Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tent City: An unexpected retreat

It’s Monday and I’ve been here for one week. I remember coming in from the garden last Monday, dirt packed tightly under my fingernails, and being surprised by how fast the tents had come up. Tent city they would call it, the Youth Group made up of members from St. Joseph’s and Assumption in Washington, spearheaded by George and Guy. Now only the sun spots from their tents remain on the lawn in front of the chicken coop, serving as a testament to the group’s loud and active presence. The new foundation at St. Joseph’s entrance, fencing, roof, stantion, buried hose, cement paths, staircase and woodshed scattered around the 300 acres, however, are what the Mothers at Shaw Island will cherish most. I have my own roof to be proud of. But I’m left with more than just the physical evidence of this group. Even greater than the scratches on my forearms from the hay, the lightly browned color of my face and skin, the blue bandana signifying my association with group Merbodo, my newly protruding tummy and the folded notes of affirmation from newfound friends are the memories created while these physical changes were taking place. As Fr. Scott said in his homily earlier this week, some things are immeasurable. He was referencing the presence of God.

But what’s also been immeasurable for me this week is the spiritual growth, newfound knowledge, levels of admiration and respect, joy in laughter, emotion in song and fatigue felt from a long day. A week that started in shyness and awkward social conversation ended in story telling at the beach, unlimited numbers of “second helpings” during and in between meals, the winning of ridiculous games, inside jokes and tears in mass. And as I sit on the couch in St. Joseph’s guesthouse, alone for the first day, eating salad and a turkey and cheese sandwich, I begin to cry. The tears that stream down my cheeks leave no footprints of loneliness or fear, but joy and humility. For I have done nothing to earn such blessings.

And so I learned caritas this week, working with love for others. I learned selflessness, giving up my wants and dreams of reflection and silence for the chatter of high school students. I learned gratitude in life for safety, food, new family and the weather. I learned humility in having to learn new things, relying on others to teach me and being grateful for their patience when I messed up. I learned compassion for the youth who have yet to know themselves—who are going through some of the most challenging years of their life. I learned respect for the church.  I learned the meaning of a well-earned day of rest. And so my learning continues.