Each year shapes us into the person we are meant to become

This bridge near Viviana Garcia-Blanco's home in the Bronx crosses a highway near Pelham Bay Park. (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our seventh round of bloggers: Viviana Garcia-Blanco is a Dominican Volunteer at the United Nations and Geri Lanham is a volunteer with the Religious of Jesus and Mary in Gros Morne, Haiti.

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Feb. 22 marked my 23rd birthday.

The day started out just like any other day of the week: I woke up for prayer, got ready for work, got on a crowded subway headed to Manhattan, went to a couple of meetings for work, then finally got on a crowded subway going back to the Bronx.

At home, my community of Dominican sisters and Dominican volunteers had prepared a birthday dinner and dessert. My roommate made her famous homemade pasta, and donuts were prepared with some gag birthday candles that never blew out, no matter how hard I tried. It was funny and I embarrassed myself, but despite that, it was a quiet, relaxing evening filled with great people and a great conversation.

This "I love the Bronx" mural is located on the corner of Simpson Street and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

The theme of our talk dealt with age. In the week prior to my birthday, I had obsessed about this notion of time and what it meant to get older in age. In part curiosity, in part existential dread, these questions loomed over me: Will 23 be the age when I start feeling more sophisticated and mature? Will I finally feel more confident in my professional life? Will I stop feeling this sense of anticipation about waiting for my life to begin?

These were questions that I not only asked myself, but they were questions I voiced at the dinner table during dessert. As the youngest person in my community, I asked everyone about the day they turned 23 and if they felt any more mature or noticed any changes compared to the year before.

Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

One of the sisters said to me: It isn't about waking up one day and realizing you became mature overnight. Maturity is something that happens to you and not at you. It comes from life experiences and is realized much later in life.

Another sister told me to view life as different phases of being. She told me that while I was just starting off my life, hers was coming to its final stages.

"How morbid!" I said to her, not wanting to accept that reality. I could not fathom that one day, death will happen to everyone I love.

She comforted me, explaining that because she was in this last phase of her life, she is able to view things with a certain clarity that I could not comprehend just yet.

Getting older is an exciting part of existence because each year, we grow more and more into our own being, shaped into the person we are meant to become. If I view my life as these stages of myself, then I can see me during this period stressing about my future, the kind of career moves I want to make, the people I want to surround myself with.

New York City would symbolize this moment and time in my life. It's busy, it's chaotic, there's so much going on in so little time that things pass me by. I can't experience all the things I want to, nor will I ever. I don't think I spend too much time now truly living in the present. It's hard to do so when everything is so unclear and uncertain that planning the next week, the next month and the next year is the only thing that consumes me.

I thought living in intentional community with sisters would be difficult when I first started out my volunteer year. There was an obvious age gap. We come from different generations, and we come from different cultures. Now, I see that living in this kind of environment is crucial to my spiritual and emotional growth.

The subway near the Pelham Bay subway stop in the Bronx (Viviana Garcia-Blanco)

Living with sisters is incredible, not just because we share the same values or that we are all advocates for social justice. Living with sisters keeps me grounded in what's real and what matters. It's important to have people in our lives that give us clarity and understanding. My community in the Bronx has made my volunteer year much more meaningful. They help me filter out the noise of the city, of everyday life, and they help me see clearer path. I would not be the 23-year-old I am today without them.

[Viviana Garcia-Blanco is a Dominican Volunteer serving as an advocacy associate for the Dominican Leadership Conference nongovernmental organization at the United Nations.]

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