Ruined for Life, Earning the “F”, and My Last Post

September 29, 2010

So, it’s been a while. Over two months, actually. I meant to write this post in mid-August to wrap this blog up, but as JVC ended, and I began my new life as a “real person”, I got a bit distracted. Hey, it happens. But I’m back now. Well, I’m back for one last hoorah as TheVolunteacher. Here’s a quick (okay, probably not quick) rundown on what’s happened since I last wrote.

I joined about 40 Jesuit Volunteers in hiking about 30 miles of the Appalachian Trail at the beginning of August. It was intense, it was awesome, and I may actually still be sore from sleeping on the ground (or maybe it was the hiking part…). Regardless, it was a lot of fun. I had never even slept in my own backyard before, let alone gone hiking for 3 days in the wilderness of Southern Pennsylvania, but I enjoyed it. I was able to bond with some JV’s who I didn’t normally get to talk with. I got to hear more of their stories, talk sports, learn about their plans for post-JVC, and reflect on the year. It was a great experience, and one that I will never forget. I’ve attached some photos from the trail below. (As a side-note, thank you to all those who helped support me and my goal to raise $500 for JVC for this hike. Your generosity helps to ensure that great people in JVC continue to do great things for those in need, helping to make our communities, cities, and the world a better, stronger place for all).

After the hike, we arrived at Blue Ridge Summit, where it all began last August, for Dis-Orientation, JVC’s closing retreat, joining the other half of JVC-East. Here, I earned my first ever “F”. No, no, we didn’t receive grades as JV’s (we all know I’d get an A+, duh), but we officially finished our year as Jesuit Volunteers and became Former Jesuit Volunteers (FJV’s). It was an odd few days. We all knew we would be saying goodbye at the end of Dis-O, but we all kind of pretended it wasn’t actually ending. So, what did we do? We had a great time together, that’s what! We had ample free time to spend together, heard from FJV’s about post-JVC life, hung by the pool, dined on the finest of foods, and celebrated a successful year.

On Friday morning, we ate, packed, said a prayer, and said tearful, yet joyful, goodbye to one another. It was then that it hit me that JVC was over. It hit me that this amazing group of people meant a ton to me, and that we’d probably never all be together again. It hit me that my new life was starting. And it hit me that I had truly been “ruined for life” as the JV tag-line says. Not to be overly dramatic, but never again will I be able to look at the world in the same way; I know too much now. JVC has opened my eyes to so much, and made me think in ways I never really thought possible. I look back at the me that started JVC, and, really I’m the same Tom O’Keefe. But so much has changed, too.

And now, here I am, almost 2 full months into my new job at Cristo Rey Jesuit, moved into a house with good friends Nick and Rick, and making a life in the great city of Baltimore. Way back in August of 2009, I wrote of starting JVC, “It’s scary, nerve-wracking, a little bit sad and a little bit happy, but mostly it’s a truly exciting time.” I feel a lot of those same things now. But really, it’s different, and I can’t really explain the feeling, but I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. And that’s a great thing.

So, I guess this is the end of TheVolunteacher. I really enjoyed writing in this space. It was a way for me to fully flesh out and reflect on what I experienced. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read it. Your support means so much.

Keep spreading the good word, remember that life is good, and stay well.

Peace,

Tom


The Sounds of Silence

May 11, 2010

I’m a pretty extroverted person. I like talking. I like listening to others. I enjoy sharing conversation and laughter. So, when I learned back in August that JVC would hold a mandatory Ignation (read: Silent) Retreat, I was pretty nervous.

Ignatian Retreats, the longest being 30 days, have been a Jesuit tradition since the order’s early days, and have been a way for people to become closer to God through silent reflection, meditation, discernment, and prayer.

Ours was 40 hours long at the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, New Jersey. JVC provided us with various activities including prayer services, an all-night Peace Vigil, meditation, and yoga and resources like spiritual direction, books on personal growth, and prayers, but, otherwise, we were on our own in silence.

Like I said, at first, I was really nervous about spending so much time in silence, but the retreat actually came at the perfect time for me. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed lately, but I’ve definitely been “whelmed” with community obligations, friends, work, and some big decisions coming regarding my future.

The retreat gave me time to bring God back into my life and my decision-making.

I was able to meet with my spiritual director for the weekend, Toni Moore-Duggan (from Baltimore, incidentally), twice during retreat for help in the best ways to reach out to God and listen. She advised that I think of God as a friend, rather than a judge, within me, who is continually reaching for me, guiding me, and talking to me. After that, praying and talking with God, rather than at or to God, became infinitely easier for me. I began praying out loud and started and ended my conversations with God with a specific prayer. It kept me focused and more able to listen.

Did I come away with all the answers? No. Am I now spiritually enlightened? No. Those things will take some more time to figure out.

I did, however, learn how to bring the G-man into my decisions and my every day- simply by looking, listening, and feeling.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.”

How and where do you hear God? How do you reach out? Have you ever been on a silent retreat before? How was your experience?