Monday, November 15, 2010

A Landscape of Choices

Disclaimer: If you are looking forward to the SSJ Mission Corps Newsletter, you probably shouldn't read the following entry, as it is my piece in the newsletter. Consider yourself warned. If you're not waiting on the newsletter (or just can't wait), dive on in!

As always, thanks for
reading & enjoy!

Life is full of choices. Some are simple and others aren't. Every choice we make brings with it its own set of circumstances and consequences. And as a wise friend once told me, in choosing not to make a decision, you have nonetheless made one.

This entry has been in the works since my first week of ministry at Visitation BVM parish. Actually, that's a lie- this piece has been writing itself since I began my journey into the Mission Corps. When and where that journey began, I can't exactly pinpoint, but I do know that it has brought with it a number of decisions over the past few months.

A year ago I made the choice to actively pursue the idea of doing a year of service. That decision led me to choose to leave a full time job in a field I enjoyed to see what possibilities awaited me. Arriving in Philadelphia two months ago, I plunged into a world of new possibilities, challenges, and, yes, more choices.

Some of those choices were conscious, like living in community, opting for a simple lifestyle, and committing to remain focused daily on spirituality and justice; others were unconscious, like choosing to live more reflectively, learning to love a seemingly unloved community, and entering into conversation anew everyday with strangers, God, the world, and, more often than not, all three at once.

Each day, before my feet even hit the floor, I have already made choices that will impact how I go about my day. As I wake up, I remember that I have chosen to live in Kensington. This, I am aware, is a choice that could be changed at any time, all I need to do is say the words: I quit, I’m done, take me home.

My options are many and because of my place in the world, they are (for the most part) boundless. My education ensures that certain doors will always be open to me. My skin color grants me access to people and places that those I serve would never be able to reach otherwise; it also makes it perfectly clear that I do not fully belong to this community. Yet, the color of my skin gives me the ability to advocate for my neighbors. It carries an invisible weight and authority with it. Classifying me as an outsider, it may distance me initially from those I seek to serve, but ultimately it gives me the chance to shorten the distance that must be covered in order to meet their needs.

I am a product of the choices I have made and those choices have led me to where I am today. My options abound. I have the luxury and blessing to choose to be here. The individuals and families I meet everyday do not have that choice.

The single mother on 5th Street, who has five children and is trying to make ends meet, is the same age as me, yet finding ways to relate is difficult. We are of the same generation, but her life and mine are radically different. It is not simply a few choices that lie between us, but the breadth of lives lived on different planes; I wonder if we ever had the same list of choices laid out before us.

Still, as I stand on her porch, we find ourselves face to face. She has chosen to let me into her home and no matter how many different choices we’ve made, I must respect her vulnerability and find a way to give her tools that might make her next decision a little bit easier; be that by giving her a voucher for furniture so that she doesn’t have to choose between food and furnishings for her family or offering a compassionate ear to hear the story, her story, which no one else cares to listen to.

As I ride to the Bevilacqua Center on my bike each day, I am aware of the choices that are being made all around me. There are those individuals, junkies and prostitutes, whose choices have stranded them on the corner of Somerset and Kensington. Pulling up to the double spires of Visitation, I pass parents walking their children through the doors of the parish’s school. Navigating the physical and systemic dangers of the neighborhood, these parents sacrifice financially so that their children might have opportunities in their lives- opportunities that are dreamed of by families today and fostered in young minds as they’re taught to think and make choices with faith and goodness at the forefront of their minds.

In my time here thus far, I’ve borne witness to an ever changing landscape of choices. By choice or not, the neighbors I visit may never leave Kensington and there is nothing wrong with that. The choices they face are not as simple as good and bad. I can hope, though, that the little bit of assistance I can give them might empower them to discover the grander scheme of decisions available to them.

Poverty doesn’t need to be an endless cycle. Abuse doesn’t need to be proliferated. Choices can be discovered anew each day if someone is there to compassionately and realistically say it’s ok to hope.

By listening and being present in my actions, I try to say that to those I work with. In return, I choose to accept the invitation from each person I encounter to do the same- to find hope under it all. That’s a choice. Life is full of them and each moment I take the chance to say yes, new doors are opened.

Sure, I have made plenty of decisions in my lifetime, but no matter how many choices I could have made, one thing is clear: today, there is no better choice than the one I made to be here.


  1. amazing post Colleen, I am so glad that you know that where you are is where you are suppose to be :)

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