Three weeks ago, I boarded an afternoon Southwest flight and moved across the country. Thankfully, this was not the first time I had done such a move, from Wisconsin to Washington DC, having interned in the District during the summer of 2017. And I was even more grateful to not be alone. Whereas my last move was solo, now I was accompanied by 16 mostly strangers, all bound for DC.
I say strangers, but maybe folks-I-met-five-days-ago-and-lived-with-in-close-quarters-and-did-a-lot-of-soul-searching-orientation-work-with is the more apt term – or “FIMFDAALWICQADALOSSOWW” for short. Lutheran Volunteer Corps Orientation had challenged my comfortability in many ways – from little to no introvert time to hard discussions about the nature of volunteer years and the often colonizing and white savior centric ways of living out a call to service. Over those five days, we delved into our hopes, fears, and questions about the year ahead, explored our communication styles, and began to piece together what living in DC would look like for each house. So, yeah, maybe strangers isn’t the best term, but language is often limiting.
A month into our LVC year together, I would call my housemates my friends. There are six of us living in Dag House in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood in the Northwest quadrant of DC. Though similar in many ways, we differ wonderfully, with each person fulfilling distinct needs for the community we’re building together. Some find joy in cleaning, others in organizing. Some love to talk, others prefer to listen. Some are extroverts, others are introverts. Most can cook, some are still learning (hint: me). So far, we are taking each person’s idiosyncrasies in stride.
[Dag House Residents and their jobs, from left to right. Alexis, College Associate at Thurgood Marshall Academy. Arden, Associate Teacher at Briya Public Charter School. Elise, Patient Advocate for Community of Hope. Jess, NW Volunteer Coordinator for Bread for the City. Maddie, Program Associate for Interfaith Light and Power. Wes, Program Assistant for the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Maryland]
Here is a glimpse into some of our house logistics: Each week, we have a meeting where we meal plan for the coming week and schedule our next community night (the latter is plucked from a jar where we each submitted ideas on slips of paper). With six of us in the house, it works to have each person cook one night a week and have one night on your own. We’ve strived to have leftovers for folks to take as their lunches the next day, eliminating a sometimes rushed morning task or unnecessary expense. We’ve also decided, as our house is 50% vegetarian, to only do vegetarian community meals, or only have meat as a side option. I personally thought this change would be harder for me, but it’s felt simple.
Building intentional community and starting new jobs in a new city is stretching. Each of us have had challenges and rough days, but we at Dag House have found ways of getting through those moments of stress and confusion – namely via humor. This week, we’ve ended several days watching a few episodes of Parks and Recreation while eating ice cream (we counted one of these as our community night). Another comical theme of Dag House is the running joke we developed, where each of us must find a random, creative instrument as quickly as possible. Some highlights so far have included shaking a half empty milk jug, banging on a vent, and tapping together the parts of a multi-bit screwdriver. Orientation gave us vulnerability; living together allowed the vulnerability to give way to friendship and humor.
Our house is named for Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General for the United Nations. In preparation for living in this house, I read his entire Wikipedia page – it’s not that long, so hold your applause. Hammarskjöld’s dedication to justice, hard conversations, and peace is something I identify with strongly, but there was one moment in particular that the article described which resonated with me.
Hammarskjöld received a call from a journalist shortly after midnight on April 1, 1953, seeking information on his designation as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld’s response? “This April Fool’s Day joke is in extremely bad taste: it’s nonsense!” He was in disbelief – caught in an instant of uncertainty.
That is how many moments of LVC have felt for me.
From the start, when I got the email saying I’d been offered a position at University of Maryland’s Lutheran Campus Ministry, I was in disbelief. Why choose me? Yes, I had good references and experience, but certainly someone else was better. Not the case. Again, when my Mom drove me to LSTC for National Orientation, I was thoroughly convinced it wasn’t time yet. Hadn’t I just moved back from La Crosse? Didn’t I have the whole summer ahead of me?
Moments of doubt in my decision to do a service year crept up on me at Orientation again and again. Since arriving in DC, I’ve felt grounded at home with my housemates, but doubts still fills my mind at work. In the first few weeks, I haven’t been entirely certain what my role in the ministry is or how the year will possibly pan out. This has been a source of self-consciousness for me as I pride myself on knowing what’s going on and being helpful. I know in due time this will come together, especially since I’ve still been able to have life-giving moments at work. Still, it makes me feel uneven.
In the face of uncertainty, there’s a Dag Hammarskjöld quote I want to live into as my LVC year continues: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.”
I’m a strong believer that I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I made different decisions in the past. I wouldn’t change things, even the choices I regret, because I’m grateful for the what has shaped me. In this way, I already embody the first part of Hammarskjöld’s quote. The second part is a bit more difficult. I like control, plans, a clear path.
But following a call – diving into a service year, moving in with mostly strangers, and starting a new job – requires openness. Openness to change, to struggle, to delight. As I wander further into this call, these new relationships, this job, and this District, my goal is to say yes to it all. Yes to joy. Yes to challenges. Yes to those I will meet and be changed by. I am going to say yes to whoever I will be at the end of this year, a new culmination of all that has been and all that will soon be.