By Sammy Eckrich, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers
It is about 3:00 AM. The gentle creaks of the Retreat Center sprinkle the solitary space with sound. In the darkness, I can imagine the thirty or so Arrupe high school students sleeping softly in their rooms not far from my post. At least I hope they are fast asleep—it is one of three nights of my patrol to ensure the retreatants stay safely in their rooms all through the night. Hours of solitude give me ample reflection time to process the events of the week’s retreat but also my role at my work site in general.
It’s that time of year when the future seems especially close—more like it is being catapulted toward me at an inescapable rate… Many desires to be realized, many decisions to be made… After this year, should I join a religious community? Go home? Join a foreign mission? Stay here where I have formed some roots? In my midnight musings, I stumble across a poignant quote from the writings of Etty Hillesum. They speak to the core of this struggle.
“Sometimes I long for a convent cell, with the sublime wisdom of centuries set out on bookshelves all along the wall and a view across the cornfields…and there I would immerse myself in the wisdom of the ages and in myself. Then I might perhaps find peace and clarity. But that would be no great feat. It is right here, in this very place, in the here and the now, that I must find them.”
As a self-proclaimed hopeless idealist, I can get caught up in the “grass is greener” pitfall. I echo Etty’s longing for a place of solitude where life just makes sense… where I can look at my future and the world and simply understand that which I’m seeing. It can be hard to remember that God is providing everything I need here in this moment, and that I’m called to be present too. Spending time on retreat with my students has been very grounding in this sense. It is a chance to get to know them in a new capacity—much of my daily interaction goes as such: “Juan, where is your tie?” “Sarah, if you’re late one more time, that’s another detention.” It’s so refreshing to joke, play, and hear them pour out the wonder of their short but beautiful lives in a new context.
I realize an important part of this “service year” is that I don’t get too caught up in the service. Getting to work with the teens doesn’t feel like service—not because it’s without challenges and not because it’s without impact. Rather, it is because being at Arrupe is fundamentally about companioning my students and letting them companion me. We carry our individual stories to this one moment in history and watch as they weave together into one story. My solace for this place in time is found in the relationships and growth I am privileged to witness. Whatever happens next year, next summer, or tomorrow, this is enough for the moment.
6:00 AM. The brave of the group begin to stir and hobble out into my corridor to see the sunrise. They greet me in their haze of morning fogginess; not quite the sharp and prim students I welcome each morning at check-in before they head off to work. I smile—the “peace and clarity” I long for is just feet away… clutching their jackets and squinting as they step out into the clean, new sunbeams of a new day.
To learn more about service opportunities through Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, please click here.