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“Don’t leave before you’re gone”

This post entitled “Don’t leave before you’re gone”  was originally posted on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s #JVReflects blog. Jesuit Volunteers are at a point in their year or more of service where it becomes familiar to start to think about what is next on their journey. Where will their paths lead them to? One important thing Erin shares with us, is to do so, but don’t do so before you’ve gone and left this place. Enjoy the present moment.

By Erin Canning

Over the course of a year, more than 30 different high schools and colleges choose to immerse themselves in the culture and history of East Los Angeles, specifically at Dolores Mission (DM). As the immersion coordinator at DM, I help organize these trips with different campus ministers and teachers and interact with them at various points throughout their visit. Our most recent visitors were very polite, helpful young men from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, California. The two chaperones were equally as pleasant and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the DM community yet again, even if only for 3 days of busy and beautiful Holy Week chaos. As I bid farewell to a few of them on Easter Sunday, one of the chaperones, a Jesuit named David Romero, gave me these parting words: “Don’t leave before you’re gone.”

That one phrase has been my prayer, my guiding spirit for almost two weeks now.

I don’t think David meant to leave me with such a profound ponderance (or maybe he did, who knows – those Jesuits can be sneaky like that!), but I’m so grateful he said those words. It wasn’t a harsh scolding; rather it was authentic advice, genuine words to wish me well and guide me to a better me. And it’s the perfect advice for a JV with a little over three months left to serve, because it reminds me to live in the present moment.

“Don’t leave [mentally] before you’re gone” – don’t get caught up in the future, planning this, that and the other because you’ll miss out on the present. I know that it’s not bad to plan for the future. But when I stare so long and far into it that I lose my sight for the nearest moments, then it becomes destructive.

“Don’t leave [emotionally] before you’re gone” – don’t worry or become so anxious about the end; stay emotionally available so you can experience everything in between now and then. Endings are difficult sometimes. Goodbyes are tough all the time. I can already imagine the mess of tears and nose drippings I will be when it comes time to leave my Dolores Mission community, my JV community, but I cannot sit in that impending sadness. I acknowledge it but I won’t lend it all my emotional attention.

“I can already imagine the mess of tears and nose drippings I will be when it comes time to leave my Dolores Mission community, my JV community, but I cannot sit in that impending sadness.”

“Don’t leave [physically] before you’re gone” – don’t quit JVC before your year-long commitment is finished. Literally: don’t leave. I made a promise to JVC and Dolores Mission to serve until July 31, 2017 and I intend to keep that promise.

And through all this fruitful prayer I received another healthy reminder about simple living, which is one of the four pillars of JVC. Living simply is more than just cutting coupons to save a couple bucks or buying the off-brand cereal instead of the name brand stuff. Yes, simple living does invite us to live off necessity instead of excess, but it also calls us to step with intention throughout our day, our work, our relationships. Simple living encourages intimacy with the seemingly insignificant intricacies of life.

It’s about noticing and cherishing the tiny details that catch me off-guard like a flower blooming between sidewalk cracks, or a compliment from a usually-quiet coworker.

Noticing and cherishing the tiny details, like flowers made up of smaller flowers.

It’s about appreciating the big, mundane realities that present themselves in laughably obvious ways, like a beautiful sunset, or a brilliant L.A. skyline on a smog-free night.

A California sunset.

It’s engaging in a pointless-yet-hilarious, pre-work “argument” with my housemates about how creamy peanut butter is objectively better than crunchy.

It’s giving myself time to write letters or hang up new photos instead of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram for another 30 minutes.

It’s hopping fences to kick a soccer ball around a park with my housemate. And later playing a 3-person game of kickball with a neighborhood kid who happened to wander by.

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The author’s daily view from Casa Ita Ford, the Los Angeles Jesuit volunteer house.

It’s sitting on the front porch to appreciate the common faces and places that make up the regular landscape of my temporary neighborhood.

Sometimes to live simply means to simply live – to merely breathe – to just be. And if we’re busy just living and breathing and being, then we can’t possibly leave before we’re gone.


Erin Canning is a Jesuit Volunteer in Los Angeles, serving as a Youth Minister at Dolores Mission Parish. She’s a graduate of St. Louis University in Biomedical Engineering and hails from the Chicago area.