Pablo Cardenal: My Ideal Dish

Green. Such a refreshing and uplifting color. It means growth. It means harmony. It means flora and fauna. Green brings back memories of my home in Nicaragua, where a huge avocado tree stands right in the middle of my backyard. However, lately, my relationship toward the color green has gone in shambles, and it’s all because of one word: vegetables.

Green peas, green beans, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, kale, celery… you might think I am chanting a Slytherin spell, but, in actuality, I am listing some of the things I have had to eat during my time as a Lasallian Volunteer. For context, I am a picky eater. When I order a burger, I always order it plain. When I buy bagged chips, I always grab the original ones. Pizza? Cheese. Ice Cream? Vanilla. Hotel? Trivago. Additionally, I don’t like ketchup, peanut butter or coffee, among many other things. What I do like are carbs: I could eat bread non-stop. Cookies, pasta and potatoes are some of my favorites. Back in college, my meals revolved around bread, pasta and chicken. I never had to worry about eating healthy because, like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, I have a fast metabolism. However, being in community with the Brothers, there was no escaping vegetables. Every single community dinner is to have vegetables of some sort. During my first week, I wanted to leave a good first impression, so I told myself that I would eat everything no matter what. Our first community dinner soon approached, and, to my surprise, I ate everything on my plate, vegetables and all. I thought to myself, “I got this. I just have to fake it till I make it… for an entire year.” Well, that didn’t last long, since, during that same dinner, we had a pastry with cherries on top for dessert, and I despise cherries. As I pushed my cherries “subtly” below my napkin, Brother Dennis noticed that I wasn’t eating them. A good laugh was shared in the table, and, soon after, I decided to come clean as a picky eater. I despise vegetables, however, living in community has forced me to grow in my culinary interests and nutritional consumptions. The End! Actually, not the end… vegetables are not the main thing that I want to share about my LV experience…

When applying to Lasallian Volunteers, I realized how lucky I was to go through an application process that allowed me to be picky. Not only was I able to voice what role I wanted to serve in, but I also had a chance to decide what location and space I wanted to go to. For me, that was being a campus minister at a high school. During my college years, my involvement with campus ministry provided a nourishing community that instilled in me a stronger relationship with God. The retreats and service immersion programs I attended brought so much joy, self-reflection and growth. So, to know that I would be able to journey alongside high school students as they underwent through retreats and service/immersion programs made me very hopeful about my LV experience. It was the “ideal dish”: chicken, tater tots and a glass of water. However, COVID-19 changed my plans.

Because of COVID-19 safety precautions, retreats and service immersion programs had to come to a halt. In other words, the two things I was most looking forward to doing while serving at DeLaSalle High School were thrown out the window; my chicken with tater tots were disposed of. That left me in a weird spot, where my role and expectations were in a weird limbo state. What was I supposed to do? That first month was rough, mostly because I was still latching on to the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” I was grieving the fact that I would be serving during a time when everything was not normal. I wanted my chicken with tater tots back so badly.

During those first few weeks, I was asked to serve as a TA for teachers who were teaching remotely from home. I was not too keen about the idea, since it meant I had to make sure all the technology was working, something I didn’t feel comfortable with. I look down and now there is broccoli in my “ideal dish.” Later, around the end of my first month, I was asked to cover the front desk office four times a week for 30 minutes. I was a bit scared by this. Being at the front desk meant answering phone calls and directing callers to the person they were looking for. As someone who barely had an understanding of who was who, I was freaking out. Now there was spinach right next to my broccoli in my “ideal dish.” Additionally, in the campus ministry role, we had limited access to students since the number one priority during those first few weeks was getting accustomed to the class setting and COVID protocols. Most of my job entailed hypothetical planning for hypothetical programs. At least I got to set up for Masses, but even that wasn’t too joyous or enjoyable—just work that didn’t provide much interaction with students. Now my “ideal dish” had become broccoli, spinach, green peas, celery and a glass of water. I was bummed, but I knew I had to change my mindset. In the end, I didn’t join Lasallian Volunteers to come and serve a community by telling them what they need, but, rather, I came to serve a community by asking them what they need.

We can’t always afford to be picky. We have to be open to new opportunities and unexpected changes. Yes, I was not happy that I wouldn’t be able to do retreats and service/immersion programs, but, if I didn’t start acting proactively, my situation would never change. I decided to take a leap of faith and say yes to all these “vegetables.” And, to be honest, all of them have allowed me to learn and grow. During my two-week journey of being a TA, I was able to meet so many students that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Being at the front desk has improved my self-confidence, as I am now a pro at answering phone calls and serving the needs of anyone. Hypothetical programs soon became actual programs, as my supervisor, Nicole, and I started doing events that brought students together through games, activities and discussions. And, finally, setting up for Mass brought newfound appreciation on the behind-the-scenes of all the work that goes into creating a successful service. All of these “vegetables” brought their own unique experiences and nourishment, and I am forever grateful for them. And now, we are in April, and retreats are back! Now my “ideal dish” has tater tots, spinach, garlic bread, asparagus, water and cherries—a “dish” that has satisfied my stomach. I want to end with a quote from professional volleyball player, Misty May-Treanor, who says: “The more colorful the food, the better.”

Pablo Cardenal is a first-year LV serving at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a 2020 graduate of Boston College with a degree in Applied Psychology and Human Development.  

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