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Life is a Beach (No, Not in That Way)

By Neal Jatekar, Casa Thea Bowman, Berkeley 16, Gonzaga University. Originally published on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Jesuit Volunteers Reflect blog

Life is a beach. I don’t mean that in the crass (but punny) use of the phrase, nor really in the pleasant, relaxing way a literal beach may connote.

When I was younger, my family would spend a week or two on the beaches of Orleans, MA. With each trip came an invariable family beach tradition: “The Dive.” Tucked comfortably under a blanket of sand, I was always shocked as my cousins and aunts would forgo the warm beach and charge into the biting Atlantic. An unspoken competition, they would see who could run fastest and dive into the water with the most abandon.capecod

From my sand sarcophagus I would watch my family willingly collide with walls of bone-chilling sea. A child of consistency, I was always aversive to leaving my post to make the jump, and yet there were times when fear of the cold would be trumped by envy of the teeth-chattering-yet-cheerful time my family had in the ocean. I would occasionally creep down to the water – as if to surprise it before it could freeze – and dip a toe in. A chilling shock to the foot and the immediate recoil would send me back, defeated, as my family continued to go deeper into the water.

Going into this year of JVC, it is assumed–or expected–that there will be moments of strong discomfort. Stronger still, may be the desire to avoid them–moments of homesick, self-doubt, or simply cold feet.

I have felt all of these at one time or another. The transition from my home in Seattle to working as a case manager in West Oakland had not been seamless. Recently graduating with a psychology degree, I considered myself well-prepared for what I believed to be a position centered in therapy, with a small portion of time dedicated to housing assistance. A day into the job, I abruptly realized that it was quite the opposite. I knew so little about housing, managing applications, and the legalities of it all, that for a long time I felt disarmed and out of place. I was without a paddle, trying to navigate the erratic waters of “affordable” housing. Case management was not what I was trained in, what I studied, nor what I believed I had signed up for. Truthfully, I began to doubt my decision in joining JVC.

It became clear that this sheepish approach to the position was not going to cut it. Not being fully invested weighed me down because it allowed me to be complacent, and gave room to self-doubt. This year could not be a year of standing on the shore.

I decided to jump in. If this was to be a year to challenge ourselves, it would be a challenge I would take head-on. Although now there are times where I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water, I notice that with each day, with each choice to continue to dive back in, I find strength. Two months into my placement, I can already feel the effects. I have a whole new appreciation for the role housing has in one’s psyche, a new lens in viewing social issues and a deeper care as a witness to both human suffering and victory. As daunting as it initially was, I am glad that I’m in a position that continually challenges me to adapt, grow, and make that dive.

As I got older, I would eventually join my family in the mad tradition of “diving in;” my feet must be quicker than fear and determination greater than doubt. The water does not get warmer–the only thing that shifts is the desire to jump.

While it is important for us to take time to “dry off” from the rigor of daily life, it is imperative that we continue to then dive back in. It is tempting for us to find solace in our comforts–our beaches–but there must be the desire to dive back in. It is both who we are and what this year of JVC will require of us.

The water may be cold at first, but the body adjusts.