BY MADELINE BEAULIEU
Douglas Adams once said, “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” All humans are innately different and hold knowledge that is unique to their own beingness, but as Adams acknowledges, we rarely use this to our advantage.
I don’t think this is a new concept, but nonetheless, a notion that has recently come to the forefront of my life in a powerfully relevant way. I have recently reflected on how I am so much more inclined to find things in common between myself and others, than to accept what is inherently different. Overlap is comfortable, and being able to stay within that comfort zone is very appealing.
There is an extreme comfort in finding things that my housemate and I, my work peers and I, or even new strangers and I have in common. But, can there be no comfort in vocalizing heterogeneity? If I’m being honest, my visceral reaction is no; however, every individual I have lived with or worked with, during this year of service, has brought explicitly different experiences and knowledge into my life (truly, things that I otherwise don’t think I would’ve encountered in my life).
Intentional, communal living is one of the foundational commitments of the Loretto Volunteer Program and has been a challenge for me. Initially, I was exhausted in my constant pursuit of commonalities between myself and my roommates. It wasn’t until recently that I consciously chose to explore the many more differences we share as a house. In a conversation with my housemate about professional sports, it occurred to me that we’d experienced the same thing through two completely different ways of knowing. In a moment, I became aware of how my understanding is not universal truth. Her perspective and understanding of professional sports, although different, is just as relevant and true as mine. Ultimately, I gained a refreshingly unique outlook on something I felt I knew a lot about.
Not only have I witnessed this in the context of my home, but also in the community I have become a part of at the Women’s Bean Project. The women I’m working with have much different histories than my own. Knowing I come from more privilege (education, social class etc.) than many of the women, left me feeling uncomfortable at first, but I didn’t want my future relationships to suffer because of it. In response, I decided to be intentional with my relationships and conversations with these women. Rather than fixate on the common ground I felt I needed to find, I allowed my authentic self to meet others in a welcoming and curious space.
In these ways I am challenging myself to dissociate discomfort from difference and to further embrace the opportunities that lie within the rest of this service year. Through my interactions with other people, I am striving to be comfortable (and even excited) in questioning the things I know and how I know them.
BY ELYSE MCMAHON
2020 has been a year of uprooting. Uprooting the places, people, and thought patterns that made me feel most comfortable. I left the city where I had studied the past four years and said goodbye to friends who felt as close as family, not knowing when I would ever see them again. I returned to my childhood home and had countless uncomfortable hours to reflect on where I had been and where I was going. I knew at the end of summer, I would be flying 1700 miles away from home to embrace even more change. As someone who loves meeting new people and exploring new places, I am equally averse to change.
At the beginning of quarantine, I read a piece by Gloria Anzaldúa, “Now let us shift . . . the path of conocimiento.” She narrates the process of moving from one way of knowing to a new way of knowing or conocimiento. It is a process of inner transformation and uprooting. She writes,
“To learn what to transform into you ask, ‘How can I contribute?’ You open yourself and listen to la naguala and the images, sensations, and dreams she presents...Your inner voice reveals your core passion, which will point to your sense of purpose, urging you to seek a vision, devise a plan. Your passion motivates you to discover resources within yourself and in the world. It prompts you to take responsibility for consciously creating your life and becoming a fully functioning human being, a contributing member of all your communities, one worthy of self-respect and love.”
Holding Anzaldúa’s words of advice close to me, I moved to El Paso and stepped across the threshold into the next stage of my life characterized by an unfamiliar language, vast mountains, and 100+ degree weather
BY BECCA KRASKY
This fall I’ve been reflecting on endings and beginnings, which seem to happen quite often in young adulthood. In July, my first year as a LoVo ended, in August, my second year began. Elections are endings and beginnings. Fall is an ending and a beginning. A recent ending for me was the conclusion of my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) through the Denver Permaculture Guild in early October, which marked the beginning of the “rest of my life”.
Permaculture is a holistic way of seeing the world by recognizing patterns in nature, and designing systems with those patterns. It focuses on abundance and adaptation, and the positive impacts people can have working to heal the land. While the structured world of permaculture was “founded” in the 1960s by two white European ancestry men in Australia, the methodologies and worldviews are really a compilation of indigenous wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge. My course, through the Denver Permaculture Guild, was entirely online due to COVID-19, but still managed to be a life-changing experience. One weekend per month, my thirty classmates and I logged onto Zoom, and spent the weekend together learning about the permaculture design process (both in ecological landscape design and human systems), and all of the ways to redesign our society to return to a right relationship with Earth.
We often referred to the class as “drinking from the fire hose”. Amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings after the police murder of George Floyd in my home city of Minneapolis, and the record-setting wildfires of this summer, this course helped me envision alternate futures of abundance and peace.
