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 ninth round of bloggers: Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City and Adele McKiernan is a Loretto Volunteer at Missouri Health Care for All in St. Louis.
As hard as you try, you cannot truly separate your first year of volunteer service from your second — or so I've decided after speaking to a number of multi-year Good Shepherd Volunteers and having lived the experience myself. Too much happens within you during an extended period of dedicated service to go back and try to start from the place of true openness to experience you once held.
Whether a noble pursuit or not, I had made it my personal mission to not make my community feel the presence of my second-year-ness, to show we were a fresh community, to figure things out and learn how to just love one another. I thought I was doing pretty well until we embarked on our collective spirituality retreat the first weekend in May.
The favorite of all my retreats, our spirituality retreat takes place in silence. Being at a lack for words is not something new for me, and an intentional space of quiet only enhances my ability to relax, reflect and just be with myself, something I learned I needed to work on. I knew that the theme would be the same as my first spirituality retreat last year (Chosen, Blessed, Broken and Given), as would the activities and the all-night vigil that were tradition in the GSV spirituality retreat. This time, I was ready to commit myself to the silence of body and mind.
I realized then that there were parts of me that wanted to one day feel like I was purposefully chosen for a specific job. I had hoped that between a year of direct service in an alternative high school and one "at the table" in advocacy, I would be able to clearly identify my strengths and find where I could best be utilized. As months passed and I still couldn't find those answers, my second-year enthusiasm was quickly dimming.
During one of the spiritual direction sessions offered during the weekend, I was suddenly and inexplicably struck by two things:
1. By this time last year, I had come to so many conclusions and understandings I felt were critical to my realization of success in achieving the personal growth I associated with a year of service. I had one wonderfully complementary community-mate with whom I learned what it actually meant to just love, a placement that showed me a sense of community even my rural, village-born self had never known and gratitude so strong I became emotional even in the smallest moments of kindness. This year, I felt like my progress was stalling.
2. In thinking about my being "Given," I was revisited by my struggle to conceive of possessing talents and gifts I am able to give, let alone name. At each of my two program orientations, we had an introductory talent show to allow each of us an opportunity to share one of those talents with our new mates. During both of them, I struggled to come up with something worth sharing. Even after a year full of experiencing gratitude, joy and lots of love, I still could not come up with a real talent to share in August. What do I have to show for that year? A "strong sense of mission" isn't enough to sell a résumé, as I've found out time and again this spring.
As I circuited the Stations of the Cross at our retreat center, I was gifted with the most powerful vision. On the path between the fragrant purple and white lilac bushes, a multipurpose cleaner flashed before my eyes. More specifically, a vision of the meager cleaning cabinet under the sink in our Washington Heights apartment — and of the multipurpose cleaner that resides there.
If you've been reading the blog posts of the many persevering volunteers before me, you've heard time and time again the decision-making process that comes with life on a small stipend. Just recently, my community-mates and I discussed how many and which cleaning supplies were necessary purchases and if we could use what we already had to do the job. We could all agree on one thing: We must have something multipurpose.
The multipurpose cleaner may not be the best to serve a specific function, like giving glass a streak-free shine or clearing the grout between the bathroom tiles, but it is hard to find an American household without one, even ours. Its strength lies in its inherent lack of gifts. It does all that it can to the best of its ability in every situation.
As our foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia, once said, "I was not possessed of great talents, but I loved, and I loved with all the strength of my soul."
As a multipurpose cleaner, I too have no great gifts, but I can function in a variety of situations — and that is not a gift to take lightly. When we in our limited funds can only choose one cleaner, it is one that is multipurpose. When we in our need require one person for a multifaceted job, we want to hire one who can be trusted to give it their all.
Someone with the gift of multipurpose may not be the one you first think of, or even the one you first wish for the job, but they will do everything they can with zeal. When we consider all the things the gift of being multipurpose does for us, we can find all the ways it is truly indispensable. At the end of the day, what better gift could I have been given?
"Go forward in the spirit of God. I am relying on your zeal." — St. Mary Euphrasia
[Samantha Wirth is the public policy fellow for Good Shepherd Services in New York City.]