Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.
This poem, by Adrienne Rich, was written for immigrants arriving in the United States via Ellis Island. There are two things I take from this poem each time I read it, depending on what strength I need to draw from it. This week, it reminds me that there is nothing guaranteed in life. Expectations are shallow hopes for the future – nothing is handed to us that we did not first make happen, directly or indirectly.
This program has made no promises to us; it has only opened the door to opportunity – the opportunity to love others, to serve others, to be flexible. It never promised us which people, where, and in what capacity. Many of us on Green 6 are struggling to come to terms with this lack of control. There are days when this program seems like the wrong door, like we should have waited a little longer to make the decision, or, for some, that we hesitated too long to get to it.
We need to remember that this opportunity is only a door.
So much has happened since that last time I posted. Corps Training Institute (CTI), our month of training ended, and we were inducted into Americorps NCCC. We pledged that
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
But, it seems that many of us are still searching for purpose in our commitment, finding apathy instead of action, not knowing how we’ll persevere when that initial spark is now so dim. Many of us came here because we didn’t know what else we wanted from this big, big world. Some days, we are just as lost as when we started. But, slowly, I am seeing us find out that this will be a constant search for where our hearts find purpose and worth. It is in knowing that this year, wherever we go, we will leave a piece of ourselves.
This is no small thing, leaving ourselves. I believe this why we want it to mean something. There will be some days we are so weary of giving it up to these new people and places – giving our best and worst, taking a piece of us and laying it down to be buried in the sand, and only having the faith that it will grow into something worthwhile. We only have the small hope that eventually we will be poured into as well. For now, we only feel as though we are drying up.
Thursday, Green 6, all 11 of us, departed to Pollock Pines, California. While here we will be working with Sly Park Environmental Education Center and acting as secondary counselors for 5th and 6th graders. There are mixed feelings going into this project. While happy to be out of training, and actually doing something, our first project isn’t what we expected. 70 people from the Pacific Region were sent to the East Coast to assist with the clean up effort of Hurricane Sandy, and it seems, for some of us, our morale went with them. It’s so easy to put the quantifiable value of disaster relief and working at a camp side by side. The difference being made by those who were deployed to the aftermath is so much more visible than the impact we may have on this community. So, we are stuck here, weighing the worth of instant gratification on our hearts.
A teammate commented last week that he was coming to realize that service was, “Not going to be as glamorous as saving babies, but rather as simple as working in a community garden.” I thought I had already learned this lesson from my year in VISTA, often having to remind myself that the end would not be a big reveal, but rather a momentum built over time. I was wrong in assuming that I had already gained the knowledge needed to be satisfied in service. It took a message from my dad to remind of why I’m here:
You can do no great things, only small things with great love.
There is so much worth in service, but most of the time, we cannot see the end result. It’s human nature, especially with my generation, to feel that need for instant gratification. I catch myself still wanting the acknowledgement of having done something when everything else feels stagnant. It is during these moments that we need to remember to take our shoes off and walk barefoot over the gritty concrete to remind us that the world is still moving under us, that this moment is a continuation of the next, that our work, though maybe not acknowledged, is still a positive force, and this world needs more of that.