BY SARAH CRITCHFIELD
There’s something so sweet about a fresh start.
The end of my college career came abruptly and unforgivingly. Quarantine was spent scrolling online for hours and weeping white woman tears at the hopelessness of public health that hinges on individual choice. Could being asked to care for a stranger by covering your cough with cloth really spark an ideological divide? I was ripped out of my childish naivete as the importance, immediacy, and presence of illness, racism, and capitalism bled into my privileged and protected worldview.
This upheaval of my immediate surroundings struck my heart with constant questions. Jeanette Winterson asks, “Why is the measure of love loss?” I felt so much loss and was trying to pull the love out of those nostalgic achings. Scrambling between Facetimes and phone calls, my friends and I daydreamed about human connection and change.
I did not realize this change would glow like an El Paso sunset or that I’d fall in love with the world all over again.
BY MADELINE BEAULIEU
Taking a step back to see what I know, why I know what I know, and how I know what I know is relatively new to me. I think this reflection is overlooked a lot in younger generations, including myself. Before I committed to my year of service within the Loretto community, I knew that I was a smart, driven individual, capable of critical thinking. That being said, within the last month of my service in Denver for the Loretto Volunteer Program, I have come to realize how all of those things can be elevated and enhanced when you are inwardly reflective of why and how you think the way you do.
A month is a long time and also a short time, depending on the perspective taken. Is a month long enough to change a mindset or re-train the thoughts that come to the surface of our consciousness? In my opinion, at least partially.
Amber Summers was a Loretto Volunteer for six months in 2005. She served in the Community Service and Campus Ministry departments at St. Mary's Academy (SMA) in Denver, while living in community with another volunteer and three Sisters of Loretto: Cathy Mueller, Joan Sperro, and Mary Ellen McElroy. The room she stayed in belonged to Marie Ego, who was then working in Ghana. Amber has worked at SMA ever since, and every year she returns with a group of students to the Loretto Motherhouse in June. She's pictured with her daughter, Nora. Read on for our Q&A with Amber!
BY EMMY WATKINS
As I near the halfway mark of my service in Denver, above all, I am tired.
I get frustrated with myself for it. Why am I so tired? In college my days were longer, my commitments more taxing, and my schedule more hectic. Why is it that here it is so much harder to stay energized?
BY LAUREN HUNTER
Small talk is usually one of my favorite things. I truly enjoy having conversations that stem from the basic get-to-know-you questions (Where did you grow up? What do you do? Wait, you ALSO love Dolly Parton?!), because I usually have a ready answer. However, during the opening retreat at the Motherhouse, I found people asking me questions that I had no set answers to. Mainly, these questions were about my work placement.
I remember eating meals in the dining room at the Motherhouse, sitting with different Loretto Community members, as we chatted and tried to find what we had in common. One of the things that we could easily connect over was volunteer work, as they had dedicated their entire lives to service. The Sisters usually asked me about the work I would be doing at my placement, Briya Public Charter School. And despite all the research I did for my interviews with Loretto and Briya, and all the email communication I had with my supervisor over the summer, I found that I had a hard time answering their questions about what my placement would be like. Of course, I knew what my job description was. But I felt like I wouldn’t know what to expect from my placement until I started my job. In fact, I was nervous. What would my students be like? What about my coworkers? Were my teaching skills actually good enough for this job? I had no idea.
BY ANA AVENDANO
The mountains here were formed much in the same way everything is—from lava.
Scalding hot anger determined to run its course.
But the lava here they keep contained. Trapped between cinder block walls, in chains, unable to rage then cool on its intended path.
In here, they like to keep it cold. To kill germs, prevent disease, they say. But everything here is already sick.
BY ADELE MCKIERNAN
Last month, I decided it would be essential for me to wed myself. Not in theory, in practice. This wouldn’t be a thought experiment; it would be a marriage. And there would be a ring, flowers, an outfit, vows.
I’m acutely aware that I’ve been known to make grand declarations for best-laid plans every now and then. My mom likes to tell the story about how I declared resolutely that I was moving away to join the circus—the first she’d heard of this—to my pediatrician during a routine physical. My college friends (used to be able to) recount the number of times I’d vehemently sworn off dating to “prioritize personal growth”. Then there were the many times I was sure I’d be married by spring. I’d convert to Judaism. Move to Israel. Move to Ireland. Become a nun.
So, being adamant about my self-marriage scheme wasn’t off-brand— it was dramatic, and sensational, and romantic—it had all the markings of a classic decision inspired by familiar surges of equal parts fear and hope. Both absurd and logical and somehow a very good and not particularly great idea. But the whole thing was atypical in one critical way.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.