By Annie Salorio
If there’s one thing I can say about myself with confidence, it’s that I am, and always have been, a good student. And I don’t mean that I know how to cram just enough the night before an exam to earn exactly the number of points I need to maintain a certain average.
I actually took great joy in my assigned school readings. I even added excited, super-nerdy notes to my margins. When long-term projects were assigned, I set my own deadlines for smaller chunks of the larger goal, triumphantly checking them off as I went. In college, I went to professors’ office hours and had dinner at their houses (I love small liberal arts schools). In other words, school came easily to me. I knew what was expected. I enjoyed doing what was expected. Learning was a joy, and school was my home.
Servant Year is a different experience. Now, I certainly don’t mean to dissuade anyone from applying. The benefits of this program are numerous, and I could devote an entire post to them alone. In the past seven months, I’ve made new friends, explored a new city, and learned a lot about myself.
But something else has happened to me; something that I wasn’t well-prepared for in the warm embrace of academia.
I’ve been wrong. A lot.
I’ve inadvertently annoyed my housemates. I’ve neglected personal responsibilities (my body, my messy room, my pile of laundry, etc.). And God knows I’ve made more mistakes at work than I can keep track of.
If any other good students are reading this, I have something unsettling to tell you. You’re awesome, but you may be at a bit of a disadvantage in this department. School dominates the first eighteen years of your life. If school comes relatively easily to you, you don’t get a whole lot of practice being wrong. And in real life, you’re wrong a lot. Sometimes it feels like you’re wrong more often than you’re right.
But there’s good news. When I was a student, a single “C” on an assignment was enough to ruin my day, even if all my previous grades in the course had been “A”s. These days, if I make a mistake at work, I don’t have too much time to let it get me down, because I’m bound to make a different one the next day. I know this might sound like a nightmare, but there’s a great beauty to it. In a class, a certain number of mistakes leads to a failing grade. As I said above, I’ve made a lot of mistakes as I’ve navigated my Servant Year. But I haven’t “failed” yet. Because one of Servant Year's goals is for us to emerge as slightly better people than we were when we started. At the end of the day, as long as this is accomplished, the number of mistakes doesn’t matter (within reason, of course).
Before I go, I want to make one thing clear. I’m not trying to bash academia. I love it dearly. I miss it. I intend to go back to it in the next few years. But when I do, I will fear failure a little bit less than I did seven months ago. And if that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.
Annie Serves as Youth Ministry Assistant for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
By Annie Salorio
I’m spending this year serving as the Youth Ministry Assistant in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Along with the routine administrative work expected in an office setting, I provide assistance with some more creative projects. At the moment, I’m working on a series of daily devotions for the upcoming Advent season. Interested parties can sign up to receive two text messages every day, from the first Sunday of Advent at the end of November, all the way to Epiphany in early January. In the morning, they receive a relevant scripture verse to consider for the day, along with a related prayer in the evening. My job is to select the scriptures and write the prayers. And, to make things especially fun, these texts must be 140 characters or less. No easy task, but I’m very much enjoying the challenge so far.
As I was selecting scripture passages, I came across one that was very familiar. It is one of the opening passages of the Gospel of John. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Not only is this passage familiar, but it’s short. Perfect for the requirements of my project, but also something to watch out for. Short passages are easy to gloss over and forget about, especially ones as familiar as this. We think we know what this passage means. We’re convinced that it’s simple, too obvious to spend too much time considering. But let’s pause for a minute. There are many things that this little passage does not say. For example, it asserts that the light shines, but it doesn’t promise that we will see or appreciate the light when it comes. Need a real world parallel? This wonderful job I’ve been given for the year. It’s giving me valuable work skills, introduced me to hard-working, kind people, and makes sure that I’m always busy and fulfilled, which fends off boredom and loneliness. But on days when I’m stressed and tired, robbed of an opportunity to lounge on my bed with a book or reconnect with old college friends, the “light” of these benefits may go unnoticed. This passage also doesn’t promise that there won’t be moments when it seems like the darkness is winning. We in Servant Year have probably noticed this already. Many of our placements involve work with vulnerable populations. Despite their hard work, good intentions, and desperate need, people continue to suffer. We pray that our little bits of help may be a “light” to them, but cynicism can make it all seem pointless.
Obviously, this passage has great theological meanings for Christianity. But Servant Year has made me see it through the lens of our experience this year. You come into a program like Servant Year so optimistic. Optimistic about yourself and the personal growth you’re sure to accomplish. Optimistic about the people you’ll meet and the impact you might have. And then you come up against all sorts of darkness. The darkness of the world around us, that makes our idealistic vision hard to achieve, and sometimes, even as our hearts break to say it, impossible. The darkness of our own flaws, when we’re forced to admit that sometimes, even when people we’ve come to value and respect need our help, we sometimes just don’t want to help. In these moments, the message of this beautiful scripture can seem hollow. “The darkness did not overcome it.” Really? Because that darkness is seeming pretty darn powerful. Not to mention stubborn, since it keeps. Coming. Back.
That’s why we need to reexamine this piece of scripture. It’s not so simple. The presence of darkness in our work and lives is not a sign of tragic failure, or that the world around us is crumbling. This year, we must remember that darkness is an opportunity for light to show itself.
Now, I say this as though it’s easy. I know it’s not. And I also know that I haven’t suggested anything terribly radical here. We all know this to be true. No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. We know it. It’s a cliche. We’re probably sick of hearing it. But here it is again, for those moments when you need a little reminder. In darkness and light, we’re in this together.
Annie is serving as Youth Ministry Assistant for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania this year.