When I started this program I was worried. Not because I had to live with five strangers but because I had to depend on them to buy food, cook, coordinate household chores, and form an “intentional community.” What if they wanted to hang out all the time when I had to study for the LSAT? What if someone was a vegetarian or if they were allergic to peanuts?* What if they were not good with sarcasm or liked falling asleep to the Sound of Music at 1:00 am?** It’s easy to live with people when your only obligation to them is your rent at the beginning of the month. However, forming a community is a very different task (but one, arguably, we accomplished successfully).
The word community is derived from the Latin word “cummunis” or “things held in common.” During our last meeting, Katie Jones, the DC Program Coordinator, asked me what I thought were the reasons for having had such a well-functioning community for the past ten months. My answer betrayed the roots of the word: it was not about what we had in common but rather how we dealt with our differences that had made us a strong community.
Enneagram numbers aside, the five of us have markedly different personalities, likes, perspectives, backgrounds, and future objectives. These differences were probably best symbolized when we decided to start a book club and each had to pick a book. The topics ranged from science (“A Short History of Nearly Everything”) to theology (“An Altar in the World”) to politics/economics (“What Money Can’t Buy”). Similarly, the authors’ tone seemed to represent the personality of the person that picked the book, from the choose-your-own-adventure style of Barbara Taylor to the more preachy and anecdote-based Michael Sandel.
But like the title of this reflection implies, out of these many differences we were able to form one community. A community in a house where laughter has become ubiquitous, inside jokes plentiful, and has a quote board that we can always look to remember the unwise things we have said over the past ten months. This is also a community that provides its members harbor as the vicissitudes of life play themselves out; a rough day at work and personal issue always seem a bit less stressful after a long dinner in this community. It is a place where vibrant debate can occur and where ideas can be challenged. Although we are all to the left of the political spectrum, we by no means share the same path to “saving the world.” This applies to the nebulous trolley car thought experiment as well as the more concrete issue of how to balance our household budget.
In hindsight, what made our little community work was our willingness to listen to each, discuss issues as they came up, give each other sufficient personal space, and laugh at oneself. The first two are self-intuitive but the last two are a bit more difficult. It’s important to remember that being part of a community does not mean the dissolution of the individuals and their need to often reach outside of the group. Communities will inevitably influence their members but they should not aspire to assimilate them. Similarly, laughing at oneself eases tension and shows a degree of humility. It demonstrates our willingness to recognize our mistakes and move on.
Since this will be my last post on this website, I wish to thank all Loretto members for shaping this program and maintaining its values. To the prospective applicants reading this post, I hope you apply to the Loretto Volunteer Program and have the same superb experience I had. You are right to have your worries, but this program is worth making the leap of faith.
To my housemates, “thank you for your assistance in this process.”
* Yes, Catherine, I went there.
** Cathy, you just got your shout-out.
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.