Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Wow, so what’s it like living in a convent?”

 Gabrielle serves as a counselor at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco. 
She shares community with the Dominican Sisters of San Jose.
DV Gabrielle Smith

             I feel compelled to answer the one question that I’ve been asked on a regular basis these past few weeks by students, coworkers, old friends, and family members alike.  Regardless of who I’m talking to, we’ll be about 4 minutes into a conversation when the person inevitably asks, “wow, so what’s it like living in a convent?” 
            The intonation and expression on their faces make me feel like I’m telling them a big secret.  What really goes on in there?  Do you pray all day everyday?  I guess the curiosity comes from there not being as many convents as there used to be or people have a general image of convent life in their heads from “The Trouble with Angels” or “Sister Act” or some such similar movie.  Unfortunately, I have no hot insider gossip to share, so instead I usually settle for a vague “uh good…pretty regular,” before launching into the details of having my own bedroom, living with 12 other people (10 sisters and 2 other volunteers), having a social hour every Friday, and commuting to school (located right next door to the convent).  From there the response is usually split—half pressing me for more details about rules and responsibilities, the other half move onto other subjects of conversation, maybe slightly dissatisfied with my less than juicy response.   
             So, what’s it really like?  Well, there definitely are rules and there has been a learning curve in terms of what community living means and how that’s different from the average college dorm or apartment living.  With so many people living together, expectations are necessary for the convent to function smoothly. Overall, it is quiet.  It is peaceful.  As a volunteer and non-sister, I feel lucky to occupy such a unique position, experiencing both religious and non-religious life simultaneously.  On the one side of my bedroom wall is the insanely loud traffic of the outside world of Guerrero St. and then I walk into the hallway and it is completely silent because the upstairs is a place for contemplation and prayer.  It is always peaceful, and you wish that we could somehow implement this level of peace outside the convent in the rest of our world.   

A San Francisco sunset with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

If you can dream, you can do it

 DV  Julia Butts

Our latest blog post comes from Julia Butts.

Julia serves at the St. Francis Center, a center that supports low-income families in Redwood City California. Julia works as a teacher and shares her processing of an experience with one of her students.

If you can dream it, you can do it

The goal of the activity was to have the children think about where they had been and where they want to go by creating a timeline of their past, present, and ideal future. We were learning about advocacy, and I wanted them to learn that self-advocacy is a critical tool for achieving our goals. They started scribbling away on their pieces of paper…all but one of them. I asked why he wasn’t writing.

“I can’t do this.”


“It’s too hard. The past is too hard to think about. It’s too bad.”

Okay, then focus on the future. What do you want to do in the future?


What do you mean?

“I want to get a restart on the past.”

Okay, well if you can’t go back in time, but have to go forward, what do you want to do? What do you want to see? What are your dreams?

“I don’t know.”

Do you want to graduate high school?

He shrugged.

Do you want to graduate college?

He shrugged.

Do you want to have a cool car some day?

He shrugged.

“I don’t know. I don’t have any dreams. I just want to restart.”

The conversation continued this way, and I started to feel at a loss for words. Looking into his eyes he just seemed so downtrodden, pessimistic, and dreamless.  Fortunately the program director entered the classroom, and I called in his aid while I proceeded to check on the other students. My heart, however, remained heavy.

Theoretically, I knew there were kids in the world whose situations were dire and whose pasts were difficult to such a degree that they struggled to believe that they were loved and capable and that the future could be bright.  I knew there were kids who struggled to dream any dream at all, be it big or small.  I knew this. But I had never seen it, in person, so starkly. Traveling the world, having a family, getting a cool job like being a professional ballerina or the president—dreams like those came so easily to me as a child, and to every child I’d previously met.

How do you inspire a child, only eleven or twelve years old, to work hard, to value themselves, to simply be happy, if they cannot be motivated by dreams? How do you show them that despite the undeniable influence of the past, it is not a complete determinant of their future? How do you help them to see their past as an asset that brings them strength and wisdom? How do you help a child dream?

The adage goes, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I never really thought about what happens if you can’t even dream it.

Thinking about this experience, I remembered a poem by Langston Hughes that was featured in the play A Raisin in the Sun, which I read when I myself was back in middle school.  It’s called “Harlem,” and it goes:

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?”

But I’m hopeful. For every child I meet in my work who struggles to dream, I meet many dozens more whose dreams are vivid and beautiful despite their struggles. For every child I meet who struggles to dream, I have a coworker working dutifully to help that child generate the optimism necessary for dreams. Without a doubt, I have hope for a world in which dreaming comes naturally for every child.  What a wonderful world it would be.  :)