When I was preparing to leave for my year of service with the AVs a little under two months ago, I had very little idea what to expect and my mind raced through all of the experiences this next year could possibly bring. I was certain that there would be good fun and hard work, excitement and homesickness, growth and challenges. I was certain I would learn how to do a new job, discover things about myself I never knew, and serve others while navigating how to live in community. As I pondered this upcoming year, the possibilities seemed nearly endless; however, one thing that never crossed my mind was that I would have to deal with the death of a close friend while living seven hundred miles away from the comfort of home. Yet, on Tuesday, September 15th, my friend Mark was tragically killed in an automobile accident and I suddenly found myself in the deepest and darkest parts of my own mind that I have ever known.
I went home to Pennsylvania for the viewing and funeral and I have never before felt such sadness and such anger. I couldn’t help but ask why Mark? Why one of the most loveable and loving people this world has ever known? Why is this possibly happening to such good people—to Mark’s family and his closest friends? I could not stop crying for them, could not stop imagining the grief they were feeling deep in their cores. I had absolutely no desire to return to Chicago; I felt that my place was at home with the people I love, in the place I know. I thought returning to Chicago was selfish, that I would be leaving Mark behind, rendering his death inconsequential. I was mad at God, at times doubting that He is even real; I questioned why I would even want to go back and do service in the name of somebody who allows these things to happen to such good people. I asked basically every person I’ve ever met what they thought I should do—should I honor my commitment and return to Chicago or should I stay home—desperately hoping that they would tell me it was right to stay home. People offered different answers, but ultimately it came to the same conclusion of “Do what you feel is right.” This was virtually no help whatsoever as I had no idea what I felt was right, but I found myself on a plane from Philadelphia to Chicago the following Sunday.
The next few days were downright miserable and I was confident I wanted to go home. At this point, I was barely thinking or reflecting—I was just angry that I was here. That Wednesday, we had a community meeting with our site supervisor Father Bill, who encouraged me to simply pray. I was reluctant and I definitely wouldn’t call it prayer. During our AV orientation, we shared our “faith journeys” with one another and one of the things I shared is that I most doubt that God exists when I think about the fact that He would allow horrible things to happen to good people so you can imagine how far I felt from God when I saw a terrible thing happen to not only good people, but to good people whom I love deeply. However, that night of our meeting with Fr. Bill, I decided to just lay in my bed, sans Netflix and cell phone, and just be alone with my thoughts, something I probably would not have done if I were still at home. I barely remember what it was I thought that night, but the next morning I woke up feeling oddly at peace. That day I realized how much I love working at Habitat and how grateful I am to be in this position. The people are incredible and the work is empowering; every single person in the office has been so supportive and understanding. I just cannot imagine being in a better place, in an environment that allows me to process the death of a friend so openly and safely, while also providing a reprieve from the overwhelming grief I often feel in the forms of busyness and laughter and profound work.
I have no idea why Mark died and I still am incredibly sad and mad and confused, but the one thing I do know is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, that there is a reason I am doing this year of service while simultaneously undergoing the greatest struggle with my faith that I have ever experienced.
Chicago, IL 2015-2016