Life on the Frontier

Two women walking in a field with their arms wrapped around each other

New beginnings are hard. Whether we’re talking about a first date or the start of a new project at work or just Mondays in general, the frontier of something new always demands a lot from us. There’s no rhythm or routine to rely on yet, and there are usually a lot of questions. We’re constantly assessing and exploring the contours of this new undertaking, whatever it is: the dog we just adopted, our professor at the beginning of a new semester, a new workout routine. Life on the frontier is never smooth or what we expected. It makes the journey really fun on some days, and utterly exhausting on others.

I guess I have this on my mind right now because I myself am in the midst of a new beginning. I moved to Philadelphia in early February for a new job, and everything about my life is different now. Everything, down to where my roommates keep the garbage bags in our house, needs to be discovered. Work is a constant rotation of new faces and tasks. I’ve ridden the subway in exactly the wrong direction more times than I can remember. I still can’t keep Recycling Day and Garbage Day straight. It might be tomorrow, actually. I will check on this.

In this context, you can imagine my delight in getting a text from an old friend when I arrived: Welcome to Philly! It said. And not just any old friend, but a former community-mate from my JVC days. Kathleen and I shared a very formative year in Dar es Salaam back in 2013; we saw each other at our best and our worst, we shared profoundly joyful moments and utterly devastating ones. Including the moment I pooped in my pants in Kathleen’s presence. I was really sick at the time, let’s not dwell on it. Okay? Okay.

Anyway, an old friend was a welcome break from the otherwise unfamiliar landscape of a new city. She was a rock to cling to when the waves around me were a little too much. Kathleen helped me move in that first day and told me about a few bars to check out in the neighborhood. She invited me to dinner at her house to meet her roommates and friends. Best of all, and maybe most relevant here, Kathleen introduced me to the monthly gathering of former Jesuit Volunteers in Philadelphia.

This happens in a lot of cities around America, so if you’re not plugged into it just yet, this can be remedied with a quick Facebook search or an email to the JVC folks. In Philly, there’s a monthly gathering called Pause, and while its origins are still murky to me, it’s been going for several years and includes a range of volunteers who served across different regions (even the salty Northeast) and even different decades. Strangely, there was something wonderfully familiar about these people, even though I was meeting them for the first time. We swapped stories from our years of service and compared our experiences. We ate pizza. We drank beer. When I left at the end of the night, I had phone numbers for new friends and a couple of professional contacts because I’m a social worker and my clients need referrals and the FJV network is a powerful professional tool as much as a social and spiritual one and I have no shame.

So: When the seasons of life are changing, let’s weather the high winds in the embrace of others. As Jesuit Volunteers, we leaned on our communities for support and growth (also entertainment and drama, let’s be real) and as adults in the “real world,” community is no less valuable. The frontier is never smooth or what we expected, but in circles of community — at church, at work, in our families, with our friends, wherever — that life becomes fuller and the frontier becomes a lighter burden. Philadelphia is still new to me, and I will probably miss the bus on my morning commute tomorrow. But I will also have a new friend or two to laugh about it with later this week when we meet up for happy hour, and that will make all the difference.

Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

About Cait O.

Cait currently works with immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia. Since her time as a Jesuit Volunteer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania ('11-'13), her professional life has been dedicated to serving and empowering this population both in the US and abroad, including Rwanda and South Sudan. A graduate of the Boston College School of Social Work, she has cultivated expertise in culturally sensitive psychosocial services and community-based approaches. In her free time, Cait is an enthusiast for biking, visiting new places, playing music, and making art.