Sunday, March 30, 2008

What's Next for me?

I am having trouble getting photos for the next few posts in my series about making a decision to do post-graduate service. It should be straightened out by next week. Until then, here is a post about my future.

What’s next? I had been hearing people ask me what’s next since before I even departed for South America. And all along, I answered with ease, without hesitation. Well, I am hoping in August to relocate to Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco. I would like to work for non-profit, preferably one that is working on behalf of immigrants or refugees. I am looking forward to a cold glass of Dr. Pepper, a colder glass of Sam Adam’s Summer Brew, and a dish of Italian Sausage Pizza, a Cubs game on TV, all in the company of people I love and miss so damn much!

In two to three sentences, what’s next? The reporters question brings me back from my day dream. I want to tell him how I once knew. How I have been dreaming of what’s next for 18 months, almost skipping over what’s here and now. I want to tell him how March 7th a child got sick, and I carried her all the way back to our center. I want to tell him about the unexplainable impact it had on me. The tears that couldn’t stop flowing, even with everyone all around, watching me.

I want to tell him about this uncontainable love that I now experience in my life. A love I had sought before I had words for it. I want him to know what it feels like to come alive, to love with heartbreaking vulnerability, and laugh with mind breaking ease. My heart is pounding within to tell a story that my mind simply can not translate for my mouth to share.

I yearn to talk about seeing Evelyn, a former student now peddling chewing gum on the street for 25 cents and how it rips my heart wide open. I want to tell him about genuine smiles and deep belly laughs. I want to tell him how I found the path to the walk that goes along with the talk I’ve embodied for years- and how more than anything, I’m so afraid to become nothing more than just talk, no walk, all over again.

I wanted to tell him what I now need to tell you. I don’t know if I am ready to leave Ecuador just yet. You’d think two years in South America would have been enough. But, I find myself strongly considering spending one more year at the Working Boys Center. I’ve found the trail that leads towards the man I want to be. I love without abandon here, and I don’t know that you can understand what that means to me. More important still, I don’t know if I can continue it if I return to the States just yet.

What’s next? In the next month or two, through continued discernment, discussions with loved ones, and prayer, I’ll be able to tell you. Either way, the decision won’t be easy. But until then, pray for me, think about me, send good vibes my way, whatever you can, to help me make sure I make the right decision.

There’s so much more to explain. So much more that could be said. But this isn’t the place, this isn’t the time. And ultimately, this is between me and the man I used to be, trying to find the best version of the man I was, am, and in the final analysis, want to be.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman Song of Myself

Stations of the Cross on Good Friday with Cindy rockin' my sunglasses and Jenny, the girl who got sick, holding my hand as we walk through the stations with the people from La Marin

Monday, March 17, 2008

Seven Letter Words by Roy Pequeño

This is the second part in a series of entries about what it means to be a volunteer. The idea is to generate a diverse gathering of voices who have done or are currently doing service to share with potential future volunteers what we wish we would have known before making the leap to do post-graduate service. It’s my sincere hope that this and other posts throughout this blog might be of service in some way to those thinking of doing service. Stay tuned for more guest editorials in the coming weeks.

Seven Letter Words By Roy Pequeño

As several of my friends prepare for the GRE, I have recently begun to become of aware of vocabulary. Honestly I must say that I am very intrigued by all the words out there. Some words look like someone just put letters together (i.e. syzygy). Some have cool sounds or are fun saying (i.e. cinnamom). Some just look intimidating (i.e. floccinaucinihilipilification). There are so many words that I am slowly becoming aware of and it’s quite frankly overwhelming. How am I suppose understand all these words my friends are teaching me, when I am still having a hard time comprehending a simple seven letter word? Service.

My experience with service – I realize now – had been very limited. Before my experience in Chile, my volunteer experiences varied: helping at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, volunteering at the hospital, and a project at a local park. In each location, I would volunteer a number of hours a week/month and reach a goal. In the soup kitchen, my goal became serving food. In the food pantry, my goal became organizing the donations. In the hospital, my goal became running samples to the lab as quickly as possible. In the park, my goal became building an animal enclosure. Even though, my “service” was done in a variety of areas it was limited to yet another seven letter word. Results.

As I prepared to embark on a two-year service commitment in Chile, I was told time and time again, to arrive without expectations. Since I did not know what, where, or how I would be providing a service to my community, I took the advice of my program mates and arrived to Chile without expectations. Or so I thought.

After about six months of living in Peñalolen and working in various place in Santiago, Chile, I realized a truth in myself. I had arrived in Chile with expectations of service and they were not being met. As mentioned earlier, my experience with this seven-letter word of “service” was related to another seven-letter word, “results.” My “service” in Chile a majority of the time had no physical “results” – something that I was accustomed to seeing after volunteering. I was not building houses, organizing food, running samples or anything like that. My greatest service that I found in Chile is being a person who listens.

