My experience as a JV has been a blessing because it teaches me every day to cherish solidarity, and to adore the various forms which solidarity can take in my life without notice. While we were JV’s, the rich generosity of human connection neatly presented itself to us: we invested in an intentional community; we worked and lived with the communities we served; we were given structured retreats to make space for God in our hearts and minds. I can attest that JVC’s foundational enshrinement of solidarity is just as alive and beautiful today, because its raw power and emotion has bled outside of my JV year and pierced my life in small, tender ways as an FJV.
During my JV year, I worked with the male homeless and substance dependent population of the Houston community. I tied my heartstrings to the solace and suffering of my clients, and even now, referring to my brothers as clients feels misleading and sterilizing. “Clients” boxes in my relationships with them, creating a facade of a strictly transactional experience between us. Despite moments of tension and frustration, we regularly played the roles of mentor, basketball teammate, listener, and friend for each other. It was an immense privilege to accompany them on their journey to recovery.
When I returned home, I immediately felt the disconnect – how were the guys doing? Would they follow through with their promises to themselves and their families to finish the program? Would they forgive themselves for their mistakes? Meanwhile, family and friends back home in Boston implored me to take care of myself, and for good reason. With no job prospects and student loan debt breathing down my neck, financial security was nowhere to be found. My full-time job became taking care of myself, which was an abrupt departure from my JV year in Houston. It initially felt foreign to me, but as the days and months have rolled by, self-preservation has taken a firm and commanding hold.
One iron fist of this instinct is to brush past and ignore the homeless living in the shadows of my daily commute, which traverses a bus line and two train lines from Weymouth to Back Bay. Over time, I slowly realized that the strangle hold of the trance I was under — the sheer indifference to this recently beloved population — stifled any longing to even recognize their existence. In a cycle of rationalization and desensitization, I fell into the self-soothing internal silo, which we all hear concerning the least among us: “How can I possibly help? What is going to happen if I stop to give every homeless person I see money? God forbid, I might be late for work if I give this person a moment of my time!” It became numbing and all-consuming; I barely noticed as they slowly faded into the scenery of the train station, and I became an unknowing participant in the self-confiscation of any chance to recognize their pain and humanity.
However, I was blessed by God and a particular man at Park Street a couple of weeks ago. I departed my office to embark on the trek home around 8:00pm, not particularly noticing anyone as I swayed along with the twists and turns of the Green Line. I reached Park Street without a hitch. When I peered up from my phone to check my surroundings, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the other side of the tracks. Long strands of gray hair revolted against his ponytail and hid in his unkempt beard as he rested his head on a cardboard sign with his eyes closed. I felt the initial wave of grief, and before I could put up my “rational” shield, I caught sight of his sign:
Today is my birthday.
My heart unapologetically broke. He was probably hungry, tired, cold, and, more than anything, alone, on a day meant for a celebration of his life. As the busy commuters bustled past, the scene accentuated a sense of loneliness, and I was drawn towards him. As the next Braintree train passed through, I stepped through both sides of the doors onto his side of the platform. I crouched down and offered my hand as I asked him his name and wished him a happy birthday. Shaking my hand warmly, he smiled and told me his name was Billy. Billy reminded me of a lot of my clients in Houston: weary eyes, weathered teeth, and a worn exterior that deceives passersby with an illusion of being different or incompatible with “normal” people. But Billy also revealed, with his smile, a deep desire in all of us to be recognized, to be known, and to be loved. Billy uncovered those moments of connection and solidarity that made me fall in love with JVC. After our short introduction, I ran upstairs and grabbed him a meal before catching the next Red Line train home.
I felt compelled to tell this story, because our potential for solidarity, for discipleship, can hide under a quiet and unassuming veil in our daily lives after JVC. It is such a rare opportunity to be gracefully and justly shaken from our routines. I have begun to pray to hold Billy close to my heart and mind, for, to have an awareness and hunger for those small moments hidden in the ordinary, is to find Jesus and the extraordinary in seemingly forgotten places.