forgot to put the Christmas gift list in for her clients. The patience of Brett in dealing with students who misbehaved and the development of his prayer life. Claire's patience with applying to graduate schools, the service club and the cancellation of the much anticipated car wash. Jeannie's patience in dealing with the frustrations of turning a room with boxes full of books and dusty shelves into a welcoming library. Finally, the patience of Susan in dealing with those bratty eighth graders and the train so she could finally come home.

Patience fort me was something that I needed but I would not have been able to receive it with out a strong faith. With out my faith and patience, I would not have been able to deal with the losses and rejections that I had in my future goals that I thought were perfect. Fr. Tom, our site supervisor in one of his homilies said, "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” It was almost as if it was just me and him and he was saying to directly to me. I began to think about my own life and realized how things won't always go the way you want it to, even though all the initial conditions are perfect. My mind, no matter how technical or practical it is, cannot possibly grasp the understanding of the future and its relation to time. Time seems to have the final word and the best way to deal with it is with patience.

At St. Rita's commencement I heard the following quote which will help me come down the mountain of this volunteer year: “When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness; Faith is knowing one of two things will happen. There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.”

It was fun year, now welcome to the good life I guess.


  1. damn. that was truly one of the most inspiring reflections i have ever read.

  2. <3 pjob.

    "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."