Last night I popped over to the JV house to say hi to a few old friends. They were two JVs doing their second year in Hays, MT, a tiny, tiny reservation town out in Eastern Montana. Their year had finished up (since they were teaching at a school) and were now touring Glacier and Yellowstone Park before heading off to their final retreat. A few hours of sharing JVC war stories made me all nostalgic, and so I thought I’d share my one biggest lesson from JVC.
Just a brief info session of JVC if you haven’t heard of it: JVC is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a program that sends volunteers to sites all over the country and the world to commit to a year of full time service to an agency and the community they are living in. It began in Alaska back in the 1950s, when college students were sent to help at a small school up in St. Mary’s, Alaska. It was founded by the Jesuits. If you aren’t familiar with Catholicism, their are basically different orders of priests, monks, nuns, etc. That doesn’t mean they are separate religions, just different organizations within the church. The Jesuits are known for their emphasis on education and social justice, as well as “Ignatian spirituality.” St. Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuits, and promoted self-examination and constant reflection as a spiritual practice. JVC has four values it lasts its members to live by: social justice, simplicity, community, and spirituality. As far as community goes – you live in a house with other volunteers. For simplicity – you make $80 a month, plus get a community stipend that covers room and board. That stipend is pretty small too; last year ours was about $450 a person to cover rent, food, electricity, travel to and from retreats, heat, & our phone bill.
Now JVC has three branches: the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (which serves the East, Midwest, South, and Southwest parts of the country), Jesuit Volunteer International (the world!), and JVC Northwest, which focuses on Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The Northwest region is where JVC started and so it has many more placements and thus its easier for it to be its own organization.
I did 2 years in JVC – one in Spokane, WA working at a day care center, and one in Missoula, MT working at a drop-in center for homeless people who were under the influence. I met my husband in my first year of JVC.
So anyway – what is this life shattering realization I came to whilst in JVC?
I can be friends with anybody.
Okay, scratch that. I’m not going to be friends with everybody. Some people will just have personalities that I don’t mesh with. I won’t get along with everybody. But what I mean is, the variables I used in high school and college to determine if someone was a potential friend (are they similar to me? about my own age? do we have the same interests? same values?) don’t really hold up anymore.
My first year in Spokane, we established that out of the 8 of us, none of us would probably have been friends in college. I mean, we would have probably been friendly, and maybe good acquaintances, but we probably wouldn’t have hung out in the same social circles to really get close. But nevertheless – we were great friends. Okay, we had our issues, and things got bumpy in the winter, but really, we complained a lot over nothing. Community is stressful and difficult, but the relationships I developed were priceless. Even if they had to go through fire first.
My second year, I hung out with homeless people. A lot. I worked 12 hour shifts, and my job description was basically “keep the peace,” so I had a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with folks. Can’t really say before that I would’ve enjoyed chit chatting with a high school drop out, or a convicted felon, or drug addict, but heck, I got along with a lot of them great! I’m not saying we became ‘friends’ because that’s obviously a boundary issue, but I realized I could share with, talk, relate to, and enjoy people whose lives were vastly different than mine.
It might sounds simple, but really, it was pretty life-changing. I don’t have to look for friendship just in 20-something college educated girls anymore (okay, sounds awful, but lets admit it – that’s what we tend to do!). The whole world is brimming with potential teachers and friends.
Hopefully that doesn’t make me sound like I was an awful, judgmental “to good to be friends with you” person before I did JVC. But heck, I probably was.
Have you had any life-changing lessons?