My year of volunteer service work truly shaped my life. When I heard about an opportunity to submit a reflection for a book on service, I was thrilled. I feel like I don’t share these insightful stories enough. I hope to do that more on this blog.
Merry Christmas! I hope all of you are doing well and enjoying the holidays.
I know that it has been quite some time since I’ve written, but I’m trying to get everyone into my email lists if anyone doesn’t want these emails just let me know!
A little reflection on my life thus far this year:
Yesterday was just nuts! On Fridays, I work in the pantry, with my coworker Linda, while my boss Brother Peter normally takes off. We had a surplus of volunteers and not so much work to do, which stresses me out as I try to keep everyone happy a.k.a., busy.
Sarah*, one of our neighborhood volunteers, came in. We hadn’t seen her in weeks, as she was admitted to the hospital psychiatric ward for treatment of her schizophrenia. Unfortunately, our boss had left clear instructions to send her home if she came in, as he wanted to meet with her first. I did. But she kept on working. A little while later, I caught her alone in the break room, having full conversations with people that were not there. After enjoying making some sandwiches to hand out with our other regulars, she left.
Soon after, Sarah’s granddaughter, Elena came running in, without a coat, wet hair, and a short sleeve shirt on inside out. She wanted to know where her Grandma was. Elena told me that the night before Sarah told her that she was going home to burn down her apartment.
What could I say to this scared little girl? “Oh, no, it is all ok” or “No she wouldn’t do that” because clearly Sarah is capable.
Sarah stood trial some months earlier for arson, but the judge allowed Sarah to decide if she wanted to seek treatment. She did not want any forms of help. What frustrates me is that many resources for her are located right next door, in the medical clinic I work in! She knows the Sisters who run it. We could get her a doctor who would monitor her, prescribe medicine and therapy. But because she doesn’t it want it; the lives of others are so harshly affected. We haven’t seen her in a week and it is snowing hard. I just pray that she is not out in the elements.
Later that morning, one of our regulars, Beth, came in. She is a young adult, who is mentally handicapped. Every month, she comes in for her mother’s pantry supply, as she is too sick to walk down herself to pick it up. This day, Beth shuffles in with a smile on her face introducing me to her boyfriend, who seems to be about 45 years old. As they turn to leave, he looks back and sneers. I had to turn away. I want to scream and shake him and demand what his intentions are. But I don’t.
Lastly, as we are clearing out at 1pm, Virginia comes in for her pantry. She is the most kind-hearted, loving, and genuinely sweet lady I think that I may ever meet. She looks tired, and just keeps sitting in her chair even after we are done. She always thanks us sincerely and asks God to bless us. The last thing she says to us in her soft, demure voice is “I’m just so excited about the Lord”. Linda replies with “And He is just so excited about you, honey”. How true.
As she moves out to the waiting area, she takes a seat nearby. We tell her to take her time and call over one of the nurses from the clinic. Virginia’s blood pressure is sky rocketing and with her heart problems, this makes us all concerned. We call 911 and head off the hospital.
After I finally make it home, Br. Peter called me to say that he did not need me to return back to work for the evening shift. Thank God. Even though he wasn’t there, someone was looking out for me -I just needed to process this intense day.
As I think about this day, I ask myself what can I do in all of these situations? Quite simply, love. As frustrated, creeped out, or frightened as I may be, it is the most primitive and sought after action that I can give. Each person deserves love, and so few receive it.
So spread it. Just spread love. Frustrated in a crowded department store line? Love. Feeling blue because of the season? Demonstrate love. Can’t think of the greatest gift to give? Write of testament of Love. Happy? Show love.
Thank you all so much for your support. It truly means a lot to me.
Peace and love,
In the four years that have passed since this day, I wonder how often I am able to live by my own words.
When I originally wrote this email to family and friends, I was overwhelmed. Every day of my service year seemed to be immensely full. There was intense joy, sorrow, hunger, bounty, loneliness, community and more. Each hour offered me a chance to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.
Often during my year of service I would find myself repeating the thought “My clients deserve my best”. Some of the people I interacted with on a daily basis had lived through such tragic circumstances. If I could do nothing else, I could at least give them the finest Kate that I could be. By giving my best, I felt that I was giving them the love that they deserved; be it through attention to their problems, respect in our interactions, or just a compassionate smile. All came from a place of love.
I still struggle with the lesson I was preaching in that email. Love. So simple, and yet so easily forgotten. That day four years ago reminds me to slow down enough to make sure I am acting in love. It would have been easy to demand Sarah to leave, but it was clear that she needed to stay. I could have told Elena some lies about how it would all be ok; instead I hugged her as she cried. If I rushed about my work, I would have failed to see my purpose.
I miss these days, days of full connections with people. Yet, as I write this, I realize this opportunity is at my finger tips. Even though I might not have the clear tangible ways to serve the poor as I did when working in a food pantry and medical clinic, I nonetheless have the countless opportunities to love.
This journey into my past sheds new light on my present life. What every day actions are really moments in service to love? Caring for my sick family member is a demonstration of love; listening to my coworker’s struggle in holding on to her home is a gift of love; blessing the man who cuts me off on the highway, is a testament to love. My time of working in the food pantry and medical clinic taught me to recognize this.
I feel blessed beyond belief to have experienced a year of service, even during intense days like the one I mentioned. And as I reflect today, I realize that my own lesson is not even about how, or why to love. It doesn’t matter the reason or how successful we are at it. All that matters is how much we try to love, each and every day.
*Names of clients have been changed.