That is what my community member, Caitlin, said at the beginning of our year, and while it is funny and silly, it is also kind of true. Living in community is completely different from any other living arrangement I have encountered; like a combination of everything almost.
It is like living with a roommate in that you have obligations to one another to keep the house clean, establish rules about visitors, and other courtesies of the like. It is like living with friends in that you depend on each other for emotional support, you make plans together, and generally look out for each other. It is like living with your family in that you tell each other where you are going and when you expect to back, you share meals together, and (eventually) when you get mad at each other, you can fight like nobody’s business knowing at the end of the day everything will be okay again.
Living in a community is like all of those things with a pinch more responsibility, courtesy, compassion, understanding, and patience. Those can be hard feelings to muster up at times, especially since many of us (or I, at least) have just exited the most selfish time of our lives: the college years. College is all about you. All about where you want to go and when you want to go there. Of course your friends or your significant other play a role in your decisions, but you are living for you, essentially. I learned quickly that in a committed community, you are very much living for every other person in your community as well as yourself. And in a lot of ways, you have to live more for them than for yourself at times. As we learned in orientation, it is very much a transition from a “me” mentality to a “we” mentality.
And oh boy is it hard sometimes. But also so completely worth it.
When my community and I committed ourselves to each other we opened a door from which flowed an unending stream of trust, strength, and wisdom. When you know the person sitting across from you truly has your best interests at heart, you are free to be you and to share yourself in a way that at least I had never experienced before. I have felt so free to share my every doubt, about myself, my abilities, my faith life, and my experience here and from that I have experienced tremendous growth.
There are the small things, like remembering to pick up peanuts for Antonette, broccoli for Tara, and yogurt for Caitlin even when they don’t ask me to when I am going to the market. Then there are the bigger things, like when I wanted my mom and my boyfriend to come visit. Although they didn’t come right out and say it, I know they both weren’t sure how feasible coming to Peru would be. I talked with my community and God a lot, and what I realized was that I was asking a lot; too much. Coming to Peru is a whole day of traveling with layovers and everything, its expensive, and they have other things going on in their lives that I couldn’t ask them to drop on a dime. Instead of thinking about my wants, I focused instead on what they needed. Through the example of my community I was able to see that when it comes to the people you love, you sometimes have to do what is in their best interest, not yours. I know a year ago I never would have had that realization.
I have learned so much about myself this year both through structured and casual conversations with my community members. They have completely opened my eyes by giving me new ways to look at the world, its problems and my place amidst all of it. They share in my joy and in my sadness; they pick me up when I fall down; they sooth me when I am angry; they whisper words of encouragement when I feel hopeless; they show me how rewarding living for someone else in addition to myself can be and for that I am so incredibly grateful.
Chulucanas, Peru 2011