Editor’s note: Marina Jerry, a DC Service Corps volunteer serving at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, reflects on the process of adjusting to a new place and giving God space to reveal small joys in daily life. Due to an editorial oversight, this blog, first written in the fall, is being published now. In light of all the adjustments–both large and small–required in this time of pandemic, we hope our readers will still find Marina’s reflections timely.
As I write this blog post, I am currently traveling home for the first time since coming to DC. The nearly eleven hour bus ride from DC to my hometown in upstate New York offers lots of time to reflect on my experience serving with Franciscan Mission Service for the past four months. Although I’m not the biggest fan of traveling by bus, today I’m truly thankful for the space this bus ride provides for me to put into writing a brief reflection of the time I have spent living and serving in DC so far this year.
It seems almost surreal that the last time I was home was nearly four months ago. If I’m being honest, these past months have been challenging in more ways than I could have imagined. The move from quaint Burlington, VT – where I went to school and spent my past two summers – to Washington, DC was a difficult transition for me. Not only did I have to part ways with most of my best friends who still are living in Vermont, as well as my family who does not live too far away, but I also had to adapt to city life. Taking the metro, navigating the city, being vigilant with regards to my own personal safety, and being constantly surrounded by so, so many diverse people were all things that challenged me to learn and grow.
When I first moved to DC, I really struggled to appreciate the beauty of the life I was living. I was too distracted by the absence of the things which brought me comfort and joy back in Vermont – the absence of mountains to hike and swimming holes to enjoy, the absence of the structure, routine, and community that college provided, the absence of my favorite coffee shop that became my second home when I was stressed or tired, and most of all, the absence of my best friends and family nearby. In comparison to the relatively small, eclectic, vibrant, naturally beautiful college town of Burlington VT, Washington felt so proper, so urban and unnatural, and so unfriendly. Instead of finding beauty in my day-to-day routine, I tended to focus on the things I didn’t like about my new life – the concrete that covered nearly every surface, the people on the metro that were always in such a rush to get to wherever they were going, the fact that I was hours away from any friends or family or, so I thought, anyone that loved me.
At the end of September, I went back to Vermont to visit some friends for a much-needed break from Washington. At this point, I was seriously considering whether or not Washington, DC was a good fit for me. Although I had been living in the city for nearly a month, it still didn’t feel like home, and I was concerned that it never would. Discussing my concerns with one of my friends, he responded “Have you really given DC a chance? You might learn to like it.”
While I initially disregarded his statement, at sometime later in October I began to really reflect upon his sentiment. If I was really going to be fully present in DC, I was going to have to start focusing on the things in my life hear that bring me joy and give DC a chance to impress me. And as I started to focus on the positive things in my life instead of the negatives, I realized how extraordinary my rather ordinary life here in DC really is. While DC might not have the natural beauty of the Green Mountains or Lake Champlain, there’s something incredibly powerful about being able to see the Basilica while walking to work in the morning or watching the sun set behind the Lincoln Memorial. People might not be as friendly in DC as they are in Vermont, but that makes the especially friendly people in my life stand out – the bus driver who always warmly greets me with a smile and wave, the metro attendant who helps me find my way when I am lost, my student who routinely stops by my office just to say hello. While I might not have my family and friends from back home with me in DC, I am so incredibly blessed to have a warm, loving, and supportive Casa community who acts like my family away from home, and friendships in my coworkers and students at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School.
It’s easy to get caught up in what we don’t have, but what I’ve come to recognize is that God is calling us to embrace and rejoice in the gifts that he does place in our life. If we hold on to our expectations and desires, we will always be disappointed, but if we trust in God and allow him to fill our lives with gifts, we will be satisfied. I’m thankful for the gifts God put in my life in Vermont, but I’m also thankful for the different gifts that he’s blessed me with here in DC too, and I’m excited to see what He has in store for our Casa communiy for the rest of this year.