domestic service, volunteer stories

Expressing Gratitude for the Present Moment

Note from homie at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles to a current Jesuit Volunteer (2019).

The night before beginning my JV role at Homeboy Industries, I remembered and reflected on this quote that a friend had shared with me the year before. While I had always loved it, it took on an entirely new meaning as I started my year as a Jesuit Volunteer.

“I shall pass this way but once, any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again” — Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

Embarking on a yearlong journey that was completely new, there were naturally many uncertainties as we began. One of the only things that it felt like I knew as this year of service began was that it would not come again. No matter what it held -- highs and lows, growth and challenges -- it was all unique to this JV experience, and this would be the only time that I would pass this way exactly as it is and exactly as I am in this moment. I felt an urgent sense to remember this every day moving forward, so I found a dry erase marker and wrote “You will only pass this way once — Take. Your. Time” on the whiteboard that was hanging on the wall of my new room for the next year.

"It reminded me once again that I will only pass this way once, and that everything we often take for granted is so significant."

Caitlin Matthews (Los Angeles 2019-20)

For the first couple of months, I was able to easily keep this at the forefront of my mind. It reminded me of the importance of embracing every moment and person that I encountered with love and tenderness. The importance of delighting in the present moment exactly as it is rather than wishing it away by looking forward to the future or dwelling on the past. To recognize that this exact moment will never be here again, and that this fleetingness is reason in itself to pay close attention to all that is happening now.

When this idea of the significance of each moment was gradually being replaced by tasks I needed to get done, my friend Daniel, a trainee at Homeboy, gave me a much needed reminder without even knowing it. One day, while I was in the middle of a project on my computer, he came into our office and asked for help with hole-punching an assignment for his college class. I stopped what I was doing to help him, and while I was finishing up the hole-punching, he took out a little notebook and started writing in it. After a couple minutes of jotting down his thoughts, he showed it to me — the notebook was a gratitude journal his wife had given him, and in the section prompted “Today I am grateful for…” he had written “Ms. Katelynn, Backpack Lady Helped me punch holes in my school papers. Thank you!”

His thoughtfulness moved me to tears and laughter because of my misspelled name and endearing nickname that I was given my first week. In a seemingly ordinary moment of hole-punching that I wanted to rush through in order to get to the next thing on my list, Daniel’s intentional gratitude called me back to the present moment. It reminded me once again that I will only pass this way once, and that everything we often take for granted is so significant. This act of simply writing down the small things he was grateful for in his daily life helped change his thinking and honor each moment with gratitude for how special they really were. In doing so, Daniel gently brought me back into the mindset I had been in at the start of this JV year and reminded me of the immense gift of being present that this year and all the years after provides. And in case I ever needed another reminder, because it can be easy to fall back into being absorbed by our to-do lists or next tasks, Daniel bought me my very own gratitude journal a few days later. The journal gives me a space to thoughtfully reflect and express thanks for the little wonders in each and every day. To slow down and take my time, because I’ll only pass this way, and through this life, once.

Caitlin Matthews (Los Angeles 2019-20)
Caitlin Matthews

Caitlin Matthews is a recent graduate of John Carroll University where she studied Sociology/Criminology: Health, Human Service and Social Justice and minored in Political Science and Peace, Justice and Human Rights. Her Jesuit education and experiences on various immersion trips and retreats led to her desire to serve as a Jesuit Volunteer, and she is so excited to be serving as a JV at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California. She knows she will grow in her passion for social justice issues, as well as be able to continue her hobbies of exploring new cities and spending time outside through her time in Los Angeles!