Seventeen years after CVV, Kate Lucas, reflects on how CVV allowed her to live her values in one place and how she is incorporating those in her life today. Kate served at the Conflict Center and has been the only volunteer to play piano at Heart and Soul. Enjoy her gift of writing!
A few weeks ago, I went backpacking with a group of college friends on the Superior Hiking Trail. The trip was a celebration of my friend Anna’s 40th birthday, the first of all of our 40th birthdays. But we were all a bit skittish about it. All of us were a bit worried about the cold, the forecasted rain, how our bodies would hold up on trail carrying all our supplies on our backs.
Maybe we were a bit skittish about turning 40, too. It had been a long time since many of us had done a hiking trip like this. That fact in and of itself was surprising and sobering.
Needless to say, I have been thinking about numbers and time a lot lately. Last year marked 20 years since my high school graduation. CVV celebrated its 25th anniversary in September. And it’s been seventeen years since I moved into the south house at Woody’s place, taking in those powder blue walls, that afternoon sun streaming through the window. How is that possible? How can nearly two decades pass that quickly?
The numbers remind me acutely of a truth that has always been there: time is limited. Oh so limited. The time we have to make a difference. To live the life we want. To create the kind of world we long for.
Thinking back on my year at CVV, I remember the distinct feeling, deep in my bones, that I was exactly where I needed to be. In college, I had studied peace and justice, liberation theology, simple living, the Catholic Worker movement. At CVV, it felt like we were living all of that out. The Vincentian charism of companionship with the poor. Gleaning our food. Paring down our possessions. At a gut level, all of it made sense and felt right.
I’m not sure I’ve felt that degree of certainty — that purity of vision — since.
Some might say that simply reflects a maturing of a young person’s one-pointed idealism. Adulthood, it was explained to me once, means holding two or more conflicting ideas at once and being okay with that dissonance — recognizing the ambivalence and imperfection at the heart of life, realizing the fallacy and rigidity of pure idealism.
Whatever the reason, it’s true that for a while in my late 20s and early 30s, working full-time at a nonprofit, then teaching writing at a community college, I let some of my ideals slide. For a while, it felt like I was maxed out. Reaching a state of burn-out. For a while, I didn’t have time for volunteering. I began picking up more take-out instead of preparing whole foods at home, buying new clothes instead of hunting at thrift stores, streaming TV instead of seeking out more life-giving, community-building activities.
Recent years have been about coaxing myself back. Figuring out how to slow down. Learning how to modulate my energy and time so that I have enough left for things that are important: community, volunteering, wellness, the Earth. I work from home now, less than full time, as a freelance writer for nonprofits. I practice yoga regularly, even teach a class. I tend a garden, and cook more frequently. And I volunteer again, teaching poetry at a day center for elderly people, working on several projects for racial equity, calling my senators regularly for the Citizens Climate Lobby.
More and more, I am pulled back to ideas about how to downsize, how to do more with less. More and more, I seek out people who are finding ways to create a richer, fuller life that is also good for the earth. People like Kate Weiner, founder of Loam Magazine, William Powers, author of 12 x 12: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, and Elizabeth Willard Thames, of The Frugalwoods.
Toward the end of our hiking trip, my friends and I paused for lunch at the top of the last peak. It was a broad, stunning view. Lake Superior glittered and stretched to the horizon in one direction, ridges of flaming leaves unfurled in the other. I sighed with a measure of satisfaction. Good trail food, feet airing out, warm sun on my face. “I love the later days of a hiking trip,” I said, “when you’ve already ate some of the heavier food, and you’re used to your pack, and you feel a bit stronger. It’s like you have your trail legs under you.”
“Maybe that’s what this time of life is,” said Anna. “You have your trail legs under you.” Maybe so. By now, we’ve recognized a few wrong turns and stepped back on the path. By now, we’ve lightened our load, more clear about what’s vital and what’s excess. By now, we have a much better sense of where we’re headed.
It’s not that the trail will necessarily get easier — it may well get much more difficult. Climate change may be huge climb in the years ahead. Hopefully, though, our trail legs will give us the strength and flexibility to lead the way. I hope the same for all the Companions on the Journey.