Call me naïve – or completely out of sync with people – but I never realized how important listening to people really is. It was not until I began to pack my bags to leave Santiago that I realized the importance that people placed on the time we shared. Not necessarily the conversations – because for the first year or so I stumbled my way around Chilean Spanish – but the time that was taken to listen to people. People who I would talk to for five minutes a week, a child who would tell me her concerns, a student in the middle of a confirmation process talking about his struggles in faith, and several others, expressed their gratitude for my service. For my role as an individual that listens. In this world there are several things that people can always get back; however, time is one thing that passes and cannot be relived.

Mother Theresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” I must agree. By giving a listening ear, we give immeasurable amounts of dignity and respect to people. In my humble opinion, it is the time spent with an individual - listening to their stories, opinions, and concerns – that reveals that someone’s service has a purpose.

I doubt that I will ever learn all the GRE words that my friends are learning, but I am willing to try. And maybe I can teach them a little something about a seven-letter word that can knock the wind out of you. Service.

Roy Pequeño, pictured right, with just two of the many people he lent a listening ear to during his tenure in Chile.

Roy Pequeño graduated from St. Edwards University in 2005. He spent two years with the Holy Cross Associates in Santiago, Chile. He is currently living in Austin, Texas, working at his alma matter as a Resident Director.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

You're Weird by Caitlin Early

“You’re weird,” the words hit me hard. My cover is blown. Years spent trying to fit in and to earn my place at the cool girls’ lunch table is undone by two dreadful words. To make matters worse, it is coming from my 15-year old brother who effortlessly navigates hormones and high school, dressed in the latest Ed Hardy jeans and retro edition Jordan’s. Yes, ladies, he is the epitome of cool. I, unlike my stud of a brother, am not.

You may be wondering why a less than hip 24-year old is so concerned about what her pubescent brother thinks of her. If I could maintain some semblance of a self-esteem through high school and college, why all the sudden was I looking to a teenager to be my barometer of cool? I hit a low point. I recently returned from a two-year service program in Latin America. I went from Tuesdays in the parish kitchen, cooking gourmet meals with colorful, Chilean señoras to Tuesdays in my pajamas, unemployed, and living at home. I am the only person I know who can wake up at noon and not be late for work. I do not have places to go and people to see. I really am weird.

Yet there is something to be said for being weird. I have lived a life that most will never know. I had the chance to live in a poor, working class Chilean neighborhood, far from the touristy spots in the city center. I worked with people from all walks of life, rich, poor, young and old. I learned to speak another language and to create a life for myself in that new language. I made friendships with Chilean women that welcomed me into their homes as their hija, or daughter. I challenged myself to live a simpler life and to better define needs and wants. I learned to thrive in community with other volunteers, to confront conflicts and frustrations, and to find some amazing friends. Most importantly, I grew to know my true self, which in essence brought me into a closer, deeper relationship with God.

While my transition from Chile to the U.S. has been bumpy, I would not have it any other way. Upon leaving Chile, a dear friend told me that my tears and sadness were signs that the experience was not a two-year break from my real life. Chile was an important part of who I was and who I was becoming. If asked to do it again, to live the experience with its mixed bag of highs and lows, I would; I am a changed person because of it. To my friends and family, I am weird. What I chose to do was not normal and I now I am left to deal with the rewarding consequences of lasting friendships, emotional maturity, spiritual growth and a new perspective on life. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Deciding on a post-graduate service program can be a scary and overwhelming time in your life. Not only are you leaving the college comfort zone, saying goodbye to friends and contemplating your next step, but you are also trying to convince your parents that you are not crazy and that someday you will put your hard-earned degree to use. There are no guarantees that a service program will be a good fit for you or that it can live up to your expectations. Like any other major decision in life, you go on what you know at the time, you take a leap of faith and you hope for the best. It took me a long time to learn that life is just as unpredictable and messy in the U.S. as it is in any far off place. Trust yourself and take comfort in the fact that you do not know where this road will lead you. Buckle up, enjoy this roller coaster of a ride and keep an open mind.

I am also entering into a new phase of my life and once again nothing is settled or certain. I am not shielded from the scariness of life in spite of an amazing experience in Chile. I am just as vulnerable as any other twenty something that does not know where he or she is heading. The difference for me lies in that I can draw on great strength and support from my Chilean friends and from the life lessons I learned with them. The experience I lived cannot save me from fears or anxieties I have about the future; it empowers me to continue to live a life that is a real witness to a loving people in a thin country.

Caitlin saying good-bye to a close Chilean friend and co-worker, Marta.

Caitlin Early graduated from The University of Notre Dame in 2005. She volunteered with the Holy Cross Associates from 2005-2007 and lived in Santiago, Chile.