BY HAYLEY MORGAN
To embrace and experience a new city is a difficult task. It is lovely to visit but to become enmeshed into a community is an entirely different thing. I won’t pretend I know El Paso intimately, despite the deep love I’ve developed since arriving here. But, how was I going to immerse myself when I am restricted in the ways I can socially interact with the city and people around me?
And in the early days, it was particularly easy to grow isolated and disenchanted living in this city that I felt I couldn’t possibly know. At least, not without the connection to those who lived here. Due to COVID protections, every day I would go into work and see very few of my other coworkers. Once a week, I would log onto a Zoom meeting where I was able to see the other people in the program I was working on at the Opportunity Center for the Homeless (the OC). But there was little space on my work laptop for a deeper connection than giggling over each other’s technical difficulties.
It feels ironic that my tie to El Paso didn’t come until I was at my most alone. In December, I made the conscious decision to stay in El Paso for the holidays while my housemates travelled home to be with their families. Concerned with the rising COVID numbers and the health risk it posed to vulnerable members of my family, staying in El Paso was the right decision for me. That didn’t mean it was a welcomed decision. And for what it’s worth, I genuinely believed that I would be okay on my own for two and a half weeks, but I severely underestimated the amount of energy and joy I get from being around other people. But while at the OC during this time, signs of life came to my floor and people began to fill the offices around me.
While I have grown remarkably close with many of my coworkers, there is one woman, Paola, who has brought me so much joy, support, and comfort. I had been working with Paola since the beginning of my time at the OC, but she had been primarily working out of a different shelter space. Around the holiday break, she was called to the OC to work out of our offices. Within a brief amount of time, I could barely recall the days before she had arrived down the hall from me. Now, all I could remember were the desperate tries to go even one day without an event causing one of us to break down in uncontrollable laughter. Eventually, we invested in whiteboards to try to visualize this count. If I ever went a week without a “breakdown” she promised she would buy me a pizza, but I fear it never occurred. On lunchbreaks, we would venture to different corners of El Paso where she would show me what she considered to be the best dishes that El Paso had to offer. And before I left for my eventual visit home later in the spring, she gave me a present to give to my mother on her behalf. She sent me forth with a delicately crafted basket and a sentiment to deliver: “To Hayley’s real mother, from her El Paso mother.” Upon seeing it, my mother teared up and thanked her for keeping a watchful eye over me.
I couldn’t imagine the Opportunity Center without her until I had to. In a hushed whisper behind a closed door, she confessed to me that she was looking at other opportunities outside of the shelter. With my heart thoroughly crushed, I told her that I simply wouldn’t let her leave. Of course, I know I couldn’t force a grown woman to forsake her own contentment and life path for the sake of a friendship with a temporary volunteer, but this was a reality I was unwilling to accept. And even until a couple days ago, I was mournful of this relationship. It wasn’t until I entered our Spring Retreat space and a workshop with our anti-racism and anti-oppression facilitators from Undo Bias that I began to see what she had been saying all along. James, one of the founders of Undo Bias, was discussing a tendency of white people to see relationships as temporary, whereas Black and Brown communities tend towards an understanding of connections as forever. That your existences are tied, no matter how briefly. Paola had been trying to tell me just that; that she would always be my Texas mom and that just because our time as coworkers had come to an end, it didn’t mean the larger relationship outside of the Opportunity Center had to cease.
This week, I will once again find myself alone in El Paso, while my housemates are away. And for weeks, I was deeply concerned about what another week alone would do to me, but I don’t harbor that anxiety any longer. The circumstances are different. For one, this will not be accompanied with the deeply depressing thought of spending the holidays away from family and it will not be as long as it was before. But I know that I have other people that connect me to El Paso than merely the people that I live with. I have more and I love more.
Hayley Morgan (she/her) is from Massachusetts and graduated from Saint Anselm College where she studied politics and history. One of her favorite parts of college was being able to work for ABC during the New Hampshire Democratic Primary Debates and being able to meet many of the candidates. She is particularly passionate about voting rights, social justice, and Tudor history. She is thrilled to be a Loretto Volunteer and looks forward to working at the Opportunity Center in El Paso, TX. In her free time, she loves to write, listen to Broadway cast albums, and listening to podcasts about famous historical women.
BY BECCA KRASKY
On a recent Friday evening, I started pepper seeds in one of the empty bedrooms at my house: Early Red Sweet, Early Jalapeño, Tolli’s Sweet Italian Pepper, Beaver Dam Pepper, Carnival Blend of Sweet Peppers, and Orange Habanero. I only needed to start a few plants total, but reminded of last year’s pepper disaster, when I didn’t know pepper seedlings needed compost and thus produced the most wimpy, unable-to-withstand-the-scorching-sun-of-Denver pepper plants (only one of which survived the season), I went slightly overboard and planted six varieties.
We only need a few orange habanero plants, so I put those seeds in a tray next to the Carnival Sweet Peppers. I promptly dropped the tray face down on the carpet. There I was, laughing, realizing that Habanero seeds look the same as Carnival Sweet Pepper seeds, and of course, I’d spill the Habaneros, the only variety whose seeds I’d just used up. So, I replanted all the seeds I saw, back in the tray. As I wait for the seeds to germinate, I’m ruminating on parallels between life and seeds. You think you’re planting a beautiful Carnival Sweet Pepper but might end up with Fiery Habanero. Sometimes two options look the same on the surface, two pepper seeds, but will have wildly different outcomes.
BY ELYSE MCMAHON
“I’m not against immigration, I just wish people would do it legally.” Growing up, I heard that sentiment in various spaces: church gatherings, high school and college classrooms, and random grocery stores. As I learned more about the immigration system, I knew people who were saying things like, “they should just get in line” were missing the mark. I understood our immigration system was in need of serious reform (or an entire uprooting), but it wasn’t until I came to El Paso to work as an immigration legal assistant that I saw just how limiting “legal” immigration in our current system is. In the short six months that I have been in this role, I have witnessed countless examples of policies that are arbitrary, contradictory, and cruel.
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.
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?
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.