Dear Extraordinary You: A Letter to a Future Volunteer

By: Ari Alvarez, Current Loretto Volunteer

Realizing that I am halfway through my Loretto experience, I can’t believe how fast time has gone…and how slow it has gone. These past five or so months have come with great highs and great lows. But, the most freeing realization is the acceptance that this is to be expected. I am growing, and sometimes growing is painful. My time away from home has made me grow in a deep love and appreciation for my family and friends. I always knew I won the lottery with those I call family and friends, but now, my gratitude towards them is beyond me.

Coping with these emotions has been a process. Yet, the most healing practice that has helped me feel appreciated and loved, all while challenging me to honestly communicate my appreciation towards others, is letter writing. Everything from picking the right stationary for each person, the decorating of the envelope, the emphasizing of words and sentences through the thickening strokes of your pen.  There is an intimate intention behind it all. There is such a thrill to realizing you’ve received an envelope in the mail with your name on it; a response to all the questions you had asked, all the emotions you had spilled out, all the stories you shared.

Letter writing requires more effort than a quick typing of words and clicking of a send button. It takes thought, time, effort, and patience. Letter writing is a detail of this experience that I will take with me everywhere I go. Therefore, because of how healing this has been for me, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a letter to a future volunteer;

Dear extraordinary you, 
I’ve been there before. Hitting the snooze button a couple of times before you finally roll out of bed and gear up for the day ahead of you. Your surroundings might still feel unfamiliar, but I promise you, a routine will develop. Very soon, the creaky wood at your feet will signal the familiarity of home. String up some holiday lights in your room; hang up pictures, motivational quotes, whatever you need. Just do it. This is your time to take care of yourself. You’re in for a wild ride where sometimes the only company you keep is yourself, the book in your hand, and the cup of coffee that cools as the minutes go by. And, trust me, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Allow yourself to indulge in that cup of Starbucks, even though you know how terrible capitalism is and that you should be supporting local producers. Drive to Target and just walk around, search for the treasures in the dollar section, and never feel bad about buying the overpriced candle for your room (you’ll appreciate it later). Take a break from Instagram, Facebook, and texting. Instead, go outside and simply go for a walk. Grow in comfort of your surroundings. Go the meeting that sounds really awesome, even though you’re going alone and won’t know anyone. Don’t feel pathetic for staying in on a Friday or Saturday night, indulging in Netflix or a good book…or just Netflix…is perfectly fine.
Write people letters, and request that letters be written to you. It’s a good day when you get home from work and see that there’s an envelope with your name written on it. Sleep in often- these may be the last years of being able to sleep in without any major consequences. Sad, I know. Cook with real, fresh food. And…it’s okay if you burn the rice or brownies the first time, you’ll get better with time. Listen to Adele, because, well…Adele just heals the heart. Look through old pictures every once in a while, it’ll make you smile and there’s nothing wrong with that! Also, genuinely challenge yourself to only spend your monthly stipend- it’s hard, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can simplify your life.
You are without a doubt an amazing person. You’ve probably travelled into intimate depths of your community and the world. You’re someone’s best friend, someone’s child, someone’s soul mate, and they’re most likely all missing you as much as you are missing them. Nonetheless, never forget how brave you are. You left all you knew and accepted to start over, for 11 months, committing yourself to simple and intentional living. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Trust that very soon, you’ll pack up the suitcase you put away months ago. That suitcase will travel back into familiarity with you. Your favorite café, your favorite restaurant, your family and friends will all be waiting for you. You’ll see how distance strengthens relationships, and most importantly, strengthens you.
This year could be one of the most exhilarating years of your life, or it could be one of the most frustrating years of your life. No matter where your heart and emotions settle, know this is all happening for a reason. You are exactly where you need to be. There’s a lovely little saying that says, “Bloom where you are planted.” Don’t take that as being complacent, but take that as a challenge. Actually aim to grow exactly where you are right now, even when it’s painful to begin a new day. You’ve got this.
Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Sit with yourself every day, discover your light. It will frighten you, but that’s okay. Unpack it, embrace it, and grow from it all. Lean on those who love you. Tomorrow is a new day. You are not alone.
But most importantly, you are capable and are fighting a fight for a better tomorrow. Keep your head up.
Love,Me, your fellow social justice warrior.
PS- Ordering a pizza when you don’t feel like cooking is always a good choice. Always.

Ari Alvarez is from Clayton, CA and graduated from St. Mary’s College in 2015 with a degree in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. Ari is currently serving with Loretto Volunteers, living in the St. Louis community and working as a campus minister at loretto-founded high school, Nerinx Hall.​ This reflection originally appeared on Loretto Volunteer’s “Reflections.”

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