I could hardly believe it. From a smiling camper participating in a wide array of activities, to a desperate woman seeking shelter with no home or food to eat, taking a seat truly connected me to a shared root 571 miles away from me.
On this brisk winter night, my mom and I made our way to a homeless shelter, where women sought the warmth of the shelter and a hot meal. I pulled up a chair next to a tall blonde-haired woman. I introduced myself and took a seat. Our aloof chatter soon arose to deep conversation in which we discovered a connection between us. From bonding over what guitars we played to our preferred music genre, I further asked her where she grew up in order to obtain only a fraction of her journey that led her to the shelter on this night. She said, “a small town in Tennessee.” Spending a month of my past summers in Tennessee, and quite familiar with the land, I asked where. As soon as she said “Crossville,” the town in which my very camp lies, I knew a whole world would soon unfold between the both of us. I asked her if she was familiar with Camp Nakanawa. “Familiar?” she said, “Why, I went there!” Immediately, a twinkle appeared within her eyes and luminosity overtook her face, bringing forth joyous memories of her summers spent at camp.
But the story does not end here.
Two years later, I ventured to the same homeless shelter with my sister, and following a similar routine, we prepared a meal and distributed dinner. After my enriching experience at this same homeless shelter that took place in previous years, I decided to eat dinner in solidarity with another woman. In order to ignite a conversation, I asked where she grew up. “Houston, Texas,” she answered. Sharing my fondness of the south and camp experience with her, she consequently asked the location of my camp and I said, “Crossville, Tennessee.” “Crossville, Tennessee… you must go to Camp Nakanawa, I went there too!” Whether it was fate or a sign, my second trip to this shelter led me to the surprising coincidence of meeting yet another woman who, too, attended this small camp.
I pictured both of these women thriving in camp’s atmosphere, while looking at them in a polar opposite environment. Their camp songs turned into cries, their camp dining hall turned into lining up for food in the shelter, and their camp happiness turned into despair. How could two women with such similar childhood experiences to mine end up here? I kept asking myself this question and continue to ponder over it each and every day.
St. Francis de Sales says, “You must grow in love by means of the root, rather than the branches.”
While initially seeing both of these women merely as homeless, I opened my eyes to the reality that their situation does not define them, allowing their dignity to shine through their struggles. With each and every punch that life throws, the importance of recognizing the dignity of the human person will link shared experiences and connections, while cultivating rich relationships.
I’ve learned that many times people who have that same root don't always end up on the same branch of the tree. I feel lucky to have ended up at this branch and while I still have more growing to do, I feel that this place, this community, and this backbone in my life, Visitation, will help each and every one of our branches prosper. So this year how will you grow? How will you bloom into the best version of yourself? And how will we as a community grow into a garden with the most beautiful, colorful, vibrant variety. Will it be pulling up a seat next to someone you’ve never talked to, cheering on a friend at a game, or just giving a friend a pat on the back? Let us, as a community cultivate these roots, acting as the water to grow and prosper, acting as soil to keep us grounded, acting as the sun to bring happiness and optimism, and even acting as insect repellent that rids the biting bugs, to overcome any and all obstacles that come our way. Let’s grow our roots together.
Brennan Dunne ’19 gave this reflection at the Mass of the Holy Spirit honoring St. Jane de Chantal on August 28, 2018.