Just Do It

RachelBy Rachel Zanfardino, FC 20

My entire life, I have always had an interest in service. I was a member of service clubs and did service trips throughout college. It was a crucial need that I felt to give back to those who were less fortunate than I was, to promote justice and equity for the unequal. It is because of this that I knew I would be doing a year of service.

This year is nearly 3/4 of the way over, and the person who is writing this has a very different perspective than the one who began it. The idea of service is glamorous. Not in the sense that you will be working with marginalized people, or with the false interpretation that you will make a lot of money and do fancy things, but in the sense that you have an idealized notion that you will help people, with the clear and obvious support, safety, and resources that you expect to need. You don’t anticipate feeling stressed out by a job that on paper should be simple, and you never anticipate feeling unsafe.

But there is a reality that no one talks about. One that my clients have to endure on a day to day basis. One that includes a narrative of sexism, inequality, violence, harassment, anger, and the systems of oppression that keep these people in these places experiencing these things. There are days that you feel really under staffed and under supported and underfunded. No matter what, I Rachel Zanfardino will not solve hunger. I will not be able to feed everyone and I will not be able to give them everything they need to survive and feed their families. And because of this, many people will not be happy with me. This is where the glamour fades and the reality that service is really hard comes in. Many times, I have to face the violence that my clients have to face. I have to experience the sexism and the derogatory remarks that my strong independent new female friends have to endure. I now have to feel my position of power, where I have food, and someone else is asking me for it, and I have to say no to them, maybe for a completely valid reason, but it is because of me that they cannot bring home that small amount of food for their family to get through today. And that is hard. And not glamorous. And it changes the way that you see people.

The marginalized communities in the world are always put into boxes of limitations, ones that prejudges them, their character, and their limitations. This year has taken those expectations and completely thrown them out the window. It has shown me how to treat others with the human dignity that they so rightly deserve.  Many of my clients that come in here are considered the voiceless. This comes with the lack of power that their lack of money provides. It has been really powerful to take a step back from my extroversion and talkativeness to finally hear others. To take the intentional steps to listen to the clients who walk through those doors.

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a beauty that is incomparable in service too. I have made beautiful connections and friendships this year. It has been in the same situations of discomfort and stress that I have been able to feel absolute gratitude from giving a client a simple loaf of bread to feed their family. It is through these amazing connections that I have helped women who have been domestically abused to get the resources they need to become safe again. It is in this service that I was asked to be the Godmother of a beautiful little baby boy because that baby’s mother and I had actually become friends who enjoyed the company of one another. It is where clients who have nothing wanted to show me love and spent money just to buy ingredients to make me cookies. It is where the people who told me they’d have my back always actually did, when I had to protect my other clients and volunteers being threatened. These people who I would not have met if I had not done this year are what have made this year all worth it.

It is through the lows that we can better see and understand the highs. Often times we like to only relish in the highs, recognizing that they are what are visually most appealing and rewarding. No one likes to feel down or broken. No one likes to admit being weak. But it is through that darkness that we are best able to see the realities of our situations and really see the light.

St. Francis said, “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words”. That means that you need to just do it. Actions speak so much more than words do. This year, I am experiencing the real highs and lows of what it means to do full and complete service, to live the gospel. And I need to be so thankful to those low moments, because without them, I never would have been able to appreciate how good the good ones are. I am not doing a year of service because I am going to end hunger in Syracuse, NY forever- that would be irrational. However, I am doing service to better understand the impact that I can have, even if on a smaller scale. It is through this year that I can see that the simple joys of listening rather than talking, and taking the time to recognize the human dignity of all people out weigh the burdens that these jobs possess.

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The G Word

Elizabeth

By Elizabeth McNulty, FC 20

Growth is a really tough word. On one hand, if I slap the word “physical” in front of it, then I got myself an elementary math equation to determine an exact measurement. All I have to do is look at a measuring tape, read numbers on a scale, etc. to be able to almost immediately grasp how anything has physically grown. For decades people have been coming up with different tools and gadgets to provide others with numbers down to the smallest unit possible to satisfy humanity’s thirst to use something concrete to understand their growth. This is all well and good, but what about the other side of growth? What happens when I slap the words emotional, mental, spiritual or psychological in front of growth? When I can’t go on Amazon and have a tool that gives me all the answers to those types of growth within 3-5 business days?

