Early April/end of May, I was working at Aldi, right off Route 8 in a little section of Connecticut filled with open roads, small townies, and a variety of nature trails, mountains, and bike paths. I lived in the valley, my town strung along others whose roads are a bit too steep and rivers are almost slightly too narrow. COVID-19 somehow slipped my mind as I attended my last moments of university through Zoom and worked around 30 hours exchanging small talk and cash for necessities like milk, eggs, and the sporadic off-brand honey bun. Through the mundane, daily grind of sleep, homework, and real work mixed in with my now imbedded actions of coming home, stripping off all my clothes, and jumping in a hot shower, a strange glimmering hope began to form, fittingly for the times, through emails and more video calls.
I could even go back to when I tackled the beast of the application in January…or was it February? Deadlines were approaching and my anxieties kept my fingers from typing genuine answers to the long-winded reflections. It wasn’t until I went to a ski resort with my best friends and sat in the lodge with another victim of the grind that I found the heart and soul to open up and release all my vulnerabilities, and tell complete strangers each crevice of my life. Six hours later, and after some lollygagging whenever my buds took a break from the slopes and a nice homemade lunch, I finished ripping each minuscule detail of my personal history apart and was ready to never think about it again.
Early April/end of May, though the application resurfaced (to my slight horror), it was welcomed with smiles, and the possibility of a completely new life. All in my trusty Toyota Highlander, weeks of more Zoom calls passed with alumni, site directors, and Diane, the woman of the year, who guided me through it all. Finally, on Tuesday, May 19th at 6:34PM, I was told that my preferred position offered me a spot. This was it…but it wasn’t? To my sweet surprise, Good Shepherd Volunteers asks each potential candidate to do a Discernment Week. Each day, they send you an overview of one of the tenants (Community, Spirituality, Social Justice, and Simplicity), and ask you to reflect on it. They ask you to think, “Do I really want this?”
During that week, I called everyone. My old roomie/ Sis, another trusted and faithful friend, my boyfriend, and even my Campus Minister. My umma (mom) and I had long talks about my future. She’s never even heard of anyone doing something like this, so she just told me to pray. God led me this far – how can I stray from His path now? I think it was around May 29th/ June 1st where I finally said it. I finally stood ground, felt the light of God, and pushed all my energy towards the unknown. I committed to GSV right before the summer sun had the chance to hit me into a hazy dream. There I was, through God’s blessing, in an entirely new reality – a new hope, a new future.
It’s mid-September and the AC is still running on high. It’s been less than a month since I’ve nestled into my new home, but nothing has felt better than hearing the M104 chug along the bustling streets and the ice cream truck on the corner, singing its tunes for the local park goers to enjoy. New York City sidewalks still glimmer in the sunlight and the trees still dance with the wind. Though everyone respectfully wears their masks and less tourists fill the space, New York still feels like New York.
With the air of promise somehow lingering in the air, my community members and I have accepted our fate indoors. We met officially in-person on August 23rd. All we had known of each other were Facebook posts and Instagram pictures. We chatted on and off on Facebook Messenger, but this moment was duly awaited. I tried to be as simple as possible when packing, but as my boyfriend and I drove up towards George Washington Bridge from I-95 North, I got nervous that I’d be that girl with the most stuff. I had my two large suitcases packed to the brim, plus purse, backpack, and, of course, bucket of plants. Along with my moving in items, I brought a single cucumber from my garden as a peace offering to alleviate my fear that my new community members would judge me for not living simply enough. As I kissed my boyfriend an adieu after he finished lifting the luggage out of his car, I took a deep breath, smiled as big as I could have behind my mask, and let God take my worries away.
The cucumber seemed to work because I feel like we immediately began to conversate and bond. My community members and I were all open, and ready to share our entire selves to the people we were going to be eating, breathing, sleeping, AND working with. During orientation, we made dinner and began to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender every night. I currently share a room with one community member, but the other is in her own space (not intentionally), but because of the loss of our fourth community member who left on the first day. All continued well and our morale pushed on as we comforted each other through our first (and so far only) tragedy.
Now it’s mid-September, we’re on our third week of work, and I’m staring out my two large windows at the tips of a swirling tree, begging for me to taste the outdoors. I’m gazing across the way at another apartment building, where a plethora of dogs enter and exit thrice every hour. My computer screen and eyes seem to be fused into one, but I am truly enjoying every minute of this experience. My supervisor for the Anti-Racism and Equity branch and I chat every day to check-in and quickly discuss what I’m doing. Then, once a week, we have a longer meeting where we conversate about anything from the projects I’m working on to my mental health as a GSV. Our energies match perfectly and working under her guidance has been one of the biggest blessings in my journey.
Soon, it’ll be the end of September/ start of October and then November, and December. I’ll watch my favorite tree slip into a deep slumber and feel the city air grasp onto the last moments of warmth. I’ll build more memories with my community members, and eventually see my projects turn into presentations. For now, all I ask is to continue to be present. Five months ago, I wouldn’t have known that my future would be this, but thank the Lord that I am allowed this opportunity. I have been given the grace to be doing service through just love and faith. God called onto me five months ago…or technically emailed me, BUT all I had to do was hit reply.
Washington Heights Community, ‘20-‘21