I’ve been back home from AmeriCorps for little over two months now and I still can’t get over the feeling that soon I’ll have to go back. After being gone for 10 months, my team became my family, and the constant travel and work was just my life.
In my head, it was never this grand adventure I was going on, or this selfless act of service, for me it was just another chapter in my efforts to give back to the world and do something meaningful with my own life. In retrospect, I am glad I participated in AmeriCorps. It made me grow as a person in so many ways I never thought possible and it really made me realize how lucky I am to have so many blessings and conveniences in my life. But those lessons came with a cost- a disconnect from my friends and family back home.
The Disconnect of Tragedy
Adjusting to living at home again was even harder than adjusting to AmeriCorps life, to begin with. I came home with a new head on my shoulders and a new pair of eyes, and those I left behind were still viewing the world through the same lens.
I remember my first day home, my mom was complaining about the water pressure in the house being “shitty” (Her words, not mine). And I had to take a step back. Before I left last July, I wouldn’t have even blinked at that statement, but in the course of 10 months I had shared a communal shower with ten’s of other girls, I had suffered through a week of cold water in our shower in the first few days of Puerto Rico- and speaking of, water and electricity in Puerto Rico itself is still gone! Almost a year after Hurricane Maria hit! I was astounded by her statement. Didn’t she realize how much worse it could be? At least we had water.
But then I realized she didn’t realize how much worse it could be. Why would she? She didn’t see the same things I have. She wasn’t there when Survivors started crying to me about how they didn’t have electricity for months. I had no right to be mad at her ignorance. It wasn’t her fault. And honestly, shouldn’t I be happy that my mom didn’t have to go without or see what that looked like?
The more and more I was home though, I started to realize the disconnect between home and tragedy would not be so easily overcome. A few weeks later I was at a friends house with a few people and one of them started talking about how the thunderstorm we just had recently was so bad, a tree fell down in his driveway. But even worse than that was the fact that there were three other people huddled around him expressing their condolences. What made it EVEN WORSE, was one of the people looked up at me and expressed, “wow, isn’t that awful?” I had to clench my fists. I gave a terse response of, “At least it didn’t fall on his house” and abruptly stood up and walked out.
I had a right to get angry. But I certainly did not have a right to get angry at them. They didn’t know any better. They had not seen the same things I had. They hadn’t been there when survivors in Texas started crying to me because their entire house had been washed away in a single night.
Eventually, when moments like this arises, where it was clear that a modern inconvenience was not the end of the world (at least to me), I learned to just keep my mouth shut.
Needless to say, I was incredibly grateful that my new job started only a few days after I got back. I was ready to jump right into my next new thing- and that came in the form of dance photography.
I’d only started in being interested in photography, but I loved how it was able to capture moments. I also began to think of photography as the next greatest way to complement these articles that I wrote for my blog, and thus, a passion was born. I found a listing on indeed.com for an entry level photography position, applied, did my phone interviews and was in the door for training within a week of being back.
I had no idea what to expect, but I was thrilled. In the last two months of working at Donner Photography, I have traveled up and down the Northeast several times over, going to dance schools to take photos of dancers before their recital, and later going back to sell those photos back to the parents. It’s been busy- but I love every minute of it. Being out on the road and staying in hotels was a common occurrence in AmeriCorps and it just feels natural for me to live out of a bag. I love the job and I love how busy it keeps me- the less time I spend outside my head, the better. Trust me.
Yet, only last week, I found myself so caught up with the job and my own ego that I fell into the same ignorance that I had hated when I first returned. I was complaining about the hotel room. I was throwing an internal fit that my room did not have a microwave or a mini fridge to keep my food cold, and basically only had a bed and a shower. And in the back of my head, I was going,
You have a bed to sleep in.
You have running water.
You have food to eat.
You have a job that cares enough to get you a hotel room for the night.
You have a job.
“Bree, get the f*** over yourself.”
The grass is always greener and all that- but I wanted to be grateful that I even had grass in the first place. I wanted to be mindful of the things I was fortunate enough to have because I of all people SHOULD know that I have it so good compared to others. Never again did I want to be so ungrateful about something I was lucky to have.
I first heard the word ‘mindful’ on a podcast I was listening to in my car on a drive down to New Jersey for work. I had been in my car probably 20+ hours that week alone and truthfully, music was getting boring. So I experimented with a few podcasts before I found one called “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. It was life-changing.
The podcast talked about all things meditation and how by being mindful, we can experience more things and live in the present. Beyond that though, the practice of meditation has the ability to train our mind in order to focus on something such as our breath, or a mantra, and really zero in on our own body instead of allowing the mind to wander to the plethora of other thoughts that occupy us. I was hooked. I listened to a few more episodes of the podcast before I really allowed myself to think about what mindfulness really meant, and how it might improve my life.
Being mindful offered a possibility of really engaging in the present. I wouldn’t be hiding behind my job when it came time to deal with emotions left over from AmeriCorps. I would be- in what the kids today say- letting it happen. It seemed to me a chance of redemption to make up for how much I had let my ego and daily life consume me, instead of living and seeing the broader picture.
I only started exploring the world of mindfulness a few weeks ago but already I have discovered such a beautiful and supportive community out there. I have found that everyone has their own personal way to remind themselves to take a step back and look at the present. Some people can just shock themselves out of their head on demand, but for me, it takes a little bit more than that. I ended up finding this company called Soji Energy that specializes in crystal energy water bottles. I thought it was a little “woo woo” at first but I was sold on their message. Not to mention their product is absolutely stunning. Do yourself a favor and check them out.
Currently, I am reading the “10% Happier” book, by Dan Harris; the precursor to his podcast. It goes into his past and how his journey with meditation began after years of turmoil and self-inflicted drama. I will write a review of this book when I finish it, as well as a few books I hope to read that will continue my journey into meditation and mindfulness for those interested. Feel free to suggest books for me down in the comments!
Meanwhile, I want to end by saying this; AmeriCorps isn’t for everyone. It’s hard to put yourself on hold for the service of others, and it’s even harder to understand what it means to do so- both to yourself and for those you meet along the way. Ultimately, I am so thankful to have had the experiences I did because it helps me to realize that there is always more work to be done, and more chances for service. And I promise I will never stop trying to help those in need.
The 2017 Hurricane season is not over, and it will take years for those communities to fully recover. But for now, we can all do our part by doing what we can to help, whether it be donating a couple dollars to a charity, holding the door open for someone behind us, or sharing a smile with a stranger on a subway. We can all realize that our situation can always be worse- and that we all have the power to be mindful.