BY MELISSA FEITO
Back in August, we received a good bit of advice during opening retreat at the Loretto Motherhouse. I’m no note-taker by nature, but it was something to the effect of: “seek communities outside of your home community.” It might sound a little pessimistic at first, aren’t our Loretto communities supposed to be a place where after all we feel welcome, supported, loved?
But as a second year volunteer, I completely understood. Esther Perel, famed therapist and beautiful accent-haver, says that when you put all of your hopes and dreams and needs into one person, your spouse, your marriage is put under incredible stress, because no single human can ever check all of those boxes. I see community life in a similar way.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my first year as a volunteer, I experienced incredible stress when my community was less than perfect. Which of course, it’s going to be! People are people, and as great as they are, they can’t be your best friends, roommates, spiritual community, AND sharers of all of your niche hobbies all at the same time. It’s just too much pressure. So over time I learned to relax, and enjoy my sometimes turbulent, but lovely community for what it was.
So when I started my second year, at the same placement and in the same city, but with a new community, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake twice.You can’t love any one person or group for more than they are: in order to love, respect, and better enjoy my community for their own unique traits, I’d have to find elsewhere to fill the needs my community can’t. And thus began the the awkward, necessary, life giving agony of community shopping.
Most of us have had the luxury of having a built in social marketplace through our early 20s: school. After we graduate, we’re kind of on our own. Which hasn’t been easy for me since I graduated in 2016. By my own account, I am not a spontaneous person. I’m a planner, I very rarely do things if I’m unsure of the outcome. I’m also a notorious homebody. I’m not shy or socially anxious, but my aversion to taking risks makes it hard for me to meet new people and join new groups.
But in the past few months, I’ve challenged myself to work past my old traits. First, I joined a book club. It’s the local chapter of a fansite I’ve been following since high school, but have never had the guts to check out. Turns out, I’m right at home, and though the club only meets once a month, the group has motivated me to get out of my reading rut. Which makes me so happy, because I love to read, but sharing what you’re reading with others is even better.
But the more intense journey I’ve embarked in is joining a musical group called Batala Washington. It’s an all woman, all drum band that plays Afro-Brazilian music called samba reggae. I first came across this group when I was reporting a piece for Interfaith Voices last year. I was absolutely floored by the energy and the passion of these musicians, but the band was full. I’ve played in different musical ensembles ever since I was 15, in both high school and college, and the ecstasy that comes with playing music with other people is something I sorely missed.
The piece was stuck in production hell for a while, almost a year later, when the piece was finally ready to air, the band opened to new members. It was a coincidence made paradise. I went through the three month process of joining, and now finally have been assigned my own drum. Being in the band is a huge time commitment: four hour rehearsals every Saturday morning, on top of regular performances. But I’ve found an incredible camaraderie with these women that’s easily become the highlight of my week.
So, what’s next for me? Probably the hardest of all communities to find. A spiritual community. In college, I was part of an incredible community of Catholic students that I wasn’t only great friends with, but challenged me to think critically and grow in my faith. In the almost three years since my graduation, I haven't found some place that has fed by soul in the way this group did. Then again, I haven’t tried very hard. If I go to a service and feel uninspired, I don’t tend to give it another shot. Perhaps it’s nostalgia holding me back. Perhaps it’s laziness. Or perhaps a lack of patience. After all, it takes a long time to gain trust in a community. And trust is really imperative: if you can’t be spiritually and emotionally vulnerable with others, you can’t really connect to God through them. That’s still a lesson I’m learning, and a challenge I’m working on.
I’ve worked really hard to push myself out of the house these past few months, but I want to reinforce that it’s never been to get away from my community at Junia House. We have many nights filled with delicious dinners, crafting paper snowflakes, Queen sing alongs, and intimate discussions. I feel very grateful for my home community, and without the pressure and stress I mentioned earlier, no longer feel like everything needs to be perfect. I can live and laugh with Leora, Ahna, Natalie, and Melissa and love them for the unique, different, and passionate people that they are.
Melissa Feito is originally from Miami, FL and graduated from Tufts University in Medford, MA in 2016. She studied English, and double minored in Communication & Media studies and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality studies. During her time in college, she was a writing tutor, a freeform DJ, a founding member of a creative writing club, and was involved in the Catholic chaplaincy and the Interfaith Student Council. Always a lover of public radio, last year Melissa discovered her passion and talent for audio production through her placement at Interfaith Voices, where she will be continuing for a second year. In her free time she likes to cook, read sci-fi and fantasy novels, go to the movies, and play music.
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.