BY DANI XIONG | May 15, 2017
It is officially May, and I’m excited to report that my community mates and I have successfully survived an Alaskan winter! It is now light out until 10:30 pm, and it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we were waking up to frozen grounds and cheering on the mushers at the Iditarod.
The warmer weather and longer hours have rejuvenated our house, and we’re eager to check off our bucket list when we go dip-netting, camping, kayaking, and engage in other outdoor adventures in the wakes of summer.
We’ve mastered the bus system in Anchorage, pondered about love and freedom during our evening chats, and linked our hearts to our service placements and the populations with which we serve. While we continue to live out the JVC Northwest values of simple living, spirituality, and social & ecological justice, I find that community is the most challenging yet rewarding value.
I remember first settling into the community with many doubts. Who are these people I am now living with? Where did they come from? What are their passions and intentions? I remember wondering if I could really find common ground with these strangers after having a three-hour discussion about groceries and still couldn’t agree on skim vs. whole milk.
We have a cooking schedule and plan out community dinners every week. We have a chore wheel that rotates each week to ensure we all get a chance at doing our (least) favorite chores. We even have weekly community meetings and carve out time to hang out together as a community. These are things I had never done before, and it feels comfortably confined to have this structure in place.
Although we’ve found ways to accommodate each other’s grocery needs among other practical tasks, it’s the composition and pieces of our humanity that prove challenging to stitch together. I constantly question myself: how do I compromise? Assert myself? Admit a mistake? How do I uphold my independence but also know to lean on others?
[socialpug_tweet tweet=”How do I uphold my independence but also know to lean on others? #JVReflects”]
One of the main reasons I decided to commit to a year of service with JVC Northwest was the community aspect. I wanted a completely different geographic and social environment and fully immerse myself in the discomfort and unpredictability that I seek and value so much. No matter how well we think we know ourselves, we always learn something new when we’re put into situations that require our brains to spin in unusual directions and respond in ways we never imagined possible.
The most important thing I’ve taken away from my community thus far is emotional growth. There have been a few instances when I let my emotions take control of the situation and lost my rationale, then proceeded to completely shut down. I put myself in this situation one night when I was cooking and chatting with a few of my housemates, and I became upset over little things like my housemates’ sarcastic comments. Somehow it was enough to push me over the edge and lead me to a total shut down. I knew that I had dug myself into a hole, but I couldn’t find a way to pull myself out. Poor timing worsened the situation as I was caught in the middle of house-sitting, as well as dealing with transitions in my service placement. For the rest of that week, I barely made an appearance at the house and provided little to no communication. One of my housemates, in particular, was heavily affected by my actions, or rather, my lack of action. While I stayed busy with all of the practical, mental aspects of the week, I completely blocked out my emotions—something I’m too good at, too often. It wasn’t until a week later that I finally chose to have a conversation with my housemate to resolve the conflict. I learned that while I was able to put my emotions on hold, my housemate had suffered an emotional rollercoaster due to my lack of communication and absence from the house. I realized that I was selfishly tending to my own affairs and completely disregarded my housemate’s feelings.
This was one of the hardest moments I’ve experienced in community life. Although I had handled the situation how I always have, I didn’t realize how negatively it had affected my housemate. It was hard because I was forced to confront my flaws—my selfishness, my stubborn ways, and my pride. And as a human being, I didn’t like having to expose my imperfections and admit a mistake. Although it’s going to be extremely difficult to change my ways as this is how I’ve dealt with my emotions for the past 23 years, I know that I need to take the steps forward to be a better version of myself and to be a better community mate. I can only say that I’m grateful to have a community that will continue to challenge me so that I don’t take the easy way out.
My six housemates let me scream in their ears, annoy them like a younger sibling, eat food from their care packages, and most importantly, they allow me to be my most raw and wholesome self. I feel completely comfortable sharing my most embarrassing secrets or my deepest fears; I feel that I can bare it all.
With each story shared, I learn a little bit more about my community mates, and I, too, let down another wall. We learn things about each other that make us laugh, make us cry, and we learn things that make us feel alive. We learn to be vulnerable with six people we’d never met before orientation, and we learn to lean on each other and trust that someone will be there to catch us. Ultimately, we learn things about ourselves we never even knew we wanted to learn. In fact, the unexpected lessons from this year have been the best ones.
[socialpug_tweet tweet=”The unexpected lessons have been the best ones. #JVReflects”]
Living in an intentional community is hard; it’s hard every day. Just as our days continue to get longer, my relationships with my housemates also continue to brighten. I’m learning to grow into myself, I’m learning to love others better, and I’m learning to be human.
[socialpug_tweet tweet=”I’m learning to love others better, and I’m learning to be human. #JVReflects”]
Dani Xiong is a Jesuit Volunteer serving in Anchorage, AK as Client Relational Support at Karluk Manor at RurAL CAP. She is was born in China, grew up in Fort Collins, CO and attended Boston College graduating with a degree in Marketing & Information Systems.