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How I Unlocked the Spiritual Reality of Belonging

Creator:
Published:
May 22, 2024
May 13, 2024
Learn how one woman's life after college taught her to trust herself and helped her find a post-grad purpose.

Ten years ago, I was in your shoes.

Well, nearly ten years ago. 

I graduated from college in the spring of 2014, and a few months later, I moved to New York City.

One of the best pieces of advice I got that summer after graduation was: “Be kind to yourself during times of transition.” And I encourage you to let that be your mantra. Repeat it to yourself over and over. Foster that kindness for yourself and, as you grow older, sympathy for your past self. 

As I look back on that August one decade ago, I am filled with empathy for the confused young person I was when I moved to Manhattan. I did not want to move to New York, and I definitely did not want to teach in a high school classroom. Yet I was doing both. As I stood in front of high school classrooms that autumn, as I monitored detention rooms, and accompanied nervous students through their first days of school, I realized that I was the adult now.

No one had prepared me for the monumental transition that leaving college would be. And, over late night telephone calls with college friends scattered across the globe, it seemed like we all felt the same. All of a sudden, when we left undergrad, none of us were doing the same thing anymore. After years of going to the same classes, singing in the same choirs, meeting in the same coffee shops and dining halls, there was no script we were following, no study abroad program we would all attend in three years, no dorm hallways we would meet in. We were on our own.

We had a new responsibility not just to be an adult for others, but a responsibility toward ourselves. We had the task of asking ourselves: What is the narrative I want to follow?

Having the freedom to write your own story is exciting. But it’s an excitement that comes with a lot of anxiety. Living out a common narrative gives you belonging. Many times, in those years after graduation, I wondered where I belonged. What was the common narrative that I fit into? Sometimes belonging felt intuitive, sometimes I felt like I had to carve out a place for myself out of nothing. Over the course of that dramatic decade of my twenties, I began to question if the narrative everyone else seemed to be living— get a job, get promoted, buy a house — was the only option.

For me, everything changed during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, I left my job at a Catholic diocese because I was bored and miserable. Just a few days after I quit, New York City shut down in a blur of confusion and fear as the COVID-19 pandemic flared up throughout the five boroughs. I spent that summer living on severance pay and preparing for a graduate program in journalism.

That summer of 2020 opened up time and space for questions: the quiet and the strange new rhythms of virtual life and social distancing gave us space to examine our social norms, and ask if we really liked the way things were going. The whole world, and the United States especially, began analyzing our structures and society, asking important questions like “Who has the luxury to spend time in self-examination and who is spending the pandemic lockdowns risking their lives to care for others or deliver food?” and “What are the systems that white people take for granted that oppress their Black brothers and sisters?” and “Who benefits from the way the economy is structured?”

Seeing the world grind to a halt revealed that the reasons the world operates the way it does are not always just or good reasons. It also revealed that there was no reason it couldn’t operate another way. There’s no reason to not work for a society in which it is easier to be good, in which human dignity is truly honored.

In the year following the spring lockdowns, I spent my time with my two quarantine pods (yes, I was double-dipping on pandemic pods) and with classmates in my very small and tight-knit grad school cohort. In the midst of Manhattan, we built a little village of mutual dependence and care for one another — watering plants, checking in daily, and sharing deliveries of sourdough starters, cookies, and soup. 

Remember that dead-end diocesan job I quit at the start of the pandemic? Towards the end of my time there, the diocese’s newspaper editor asked me to write a review of a new biography about Dorothy Day. It’s the first book I had read about her. I was hooked. At that same job, I met a priest who introduced me to the New York City Catholic Worker that Dorothy Day founded. I ended up spending a lot of time there, reporting, volunteering on the soup line, and getting introduced to the writings of the Catholic Worker’s co-founder Peter Maurin. In the writings of Peter and Dorothy, I found the narrative I had been looking for. They didn’t write about finding success the way others wrote about it. Peter Maurin’s definition of success went something like this: “We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can. / We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can.”

And I found this just as inspiring as Dorothy Day did when she met Peter Maurin in 1932. She started a newspaper after her meeting with Peter. I haven’t done that, but I began to write more about her, Peter, and the ninety-year-old movement that came out of their meeting.

Peter Maurin talked a lot about being a personalist. What’s that? A personalist, he says isn’t a “go-getter” but a “go-giver” — someone who didn’t wait to be told to care for his or her neighbor.

“A personalist tries to give
what he has,
and does not
try to get
what the other fellow has.
He tries to be good
by doing good
to the other fellow.”

It gave me a narrative for what my friends and I had been doing for one another the past year: being go-givers. We had been taking care of each other in material ways, creating a small society of interdependence. When we recognize we need each other — materially — that’s when we really unlock the spiritual reality of belonging.

As you search for your own narrative of belonging in this strange new world post-college, don’t do what everyone else around you is doing just because it seems like the only way of doing things. Listen to that voice inside of you — the one that wonders what you would do if you didn’t have to make rent. Listen to that voice that says to want less and live more freely. Listen to the voice that asks, “Is there a way to live so that I am not causing my neighbor to be exploited or living off the sweat of another person’s brow?” Be gentle to yourself, follow that voice, and you’ll find a narrative worth belonging to.

Creators:
Renée Roden
Published:
May 22, 2024
May 13, 2024
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