BY GRACE OGIHARA | January 4, 2017
It’s a question that members of the millennial cohort ask upon entering a friend’s home–the generation in which all the members of my JVC community fall. I definitely asked that question the first night I crashed at my best friend’s place when I got home for Christmas break. However, we as a community don’t have an answer to that question yet–we are still Wi-Fi free.
I flew back home from Minneapolis-St. Paul to the San Francisco Bay Area on December 18. The area I am from is also called the Silicon Valley. A place where not having Wi-Fi everywhere and at all times is a technology faux pas. Whereupon my friends’–who are either still in the college atmosphere or who are inevitably working at startups–jaws drop in shock when they find out I’ve been living without Wi-Fi in my home in north Minneapolis the past four months.
I pause, mention that one of the four pillars of JVC is simple living. Then I let them know that this is actually the first year that JVC is even providing a budget for Wi-Fi. I tell them we were Wi-Fi free until the stipend was available for us in November. As a community, we just haven’t been on top of installing it. Although going without Wi-Fi since November hasn’t necessarily been a choice I’ve personally made, I have made other choices regarding simple living.
One of my housemates flew back home a couple months into the JVC year and drove her car back to our house and has since been driving every day to work. I had asked her early on for a ride to work once it dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit out because I’d never been anywhere below 25 F, and figured it would be too cold for me by then to wait outside for the bus. Since I’ve asked, some mornings have dropped to below 0, but I have yet to quit taking the bus.
I’m probably the most well-dressed person on the bus I take to work. And by that I mean most well-equipped to handle the cold weather. A lot of my fellow bus riders wear tennis shoes, thin coats, or ill-fitting jeans to and from the neighborhood. In continuing to ride the bus, I choose to live simply. In many ways, I am joining in solidarity with my neighbors; however, I may never know poverty or what it is like to actually be freezing cold on a day below 32 F.
My community attended a walking vigil and memorial service in early December for the homeless who died throughout the year. During the service, the speakers mentioned that the names on their list were the people who they were able to find and account for. Many more had perished in the cold this year, possibly lost under mounds of snow.
Living on a limited grocery stipend can be difficult at times, especially during the winter when there aren’t any farmer’s markets out selling cheap produce. But I may never know what it is like to go without eating dinner three days in a row, or what it is like to grow up half-fed and malnourished. There have been instances where a kind soul has bought my entire community a week’s worth of groceries or has given me a warm ski hood to cover my head and face, but I’m not in a situation where I have to live solely on others’ donations or acts of volunteerism.
It is true that the challenge of living simply has given me a different perspective on what much of the world has to live every day. It is true that I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what I had before previously taken for granted. I think the greatest thing this living style has given me is a larger dose of empathy. It has opened my eyes to the realities of those around me.
Grace Ogihara is a Jesuit Volunteer and Refugee and Immigrant Program Assistant in the Twin Cities, MN. She’s from San Jose, CA and a graduate of Santa Clara University in Communication and Studio Art.