Under a clear New Mexico evening sky, only the Milky Way and crescent moon lit the path before us. As Luke and Emma took their first steps, we reluctantly turned off our flashlights and entered the labyrinth. . .
Isaiah 45:7-8: “I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the LORD, am the one who does these things. ‘Open up, O heavens, and pour out your righteousness. Let the earth open wide so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together. I, the LORD, created them.’ “
At the end of September, the 2015-16 YAV class spent a weekend at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Breathtaking scenery and fellowship was the perfect setting for reflection and relaxation. The transition retreat was a time for YAVs to reunite and connect, and to understand the grieving process that one goes through when moving on from something as pivotal as a volunteer year. They weren’t kidding when they said it would be “a year of service for a lifetime of change.”
Camille, Riley & Micah at the AVODAH Sukkot (YES! coworkers); YAVocate training at Ghost Ranch
After training at the New Orleans Public Library Main branch, I moved to the East New Orleans location at the start of October to begin my position as the Community Education Instructor. The first two weeks I found myself in darkness. It was one of those moments where I felt at a loss for how to make my situation better. I felt abandoned without key access to the building, unwanted because the library staff didn’t know me, unhelpful because no patrons came to see me, and incredibly alone without any other YES! staff. I wasn’t expecting to feel so empty and helpless. I was loathing in self-pity and frustration that I could be better, and that I wasn’t doing or being enough.
Layne and I met for lunch halfway through those first two weeks, and she told me it was okay to be experiencing those feelings, but challenged me to learn something from that period of darkness. She wasn’t telling me to be positive about the experience, but to look deeper, beyond the surface level emotions. From there I could find ways in which my situation – my story – relates to the citizens of New Orleans, and those patrons I’ll be building relationships over the next 9 months.
As I initially began to dig deeper into those emotions, I was transported back to the labyrinth at Ghost Ranch where I willing walked through the darkness. I found at the start I was following in Luke and Emma’s footsteps, but eventually I reached a point where I could no longer see where they went. I had to rely on my senses, trusting and confident that my feet would find their way to the center of the maze as long as they focused on the task at hand, unafraid of making mistakes. I went into the situation believing I would come out of it having learned something along the way, expected or unexpected – even if it was just how to keep my feet firmly on the ground, or to have patience when something is difficult. I trusted in the darkness.
When I started in the East, I wasn’t expecting to experience darkness because I was anticipating it to be perfect. I was expecting there to be no hiccups – for patrons to be lining-up outside of my door, adding up the intake of those I’d assisted to reflect how well I was doing as a volunteer. I was hoping to justify my work, my energy and my time spent in the office, and as a YAV, this year in New Orleans. To say “look Mom, I did something good,” or “Hey God, look at what a good and faithful servant I am.”
But that isn’t the point of this year. I’m not here to check things off of my “Do-Good” list. I’m learning how much I need to constantly check my selfishness and privilege. I’m here to learn from the stories of others who constantly experience darkness – to find comfort sitting in the darkness, searching for God and the thin places that exist there.
I am here to learn how to have confidence in my faith, not confidence in my own power and ability. To learn patience and grace when I find myself in a pit that I can’t quite climb out of just yet.
At the start of my third week I had one patron who I’ll call Gus. Gus came in to work on a resume and a few cover letters and I was over the moon ecstatic. Gus started talking about his experiences living in New Orleans, and how frustrated he is that East New Orleans has fallen by the wayside, and still has yet to fully recover from Hurricane Katrina. He went on about how thankful he is for the opportunities he was given in life, surviving Katrina and surviving stage 9 cancer. He asked how my first few weeks had been and I truthfully told him they were slow, but I was positive that things would turn around once relationships began to form in the library. He left me with these words, “Each new day is already a reason to be thankful. Every day is a chance to start over. Clean slate. You have the chance to be a better person than you were yesterday, and an opportunity to try to make this world a better place in whatever way you can.”
I was thankful for his kindness, for his encouragement and his story. To know that every day is an opportunity to learn something new, no matter if you are stuck in the darkness or resting in the light. God created both lightness and darkness, and without both, we would never find direction.
I already know this city is going to give me so much more than I could ever give to it, and I only hope I can use those lessons to be a small catalyst for others.
“He had to go to the desert to find out who he was, and who he wasn’t.”
Afternoon at Autobahn park; the porch: favorite part of the YAV house