Courage for the Weather
Alyson Hankwitz, CVV 19
Alyson is a Green Bay Packer fan, a baker, a bike commuter, and Vincentian to her core. A graduate of De Paul University, she is an educator and an old soul.
I don’t know that I have ever been more in tune with the overall changes in seasons and daily changes in weather than over this past year. Last May, I invested in a bike and committed to it as my main form of transportation, for financial reasons, to boost health, and because it’s darn fun. I live in Chicago. While our weather isn’t quite as variable as Denver – 75 degrees one day and 3 inches of snow the next – it could give Denver a run for its crazy weather money – think 60 degrees one day and 2 inches of snow the next. On a bike, you are truly exposed to all the elements, and there isn’t much you can do about it.
Over my year of bike commuting, I have become very attentive to assessing the outdoors before I venture off – checking the day’s hourly forecast on my phone, looking out the window, even stepping outside in order to determine if I should bike, what I need to wear for that first ride, and what I might need to bring for subsequent rides during the day. Alas, no matter how hard I try, I find myself caught in inclement weather more often than I would like, arriving home all but frozen, wind and sun burned, or drenched in rain, left tired, frustrated, and trying my best to recover from the ride. But then there are the days where being on my bike brings me a joy true and deep in ways I haven’t experienced before. Sun shining, jamming to tunes, chatting with a friend or reflecting on life, letting the wind blow through my hair (that is hanging out of my helmet, of course), feeling like my legs could go for days and my spirit could stay forever on that high. Needless to say, the weather, my bike, and I are in a committed relationship, vacillating between love and hate, revulsion and acceptance.
My journey in CVV was much like my journey of riding. In my work with refugee resettlement, I would do my best to mentally and emotionally prepare for my days – checking in regularly with my supervisor, taking home the advance algebra book to study ahead on my tutoring for the next day, prepping with the employment team for upcoming interviews for our clients. I would venture out for the day thinking I knew the weather that would greet me and that I had the right coat on. But there were days that the skies opened and it just poured. I would hear stories from refugee camps, see clients get rejected for unjust reasons, or get into it with a coworker, returning home broken, doubting not only the work I was doing but my place in the world. But then there were days I would see a kid’s face light up with understanding of that algebra or have an intimate conversation with a refugee and feel a deep and sustaining call to social services as a life commitment.
The same story would often apply for living in community. From the opening retreat at the hut, our community of 10 strove to learn together, grow together, journey together, being aware of our own and others’ strengths, hurt, and needs so we could be the best community we could imagine. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes that did not work. But what community did was give me courage for the weather.
It was in the seemingly mundane, through conversations, hikes, community night arguments, reflections, and trips to the grocery store that my community built up in me the capacity to now handle the weathers of life – rough days in my current social services position, resolving differences with my roommate, giving attention to living in simplicity, discerning my spiritual needs, and preparing to lead a service group this summer – the courage to face unexpected, inclement weather. It was in community that I honed my listening ears, grew my reflective vocabulary, explored my own spiritual and emotional depth – in both good and bad weather – that I am so grateful to have carried through to life after CVV. And while sometimes it seemed the storms of CVV would never pass, my journey with that community prepared me with courage to handle the storms and has given me sunny days then and now that I never could have imagined.
So yesterday I got on my bike with clear weather in the morning, struggled through a pretty awful day of work, and got caught in a thunderstorm on the ride home. It wasn’t the most pleasant of days. And while I got into bed feeling fairly defeated, I fell asleep with courage to face the weather the next day (and made sure I had bus fare for the morning).