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Living with Contradiction

By Tilly Rudolph, Arrupe House, Baltimore 16, Loyola Marymount University.

“Find what centers you so that you can live with contradiction.”
– Fr. Jim Casciotti, SJ

I stopped abruptly. It was my first day in Baltimore, and I had just turned into the living room of the Clare Furay House when my eye caught the above quote written on a whiteboard. I read it once, read it again, and then a third time. With these words, my new home seemed to embrace me and my working obsession of contradiction with open arms. And for some reason, this surprised me.

The week before I left for Baltimore, I was trying to write a piece on how I felt about moving across the country— about how it felt that my choice to commit a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps seemed to revolve around me. As if it was solely about my desire to challenge my relationship with the world outside of Southern California. To see a place rise from magazine and book pages I’ve read to become reality before me. To open my ears to the unique beat of a city, to breathe in a conglomeration of smells a native nose knows too well, to be selfishly touched by people I do not yet know. To be swallowed by the unknown, but with the promise of future familiarity.

I sat uncomfortably with the thought that being in Baltimore was about me. Logic was pushing me to think that moving to Baltimore as a Jesuit Volunteer should not be something for me. Shouldn’t I be for Baltimore?

I was confronted with my inability to live with this contradiction when I turned the corner in my new house. Reading Fr. Casciotti’s thought challenged the way I thought about living with contradiction. I realized that if I knew exactly what centered me, I would be comfortable with this contradiction.

It is absurd to think that my decision to commit a year of service to JVC can only be about others, the service I partake in, or the city where I’m placed. It made me reflect on how I am “for and with others.” As often talked about in my Jesuit education, this idea increases the complexity of simply being “for” others, which oftentimes results in a skewed playing field. Adding the “with” not only attempts to even the playing field, but intentionally includes me in the mix. During East Coast Orientation, one of the speakers told us that we are being a disservice if we are not present in our communities, in our placements, in our cities. We are being a disservice if we refuse recognize we are not just “for” others, but we are indeed “with” them as well.

It is humbling to recognize I do not fully understand what it means to be for and with others. It is exciting as well, for this realization paves a path of working towards maximum presence in my community, in my placement and in my city. This year must start out being about me, no matter how uncomfortable that is. This will hopefully allow for Baltimore to be a place of discovery. A place to grapple with difficult questions and have tough conversations. A place to actively uncover what centers me so that I may live with the contradictions in my world.

On a slight off-note, I’ll end with a thought by Pico Iyer that captures the excitement I’ve felt over the past two months of being in a new city: “And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it is a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, dimmed by unfamiliarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” Here’s to finding what centers me. Here’s to living with contradiction. Here’s to three hundred and sixty-odd days in Baltimore that never really end.