The disorienting Side of DisOrientation

The disorienting Side of DisOrientation

Dis-O…The side of the final annual JVC retreat, ReO/DisO, that I didn’t expect to find myself quite so soon.

Dis-Orientation. It makes so much sense…There was an Orientation, a Re-Orientation, and now a Dis-Orientation.

It’s logical. But goodness, was it disorienting. I have less than two months of work left, and about two months left before I leave Andahuaylillas, and less than three months before I end up back in the land of milk and honey, the Spo-hamptons.

I have many thoughts and feelings that fill the spectrum. Gratitude. Hope. Love. Nostalgia. Nerves. Joy. Readiness. An array of noises that imply despair and being overwhelmed. Wary. Alone. Restless. Dull. Powerless. Disillusioned. Incapable. Incredibly capable. Inquisitive. Rebellious. Fortunate. Gratitude.

I’m finding ways of getting ready to say goodbye to what has been my home in Peru, of saying hello to what has also been my home in the States, and of getting mighty creative in trying to integrate the two lives that feel distinct from one another. Phew. Gives me a headache all feels dis-orienting even writing that.

I will continue to post random thoughts, hopes, dreams, and acciones de gracias here. As for now, I leave you with a fun little song (that could be applied to JVC or drunken nights that leave you reeling the following day…) and a poem that I find myself repeating every day to understand the complex, messy, raw nature of it.

Reflection from a ¨Dis-Oing¨ JV
by Emmjolee Mendoza, Belize 2001

I am a part of things.
I am not the answer.
I am not the solution.
I am not the reason.
I am one small factor
in a series of thousands of factors.
I am one.
I am not the one.
I am one of many.

I will be forgotten.
People will not remember my name.
People will forget my face.
People will not know who did that
or who ran that?
Kids will ask who taught me that?
I will be forgotten.

I will be a memory in this town
and in this school.
Like all those before me.
We have come and gone.
And left a drifting piece of ourselves.

And there is an inclination in me.
To scream at the top of my lungs.
Remember me!
Remember I started that program.
Remember that I taught you how to read.
Remember that I hugged and kissed you.
Remember that I loved you.
Remember my name.
Remember my face.
Remember me please.

But I can’t ask that.
I can’t expect that.
My place here is and was temporary.
I was not meant here forever.
I was meant to live here for a short while.
I was meant to be a part of the life here,
not to change the life here.
I was meant to work with others,
not to create a work of my own.
I was meant to be a part of the solution,
not to be the answer.
I was meant to teach and to learn,
not to save.

With leaving comes many realizations.
How do I tell myself that these things are all true?
That maybe the work I have done will not be continued.
That maybe the children that I helped might not get help
That maybe the kids that I love may not remember me.
How do I tell myself this?

Then I remembered something that I read:
A Letter to a Young Activist by Thomas Merton
“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great dealhas to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

I know that this whole experience was not about me but about you.
That the reason I was here was for you.
That my purpose was to share my life for two years
with you.
It was you.
You were the reason why I came.
And now it is you.
You are the reason why it hurts so much to leave.

Somewhere the lines between you and I diminished.
You became a part of my life.
And I a part of yours.
I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.
I also can’t think of anything more painful than that.
But that is love.
At least that is my understanding of love.

It doesn’t matter if my ‘work’ is not remembered
or continued.
Because I came here to live with the people.
I came here to fall in love with the people.
And I have.
That I will always remember.


Power of Powerlessness

The following article originally appeared on July 21, 2014  in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network. It can be found at . Many thanks to Katie Anderson and Colleen Kennedy from JVC for their support and efforts in the process. 


There is no greater weight nor relief than knowing I am powerless. Lately these words repeat themselves in my mind. I spend time thinking about what I could be doing to create the most change, or dreaming of how the Peruvian government will open up their arms to embrace this marginalized population.  I try to imagine what their lives would be like without their family’s desire for success measured in monetary standards, and how their self-esteem could be improved by alleviating the pressure of this achievement.  Injustices like these have to be given up to God or to love or to hope, whatever that greater power is. Not in the complacent ways that says only God or time will fix this, but in the way that acknowledges that my arms are not long enough nor strong enough to carry this weight on my own.

For example, I eat lunch in the comedor, a large cafeteria in the Parish where over 300 kids aging from three to seventeen pile in daily for a hot lunch. Conversation topics that I have with the kids include how Brasil tied Mexico in the World Cup, ways of preparing cuy, and how different our cultures can be. Though I look forward to these moments with the kids, sometimes I cannot help but catch a glimpse of rotting teeth and become frustrated with the lack of infrastructure around health in this area. Or I will be in the classroom grading essays and the most basic Spanish words will have severe misspellings, a small manifestation of a blaring problem in the educational system. The lack of resources and opportunity stem from a violent institution that has racism and class-ism essentially written in its manifesto. These injustices have too much power in their grip over the individual in that moment, and I am caught powerless to change the reality. My eagerness to augment the injustice with laughter or silliness is challenged with the blunt, sheer reality that this community faces. In times like these, I find myself wishing my arms were longer to hold the truth or my students better or tighter.

In college, I fell in love with this quote from St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” While I am here to accompany my students, and often feel powerless against the injustices they face, I must remember that my arms still have some capacity to reach and to hold, to chat about the World Cup and to give high-fives, to correct a few spelling mistakes and to share the same food. Perhaps by delving into powerlessness, we discover our greatest powers.