Six weeks into my year of service, I find myself re-learning what makes me me. Part of revisiting my identity is seeing the past collide irrevocably with the present in a multicolored tapestry, like the changing leaves along the highway. As I ride in the passenger’s seat watching the trees coast by, paint smudged greens and golds and wine purple sweetly bruised, I feel myself resting at the meeting of times. Here, every person I have been and each part of my life seems to meld together to create my whole person. I am motley. And yet, I am creating new memories and being changed even as I sit and watch the memories bleed into the present.
The weaving of memory is a beautiful reality. I love to see how my experiences now change me and bring forth some hidden parts of my personality. I never grow less amazed at how I have somehow become one of the most extroverted people in my environment. Today, my roommate Maggie commented on how much more extroverted I am, which is hard for me to grasp since I have often felt less extroverted when around extreme extroverts. So often people have called me an introverted personality! And yet, being around new people, I see myself full of some secret energy source; I’d like to call it my personality, but I realize that my zeal for life comes from an interior joy rooted in my soul’s abandonment to God. There lies an unknown freedom in jumping into the unknown, trusting that the Lord will lift you up.
I am very blessed to work with children; I think they remind me a lot of my own childhood, which might otherwise fade into the shadows of my mind, and this sense of abandonment. They are full of life because they trust someone will care for them. However, even more so, they are teaching me a certain form of discipline. I struggle to have a firm attitude with the students sometimes. I look at them, I think about how they are experiencing the world, and I want so much to help them understand in a gentle manner. Sometimes, there is really only one way to get through to them that is safe and sure, which is detention. I dread giving detention, because I am never sure if that kind of action will teach them what they need to know. When does disciplinary action like detention stop having meaning? I am not sure, but I dislike the idea of punishment. Perhaps this dislike of mine explains why so many individuals could not believe that I was teaching. I am growing though, and learning.
I am brought back to how i keep learning about myself. Being here is the farthest I’ve lived away from my family. Lately, I have been considering how I am the wild card in my family, living so far away and in such a varied situation. I love bringing people to where I am currently living since the area speaks for itself. Usually, I just have to point out where I live to people to induce a silence that echoes the raw struggle of the area. I love talking about what I am doing for work; even though I know there are people who travel the country informing individuals about the great disparity between classes in our country, even though I know people read books all the time and hear stories about these very issues I see every day, I wonder if any of it really sinks in. There remains a certain barrier between the poor, a barrier between individuals and the struggles of other people. When I begin describing in detail what I see every day and the people I meet and interact with, my friends and family seemed to react more to the change. We live in one of the richest countries in the world, yet neighbors around us suffer and fight a paradoxical cycle.
I think that is the best part about living with my community. Our current location and experiences really meld to create a type of community and understanding that I can not necessarily share easily with just any person. The work is hard and intense, yet i know that the people I live with understand the drive, the passion that pushes me to succeed and look at work as something so much more than just some job. I love the struggle. It is in my blood to fight to the very end of all things, until I am skin and bones, my knuckles are sore and bruised, my legs have walked a thousand miles without rest. I will push myself if there is a reason for love. With this work, I am either all in or I am wasting my time.
But I don’t feel afraid. I gave up my fear when I said yes. That is my model of abandonment. Not that on occasion I feel no discomfort. Part of my decision to come here, though, was to face my fear of making the wrong decision, to jump full on into something that I felt passionate and interested in. When I do feel afraid, it is not because of the people or the neighborhood; the people are approaching me because of the environment we are in, because I am a stereotypical white privileged young woman in a neighborhood that has suffered greatly. I am not surprised to run into a strange encounter. I can go anywhere in the world and experience a strange encounter. My fear arises when I doubt my own ability to achieve something. However, I am not the sum of my successes or my weaknesses. I am truly the sum of God’s love for me. My entire dignity and life stems from the love of God for me.
Occasionally, I get frustrated at not having quick and easy access to a nonstop life. I grew so used to always being incredibly busy and going places and sleeping little that I forgot what it feels like to take everything in stride. Yet, if I am always busy and booked, I would not have time for prayer and I would not be available to others. I did not come here to serve myself, which is a constant temptation. I see myself longing to just cook food for myself and take care of my own needs without taking in how I can help those around me. There is a brief moment when I stare at the dirty dishes in the sink and consider how much easier it would be to just clean my own. Then I remind myself I came to serve others. And I think that I have to remind myself with an increased devotion to my prayer life that I cannot focus so much on my own pleasure. Pleasure does not often lead to happiness when it stems from selfish intent. Abandonment means letting go not just of plans and expectations but also self comfort that might truly be unnecessary. When have lives of extreme comfort led to lives of extreme joy and love?
-Michelle Schmid, 2016-17 Service Corps Member, St. Monica's Middle School