Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Life moves on and so should we." - Spencer Johnson

Here it is, July 9, 2013. Clearly I have been putting a final post off. I kept meaning to write, but between the many moving parts at the end, I just never sat down to post. Additionally, it has taken me about a week since the experience has officially ended to more fully accept its finality, and to be ready to embrace my next life journey.

Saying goodbye to my service site was one of the most difficult things I've had to do. I was so lucky to have been blessed with an amazingly supportive staff, and right through the end I had so much to do and contribute to. Luckily my goodbyes were somewhat spread over the course of the last couple of weeks, with lunches with coworkers and final gifts and the infamous "Tea." I am proud of myself for not shedding a tear at work, but it was so hard to leave such compassionate and motivated people. I am thankful that my time at VIP helped solidify my desire to pursue a JD and eventually (hopefully) work in legal services. I have an open mind about what's to come at law school, and plan to take part in many different opportunities. But I truly cannot imagine a life grounded in service. I have VIP and the Augustinian Volunteers program to thank for that.

The last few weeks my roommates and I attempted to get in as many adventures from our Philly bucket list as we could. We returned to Longwood Gardens as a community, spent a day in Amish Country, visited the Eastern State Penitentiary, attended a Phillies game, went to a Greek festival, attempted to finish our Top 10 cheese steak list, and tried out some new restaurants and bars. I was also lucky enough to have my parents and brother visit Philly for a weekend in June. We had cheese steaks, went on a ghost tour, visited the Magic Gardens (one of my favorite places), saw the Betsy Ross house, and had an amazing dinner at Max Brener for Father's Day. I definitely feel I saw a lot of the hot spots of the city and had many new experiences. I have to say, though, that I cannot wait to return to the area next year! Even though I'll be living outside the city, there's so many places I've come to frequent and foods I can't live without. I've also been planning to go back to Longwood Gardens for their annual Christmas spectacular.
 Longwood Gardens

 Magic Gardens on Father's Day

Eastern State Penitentiary

Besides finishing up at my service site and running around Philly with my roommates and family, we were anxiously awaiting end of the year retreat. Before retreat we were given a VERY extensive cleaning list. Cleaning an entire apartment is definitely a feat, and even more so with ceilings like ours (aka made for giants!) It took a few days, and although we were covered in sweat from the lack of AC and 95+ degree days, it was rewarding. We went out for one last community dinner at a really nice restaurant called Farmicia. I even ordered a steak dinner. Who am I?

Retreat was full of many different activities and reflections that sparked my evolving emotions. A lot of the focus was on transitioning - specifically transitioning to the next step in life, whatever it may be. For me it's returning home and relaxing with family and friends before entering law school. I have a couple of trips planned this summer (next week I will be in DC visiting my brother and taking a Law Preview class) and the first week of August I will be in Ireland with my family. The rest of the time I am using to mentally and physically prepare for my return to school. It's slightly overwhelming thinking about returning to much reading and writing and assignments where grades are of the utmost importance. I really want to excel, as it is such an expensive endeavor, and job prospects are often reliant on academic performance. My main expression at retreat is hoping I will be able to take the lessons I've learned this year into my coming life. I have become a bit more confident and less self-conscious of my own being. I have tried to live a bit more simply and stay on budget. And most importantly, I tried to live my life in alliance with my faith and surround myself with opportunities to grow spiritually and in service. While it will be more difficult to stay on this path in law school, I hope that by entering an Augustinian institution and reflecting on my actions and experiences I will be a bit more apt to stay grounded. I worry that because college is known by nature to be an extremely selfish time in a person's life, my law school experience will be similar. Because I will be so focused on my work and my schedule, I can see how it would be easy to slip into a more selfish lifestyle. I hope I can continue to find the balance I've tried to make part of my routine through my volunteer year.

We also talked a lot about expectations. Specifically, how did our expectations of the program and year develop and/or change throughout the life of the experience. It seems sensible that everyone has some sort of expectations, even if you intend to keep an open mind. I think looking back I was quite nervous about the religious aspects of the program. I didn't feel entirely tolerable of being in a place where spirituality and faith was the cornerstone. However, what I have been shown is the growing grace of God in society. While I myself am still not extremely religious by nature, I enjoyed meeting and conversing with the Friars, I liked attending mass with my community, and I enjoyed the time for reflection and prayer with myself, my community, and the larger program. I can't say that I would have been able to commit as fully to my experience if I hadn't been always asked deeper questions and given adequate tools for prayer and reflection. I had never been on retreats before, and I felt at ease in both solitude and conversation with others. I definitely have been at least a bit more awakened to the power of faith and I hope I can continue to explore and consider my experience in the time to come.

I am so humbled to have been a part of the AV program. While I went in sort of blind and uncertain, it proved to be a year of tremendous growth. I cannot begin to explain or process the entire experience at this point, as it is still so fresh, but one thing the staff asked us to do at our end of the year retreat was to write our "story." It was helpful in mapping out some of my year and the people and places that stood out. I have so many memories, some exciting, others trying, and still others a bit painful and regretful. While my community did not always challenge each other to the greatest extent, I still feel blessed I met two wonderful young women who share my deep passion for service. We came together to create a loving home and I know I will always remain in contact with them both.

 At the End of the Year Brunch

So I guess it's safe to say - I am an AV Alumni! I am proud to be one. I would recommend this program to any young college graduate, no matter what faith or service background they have. It is a miraculous program by nature because as the staff say, all they present is many different "opportunities." It's up to the participant and the community to take advantage of opportunities to challenge and grow over the course of a year - and really over a lifetime. I feel blessed to have been able to partake in a year of service. I am glad I will be in the Philly area so it will be quite easy for me to remain involved with the AV program and hopefully form a connection with new volunteers and serve as a mentor in the future. I am ready for the next chapter, but am certain that my "year of service" was really just a stepping stone for period of growth that will envelop the course of my lifetime.