When we were asked to write on the question of “how are you growing?” my brain immediately tried to take the easy way out. I thought maybe I could make up something cutesy about how I grew a few extra layers of protection around my middle from all the love poured out on us in the form of food this year, or how my hair has grown longer than ever because I am too stubborn to use my $100 stipend on a haircut. Physical growth= easy to measure, easy to understand. But if I thought that was the type of growth that we were supposed to reflect on, I probably wouldn’t have turned this blog in two months late. These other types of growth are much more scary topics to discuss because they are mostly dependent on a great deal of self-reflection. I personally can only really judge if I have made progress in one of these areas in specific moments. If I can look at a certain situation that arises in my life, and realize that I was saying, doing or thinking something that I may not have necessarily said, done or thought in the past, then I can fairly clearly see that I have grown.

Now there have certainly been various chunks in my life where I have missed out on growing because of one pesky trait: fear. I was afraid to grow because I realized that in order to grow, I had to do the scariest thing known to mankind (or at least to a young girl already battling all the already existing pressures of society for her demographic). I would have to break outside of my comfort zone and risk failing. I had to actually make the conscious decision to risk getting ridiculed, making a fool of myself, being judged, coming up short, or I could decide to wake up every morning and participate in a schedule that is completely comfortable, effortless and safe. And I could probably be relatively happy! But would I be as happy as I could be? Would I wonder if happiness stretched further into a state of joyful being? Would I feel fulfilled? I’ll admit that there are many times when this safe comfortability seems like the right choice. The side of me that is an introvert who spends her time in public tripping over her own feet and saying “thanks, you too!” to a waiter telling me to enjoy my meal, thinks this is an easy choice. The side of me that has experienced the thrills of leaping outside this comfort zone; however, knows better. The way she sees it, comfortability is synonymous with mediocrity and growth will NEVER be a fruit of either.

The other day I was driving to visit a client. I was belting a Bruce Springsteen song with the window down and the icy wind whipping my hair back. I had a big ol’ smile across my face. I suddenly turned down the music, zipped up the window and had a realization in one of those rare moments of clarity I occasionally get. I thought really hard about the situation at hand. I was driving to see a client who was about 45 years older than me who had suffered a lifetime of alcoholism and domestic abuse, and a whole slew of other issues that result from these two things. She spent the majority of her time being angry and depressed. Talk about an uncomfortable scenario! She was a different age, race, culture and background. Not to mention she lived in one of the more rundown apartment buildings in Syracuse. A few years ago, and even before joining FrancisCorps, I can safely say that I would not have been doing what I was doing. At the slight chance I would’ve agreed to do it, I would probably be shaking with my heart just about pumping out of my chest. I would’ve looked for any excuse not to knock on that door. I can tell you I certainly wouldn’t be singing along to “Thunder Road.” It was in this moment that I could clearly see the answer as to why I wasn’t feeling all the aforementioned nerves. It was because this situation that would have previously been outside my comfort zone, no longer was! My comfort zone had grown without me even knowing it! I thought about all the smaller leaps I had taken throughout the year up to this point that had widened this zone. Sometimes, even the tiniest bit of growth happens after what seems to be a great deal of discomfort or hurt. Some of the most painful times in my life have produced the largest amounts of growth in me, and I would probably endure those hard times all over again if it meant I ended up exactly where I am today.

I’ll let you all in on a huge secret. There is another g word that is an essential player in the game of growth. This is grace. I need the grace to be able to trust that if I take a huge step off the edge of my comfort cliff, I will be caught and won’t fall to a rocky death. Without grace, I would not have the courage to even take a little peek over. The lucky thing about grace is that I can ask for it at any point and it never runs out. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving and that right there is the sole reason as to why no person, thing or situation will ever be able to fully stop me, or anybody else from growing.