Lasallian means community. Lasallians are a community of people working together to serve those most in need in our communities. As a community we follow the Founder, Saint John Baptist de La Salle, and allow our actions to be a visible representation of our charism.
Visibility has become something I’ve learned not to take for granted, especially during my time serving as a Lasallian Volunteer.
September is Hydrocephalus Awareness Month. Awareness months often get lost in the shuffle of National Salami Day and Chocolate Milkshake Day, but this one stands out to me personally. Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) is a chronic brain condition that you can be born with or acquire. There is no cure, and the only treatment available is a shunt. Unpredictable brain surgeries, consistent pain, and all of the mental and emotional anguish that comes with so much being out of your control is the reality a person with this often invisible disease lives with.
I know that, because I have it.
My experience as a Lasallian Volunteer has been directly formed by my experiences as a person with Hydrocephalus. My motivation to work with students, to serve, to be intentional within a prayerful community is all rooted in what makes it possible to succeed despite an invisible disability. De La Salle said, “to look below the rags of the poor children whom you teach and see the Christ-child lying in the manger.” There are few things that humble me more than thinking about Jesus…JESUS…as a baby, reliant on the support of others. At the root of it all, we’re all humans who need one another. It’s been important for me to experience what it’s like to need people, and for people to understand me beyond what they see. Because of this, I can appreciate first hand what it might mean if I do so for a student of mine.
All of the people in my life–my students and my colleagues, my cohort community, the community members I live with, and my family and friends–understand two kinds of things about me: what they see, and what I tell them. If I’m having a bad Hydrocephalus day, I can hide it and suffer alone, or I can reach out for help.
How many others around me are weighing similar choices? Struggle alone? Or allow somebody to see below? An aspect of the Lasallian charism that not only drew me into the community, but is something I strive to embody is the emphasis on togetherness. Together, with inclusivity and respect for all people, we serve one another. To me, Lasallians work to make sure nobody suffers alone. Lasallians make the impossible possible.
By giving preferential option to the poor, Lasallians seek to meet people where they are. Some people financially poor, or poor in spirit, or poor in heart, or physically poor, but together we work to fill the missing needs regardless of the starting point.
Sometimes (a lot of the times) this means making an extraordinary effort to look for the invisible things below the rags–good and bad. We celebrate individual talents and work through individual strife. I have been on the receiving end of that extraordinary effort, especially in community life as an LV. Home is a place I feel okay letting my invisible stuff come to the surface for a little while. I can shift the effort away from keeping them hidden, and instead put effort into feeling better. It takes an extraordinary effort to meet me where I am, and to understand how to help me succeed, but my community members do it. They are role models for how I strive to treat the students I serve.
I won’t always know what invisible things the kids who walk through the door of the Campus Ministry office are fighting. What I do know is that I am a Lasallian Volunteer. My t-shirts say it, my keychain, and probably my water bottle. Most importantly: my actions will say it. My goal is to treat every student with visible dignity and respect. My goal is to do the Lasallian charism justice. My goal is that when people see me sporting Lasallian swag, they know it means something good is bound to happen, that they have a community member to call home.
Lindsey Pamlanye is a 2nd year LV serving at Bishop Loughlin Memorial HS in Brooklyn, New York and is a 2015 graduate of Manhattan College.