Leaving home at 2:00 a.m. to make my 5:35 a.m. flight out of San Francisco International Airport, I was both excited and nervous on the drive. My mind reeled whether or not I had forgotten anything important; I probably checked for my ID three times. After checking in my two bags and saying a quick but heartfelt goodbye to my parents, I made it through security, and met up with Mari and Jacquie, two other Saint Mary’s alumni joining the Lasallian Volunteers. As our flight took off, I listened to “Charlie’s Last Letter” from the Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack; it’s a good song for transitions. It gives me confidence and hope.
And you stand up and see the lights on buildings
and everything that makes you wonder,
when you were listening to that song
on that drive with the people you love most in this world.
After a smooth flight, we touched down in Chicago. Gathering our bags, we headed out to ground transportation #4 and waited. After a while, two young women and a young man approached us. One of the girls said, “Hey, this may be out of left field, but are you all LVs?” The camaraderie and comfort was instant, which set the tone for the rest of our week.
Arriving at Lewis University in Romeoville, we were greeted by enthusiastic Lasallian Volunteers returning for a second year, who made us feel at home. The day was filled with meeting new people, playing fun icebreakers and the stark reality that our year of service was finally here. I know that I am definitely still in denial.
From 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. each day, we were going-going-going. We had workshops and seminars on professionalism, peace and justice, vocations, support networks, diversity and cultural awareness, skills classes that were catered to our particular placement positions, and more. On the second full day, our cohort went to a high ropes course in Wisconsin. It was so amazing to see everyone supporting one another, even though we had all basically just met. I was terrified to finish climbing the rock wall to get to the zipline, and had frozen about half way up; if Lindsey hadn’t encouraged me, I would not have been able to finish, and would not have had the experience of physical and mental growth that I did. On our last day, I was able to experience downtown Chicago for the first time, which was a blast!
When I was in 7th grade, I found a beautiful community at Camp RAD, a week-long retreat sponsored by our Diocese. I had yet to find something equal to this community until I met my LV cohort. There is something extremely special and awe-inspiring about these incredible people: their individuality, inclusiveness, open hearts, kindness, intentionality, passion for service and justice, and desire to do good, and be more. Relationships formed like wildfire; the care and connections were instant. We just FIT. And for the first time in a long time, I felt safe, loved for who I am, and at home. Though we only knew one another for less than 10 days, those goodbyes have been some of the hardest yet.
One image I find myself continuing to ruminate on from Orientation is that of the fireflies. Walking back to the main room on our first evening, I was initially almost knocked off my feet. In the distance, I saw golden lights floating and flickering on and off, like little stars dancing above the grass. “Are those FIREFLIES?” I shouted like a little kid, running out on the field. The Midwesterners chuckled, smiled, and rolled their eyes. I was filled with unrestrained, raw wonder; and I feel that we fail to chase, and experience this, enough.
I dedicate this year to the firefly. I want to chase after what I am passionate about. I want to continue to allow myself to be surprised, and to experience each day and moment for what they are. I want to remember that the light will flicker on and off this year, and that this is ok. I want to remember the beautiful people in my cohort and at home who will continue to shed light on my soul, service experience, and life.
“Remember we’re lost together, remember we’re the same. We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts, we hold the flame. We’re gonna trip the light, we’re gonna break the night. And we’ll see with new eyes when we trip the light.” -Alicia Lemke
Gabbi Carroll is a 1st year LV serving at Saint Raymond High School for Boys in Bronx, New York. Gabbi is a 2015 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.