1. On September 18, 2008, just about a month after beginning a year of volunteering, I was saddened to hear that a great friend of mine from Gonzaga Collin Keck, whom I had had the pleasure to become great friends, and whom I have always held in the brightest of lights, had passed away. He was hit by a car while he was riding his bike to work. I was terrified, alone, pissed, and frustrated. I could only think about the other people such as his family and close friends and could only hope that they were getting by in this tragic time as best they could. After talking to most of my friends from Gonzaga, some of whom were closer to Collin than others, I decided to put some trust in my community here in Lawrence.
2. The loss of Collin was the biggest loss I have ever been through. Some people grow up in broken families, some with lost siblings, and some with lost parents. I cannot say that I fall into any of these categories. I think I might be able to compete with some of the most famous children in history, when it comes to how good they had it growing up. I got to play sports, had loving parents who put nothing before my sister and I, and we had food on the table every morning, afternoon, and night. I was brought up to appreciate what I had and not think about those things I did not have. This year I have learned that what each of us has here in Lawrence, if nothing else, is each other.
3. One expectation or goal that I had/have for this year is to grow in my faith and take a large step in my spiritual journey. I am not sure what direction I am moving in or how quickly, but I do know that I am moving, and that is the important part (thank you Mr. Smith.) I had an opportunity to sit down over a few beers and a Chargers/Jets game one Monday evening with Fr. Joe, formerly know as a Counter Terrorism expert for our government. Getting to talking, I learned about his journey that led him to that Monday night sitting there with me in the one of the darkest, shadiest bars in Lawrence. It was a defining moment in my life and in my spiritual journey. In the weeks leading up to that night, I had spoken with the volunteers about how I saw God in each person that I came into contact with and in every interaction that I had with others. I also spoke about how much beauty I saw in nature and how I also saw God in those moments of seeing nature’s perfection. Fr. Joe was able to tell me his story and it led down this same path of seeing God in others and in nature. He and I were on the same page. It is weird to be on the same page with a priest about the topic of God. Does that mean that I am supposed to be a priest? No. Anyway, it felt good to talk to him and it was great to be able to come back to my community and talk to them about that night. This year, the people that I live with are those who I see God in the most.
4. Working in Lawrence and Andover has been anything but what I expected. For the most part, Lawrence’s residents include Guatemalans, Dominicans, and other people of Latin American background. Many are first generation Americans and live below the national poverty line. Needless to say, Lawrence is the poorest city in Massachusetts. On the other side, Andover is made up of mostly Caucasian families who send their children to private catholic schools. It is one of the richest cities in Massachusetts. I work at one of these private schools in Andover, and also at a private school in Lawrence with students whose families otherwise would not be able to afford to send their children to a private school. These schools and communities are only three miles apart, but it is the longest three miles I have ever seen. I have the opportunity to talk with my community and compare and contrast our jobs each day. The stories that are told about the students in Lawrence are of a different category than those that come out of Andover. Even though the population contrasts so sharply in each town and the problems that I deal with are so different, the fact that there are problems is what makes me realize what I am doing at each school. Many times I feel that I should always be working with the school in Lawrence because they have more of a need than the school in Andover. What I have learned is that each school has needs and can use my help. It is not the type of need that matters, but the fact that they have a need. I cannot compare the schools and feel like I am helping more at one school, but instead realize that I am helping at both schools, even though I am helping in different areas.
5. The weather here is rough. Growing up in San Diego and attending school in Spokane, WA, I was not ready for the intense cold and storms that occur here in New England. The up side is that we get free days off. They are called snow days. They are the only reason I put up with the snow. Balance. In the last twenty-four hours, twelve inches of snow have accumulated in our front yard and around the city. Bummer right? Well yes, but because of the snow we do not have work. It is a three day weekend. With each setback in our lives there is usually something that helps us to learn or take a step forward. Snow is not the best thing, but snow days may be the best thing ever. I guess I can put up with it. Everyone in our community is from warmer climates so we are dealing with this together.
6. The people that we have met through the schools we work at, the local Augustinian Communities, and just random run ins we have with locals have made me feel very comfortable here. If you would follow our community around and see how many people say hi to us at basketball games, walking around the city or just going to the grocery store, you would probably say that we have all grown up here in Lawrence. From the Fergusons inviting us into their homes after knowing us for only a few weeks, to the O’Deas treating us to lunch after basketball games, to the O’Donnells taking us out to dinner, we have truly been welcomed into the community here. Those who we know have made our stay here so much more comfortable. At one point, we didn’t go the grocery store for a whole week because we were given so much food and invited over to so many homes for meals. It is truly a blessing to be surrounded by such giving, caring individuals.
Many of you may have read or heard of JD Salinger’s Nine Stories. I am in the middle of reading it (thank you Rebekah and Dan) and am hoping that all of the seemingly random stories are going to be tied together at the end; however my hopes are not high. I won’t leave you hanging like that.
These parts of my life that I have described to you without any organization or seemingly fluid thought (sorry) are actually related and are held together with a common thread. That thread, which may be better described by a chain (like the ones used in strongman competitions when those guys and girls are pulling trollys and busses and whatnot) which gets me through each day is Hannah, Rebekah, and Agustin (not order specific). These are my housemates for the year. They are the greatest common factors (GCF-7th grade math) in each aspect of my life this year. I have been able to share with them the hard time that I went through with Collin. It was a blessing to be thrown into a house with strangers, and in such a short period of time, being able to see God so obviously in each of them. I will never forget that night when I spoke to them about Collin and how I felt so comfortable around them. I feel like that really set the tone for the rest of the year no matter what we were going through. Just as I have been helped by each of them, I feel like we have all had those low points where we really use each other as a source of compassion and community. Each of our jobs that we have is a source of struggle and accomplishment. Together, we have been able to get through the tough times when we feel overwhelmed and celebrate the good times when we succeed at work. We have all spent the hours shoveling the snow and weathering the storms and negative degree weather. It has been something that we all can bond over, complaining through the cold. All in all, community does not end with the four of us that share a roof (and a TV…) Our community in Lawrence has extended to our friends that we have met through each other and through our work sites.
The four of us have been criticized for spending way too much time together, and sometimes the result of that includes disagreements, getting annoyed, and fighting (or biting). But the results are also amazing. We have shared so much this year and have been able to create memories that we will never forget (indoor snowball fights, mouse killing strategies, Tower Hill coffee breaks.) Many times it seems like we are fated to spend so much time together. Just today, I was writing this on the house computer and decided that it would be better to go up and write it on my computer upstairs. My computer would not turn on after fifteen minutes of struggling, and so I was forced to go back down stairs and put up with the TV, conversation, and other distractions. All I could do was smile and chuckle as I realized that because I am writing so much about community, I should be with those that I am writing about. There is no escape, but there is also no place I would rather be.
John Henry Winter-Nolte
Lawrence, MA 2008-2009