Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ok, so what are you really doin out there Furlong?

This is the first of a four part series breaking down what I expect from my life in Chile because I just realized that so many of you, and in the end, even I myself don’t really know what to expect out of the next 28 months of my life. So enjoy!

It is always so hard to explain what I am doing with my life to people. There is the first and most obvious reason in that people have a hard time putting their head around the idea that I would graduate college, in debt, and be going off to VOLUNTEER in a developing nation for two years. Alright, I can see where some people struggle understanding that. But beyond that, it’s a struggle to explain what I am doing, perhaps because often times I can not explain it to myself…

I was at the dentist today when the hygienist was asking me about my trip. “Well, first I go to Notre Dame for training, then they send me to Bolivia for three months so I can learn Spanish, and then, then I arrive in Chile and once I am there I will figure out whether I live in the city or the rural setting.”

And so, this is my attempt to answer your questions, and perhaps my own, as to what this whole volunteer life really means.

So the basics are easy enough. I am going with the Holy Cross Associates (HCA) to the country of Chile where I will serve as a volunteer until December of 2008. I do not yet know where I will live, what kind of work I will do, or even really how the money totally works out. I know very little and HCA does not seem to mind. Just like my Peace Corps application process, it has been stressed over and over that FLEXIBILITY is the greatest asset of a volunteer. Easier said than done, but that’s for another entry, another time.

In the end, we are to live by four guidelines, or four pillars: community, simple living, spirituality, and service. I don’t yet know what these mean, but I’ll do my best at this point to explain to you what I anticipate it all to equate to.

Sounds simple enough at first. There is a house, I live in it with most likely three other people. We come together, reflect together, eat together, and share if nothing else, a bond in that we are Americans fresh out of college who have made an active choice to spend two years of our lives living in solidarity with the people of Chile. But yet, I think community will extend to mean so much more… Being that guy that can be extraverted but in the end really has a strong introverted streak, I am nervous but excited about community living. I do not anticipate it will be easy, but I think it will cause immense growth.

And so I leave you with that first pillar, and as I will probably do so often over the next couple years, I leave with words of wisdom from those much wiser than I…

“Our first task in approaching other people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.” –Max Warren

Sunday, July 23, 2006

How did I get to where I am going? A first post and look back!

I never realized it would be so hard to leave LA. It's funny how four years can change your outlook on life so much. When I first moved to LA, one of the things I hated the most was the abundant amount of freeways. And my last night in LA, as I glided from the various freeways (the 1 to the 90 to the 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101) I found myself realizing how much I loved this big sprawling city.

And so, packing up my car and heading out, I couldn't help but let a tear or two (ok, maybe a hell of a lot more) drop from my eyes as what I have called life for the past four years became nothing more than a fading backdrop in my rear view mirror.

My life in LA was so rich with diversity and experience. It was at LMU that I found my passion lay not really in politics, but in the fundamental notion of what politics should be to me: service. It starts and ends with two programs: Magis and Alternative Breaks. From service trips to the far ends of the world with AB to tutoring in South Central and running a marathon to raise the $15,000 needed to send a kid in the D.R. to school and to build a house in Mexico (picture included), I found the lessons I learned in my Poli Sci classes being lived out in my passion for service and diversity, and I found in the end, my friends were indeed a caring and diverse group of people.

My freshman year I fell in love in a quite unexpected way. I went on my first Alternative Spring Break and in Kentucky spent a week working on improving the house of a single mother and her three children. I have tried a countless number of times now to explain what that experience meant to me but all I can say is this: it was through working with this mother that I was reminded of my own mother, a single parent herself, and her many struggles. And very quickly, service became more than something I just did, it became a core part of who I was.

It was my sophomore year in Guatemala that I discovered poverty comes in more forms than material, and I spent the next year or so figuring out how to nourish my own spiritual and emotional poverty.

Junior year in Ecuador introduced me to poverty with no beauty, no opportunity to romanticize what I was being told to witness.

And in my senior year on my trip to the Dominican Republic where I lived with a host family for a week, poverty adopted a name: Tata, Yihara, Robby, Leo, Amouris, and Juan. And suddenly, poverty never hurt so much.

Because of LMU, I understand what it means to get ruined for life. And while I will not go with the Jesuit Volunteers, I will leave the bluff and spend 27 months being a man for, but more importantly, with others in the streets of somewhere, Chile with the Holy Cross Associates. I am so thankful for my four years and the education I have received in AND out of the classroom that have gotten me to the point where I can take that leap and I look forward to the two years I have ahead, not only learning about justice, but once again, doing justice.

And so as the memory of LA and LMU fade more and more into the distance of my rear view mirror, I find myself reflecting on how thankful I am for the many people from so many walks of life that made LMU the enjoyable and life-giving experience that it was. From my brothers in Magis (Brian, Christian, Aldo, etc...), to my CLC Arrupeans, the most incredible former girlfriend (sounds odd I know) Elizabeth Luppino, the friends like Paola and Tish, and the many many mentors (Father Engh, Tri, Ted, Pam, Henry Ward, JMAC, the list could go on). I was so blessed and only hope to use those blessings beyond the time I had them, and indeed carry them all the way to South America.

And so I could try and end with some great words of wisdom that I came up with in this little coffee shop, but I'll leave that to those better with words and more quoted than me. Here's to the start of a great journey!

It's time for greatness -- not for greed. It's a time for idealism -- not ideology. It is a time not just for compassionate words, but compassionate action." Marian Wright Edelman

"Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes - with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating." -Michael Crichton