I have been back from Boston for just over a week now. In fact, I’ve already moved into my room at SCU. My summer fellowship came and went, and while each day was long and full of learning and growing, it’s hard to believe that summer is over.
Being back in San Diego for a week with my family showed me just how much I learned at the Women’s Lunch Place. There is such a contrast between living in Boston and living at home; I went from seeing new faces every day to being surrounded by close family and friends. I went from spending most of my time serving others to spending time preparing to go back to school.
I’ve even noticed that some of my habits have changed. I’m more inclined to talk to people I’ve never met, because I spent so much time listening to shelter visitors and hearning their stories. I’ve learned to really listen; that everyone has a story and all of them are enmeshed with valuable lessons. Being in a new city alone made me appreciate everyone who talked with me, and taught me to look up, look outside myself, and engage with people around me. There are so many faces I’ll never see again; between exploring Boston, working at the shelter, and visiting New York, there must have been thousands of them. The reality of this really weighed on me when I viewed the Bronx from the second story of my bus to New York. I saw all of these people, with a way of life so different than my own, with stories and struggles I can’t even imagine, and I hoped they all had someone to listen.
After helping feed people and seeing the impact that simple, good food can have on their wellbeing, I now tend to eat simpler meals, and to appreciate the food I have. I also notice and appreciate other things, such as having the space to move around, the freedom to express myself, and the security to take risks and challenge myself. Even routine doctor and dentist appointments take on a new light. I appreciate my health and am grateful for the health services that are available to me.
One of the most notable things I learned from my fellowship is that there are different kinds of service. I viewed service as being kind, or doing a loving, helpful act. And while that is true, I now understand that service is so much more than being nice. As I watched the staff deal with daily conflict and enforce important rules, I learned that speaking the truth is more important than being nice, and that tough love is still love.
I had several deja vu moments, both during the fellowship upon returning home. I couldn’t name them now, but in the moment, I see these flashes as confirmation that I am where I should be, and that God is doing something good with me. After a challenging day, these moments come as a welcome reminder.
I worked very hard at the shelter. I chopped tons of carrots and onions, folded loads of laundry, and learned a lot about cleaning. Yet, I wonder if I made any sort of a sizeable impact. While I do know my work was valuable, I can’t really say I made a huge “difference” in the typical sense of the word. I didn’t build any homes or schools, didn’t cure any diseases, didn’t lift anyone out of poverty. However, I did do a ton of behind-the-scenes work so that the shelter doctors could cure diseases, shelter advocates could help lift someone out of poverty, and shelter staff could find housing for a mother and her four-month-old child. And along the way, I learned the stories of these women, and gained an appreciation for nonprofit work.