Archive | September, 2013

Wrapped in Cosmic Hugs

22 Sep

“I realized then that even though I was a tiny speck in an infinite cosmos,

a blip on the timeline of eternity, I was not without purpose.” 

― R.J. AndersonUltraviolet

I once knew a lady who told me her theme for the year was “openness.” Whenever she said it, she would open her hand in front of her like she was trying to feel the rain. I’ve found myself thinking back to that theme as of late, and slowly and subtly embracing it as my own. If I open my eyes to embrace what’s in front of me, listening to my Inner Voice, I am exactly where I should be.

I make eye contact with people on the bus a lot. It’s nothing much, but surprisingly countercultural in our society today. We tend to travel like we’re in our own individual spaces, blissfully unaware that in actuality we all share the same air. My objective is to breathe the communal air, not suffocate in my own box. I’m cool, but I’ve just never been a big box fan. (See what I did there? Okay, moving on.)

In my last subtle attempt to break the social barrier, I made eye contact with an old, eccentric woman wearing a barrette and carrying a painting. It was Tuesday, and I was riding through Shadyside on my way home from Ursuline. I was reading a booklet about The Aging Institute that I had received at a public forum on Alzheimer’s, and when we made eye contact our eyes laughed at the irony of a 22 year old reading a booklet on aging. She made a comment about how she ages with grace, and I accepted her comment as an invitation to move next to her on the bus and begin a conversation.

Philomena O’Dea is the most interesting person I have ever met on a bus. She’s an artist, a photographer and a peacemaker, and has lived and worked in multiple different countries, including Kenya and the Sudan.. She now lives in Pittsburgh and is drawn to organic photography and documentation of the peace movement. After gathering this brief bio and sharing a bit about myself, I watched awestruck as Philomena reached her stop, slipped me her card, and shouted a salutation back to me as she left the bus. As the bus pulled away and I watched her scurry off, I wondered if I had just met The Big Guy in disguise. I looked down at Philomena’s card, nothing more than a photo of a mandala, a quote, and an email address. I stared at the card for awhile, coming the decision that I just had to know more about this woman. Never before had I typed a subject line that read, “I met you on a bus.”


The mandala on the back of Philomena’s business card

Philomena responded the next day, and I wasn’t disappointed. She sent me links to non-profit events, articles, TED talks, and contact information of a few people she thought I would connect with. Her signature read, “cosmic hugs and very best wished to you.” Who says that?!?! Philomena does. Philomena the stranger, Philoemena the bus 64 rider, Philomena my unlikely friend.

It’s the most unusual friendship, and the kind that I like the most. And the kicker is, connecting was easy. All it took was opening my eyes, leaving the box, and learning that no man is an island, or no person rides the bus alone.

I can’t wait to see who I meet this week.


This Is Life in Motion**

16 Sep

“Well this is life in color
Today feels like no other 
And the darkest grays
The sun bursts, clouds break
Well this is life in motion”

—Life in Color, One Republic

On Saturday I was asked to attend my service site’s strategic planning advance in downtown Pittsburgh. Basically the purpose of the advance and the plethora of meetings before it was to figure out how to gracefully meld two organizations together into one seamless, financially sound non-profit. We put together a cohesive mission statement, blending two visions into one, and discussed how to further advance the new organization.

…but before I bore you to tears, let me get to what really matters.

When my supervisor (Karen) picked me up for the advance Saturday morning, I was shocked to see that she had dyed her hair another color. My supervisor is a warm-hearted, middle-aged black woman with a lot of spunk and a twinkle in her eye, but she just didn’t strike me as the type to show up with a brand new ‘do. When explaining the look, she told me that when she was reflecting the other day she distinctly conceptualized the notion that she was stagnant and needed to “move.” She didn’t hear how or why, but that it was time for her to move. So she dyed her hair. That’s one way to do it.

 On Thursday of this week this same supervisor and I paid visits to a few of our elder clients around Pittsburgh, assessing whether or not they would be good fits for our volunteer programs. I’ve mentally begun referring to these days as “car time with Karen,” because I learn just as much from our one-on-one time in the car than when observing her with the clients. On Thursday after some discussions on purpose and ministry, we listened to some Gospel music, each lost in our own reflections. The music stirred something in me, it really did. I felt a pounding in my heart, a call to grace. And Karen saw it, too. There was movement there.

Before I came to Pittsburgh, I spent a few days visiting some friends in St. Louis. One of them was participating in a Jesuit volunteer teaching program. As she was nearing the end of her service, I asked her what it was that made her year so unforgettable. She told me that she decided right off the bat to make it a “yes” year. She delved into things, even if they were difficult or scary or just plain bizarre. If you are too afraid to try something, not willing to move, you could miss a lot. And Lord knows I have a fear of missing out.

As a community member (Sean) reminded me in a spirituality night last week, when Peter saw Jesus walking on water, he was terrified. But when Jesus told Peter to come to Him, he did. No hesitation. Peter got out of the boat. He moved.

Today a group of us went to Kennywood amusement park for the afternoon. The first line we got in was for one of the scariest, a wicked quick metal roller coaster that I was petrified to sit-down in. My community said I didn’t have to do it, and I knew that was true, but I felt that tug inside of me to hop in. It’s a yes year, after all. And though I screamed profanities from the second it started until we pulled back into the terminal, I did it.

ImageThe Sky-Rocket, our first ride at Kennywood


But we can’t do it all. There was no way in hell I was going on thay spinny upside down ride next to the roller coaster. I didn’t even entertain the notion. There has to be a balance, one has to know their limits.

So, within my limits, I’m making it a yes year, getting out of the boat, and choosing to ponder the truth that this life is motion.


And maybe someday soon I’ll even dye my hair.  


**a lyric from One Republic’s Life in Color, introduced to me by community member Kim. Music’s kind of her thing. 

Painting the Iron (City)

9 Sep

            This week I’ve realized something…something I probably should have realized long ago: in order to spend a year of your life dedicated to community, spirituality, service, and simplicity, you have to be a little bit crazy. Between the 5 of us at Milly and the 6 girls at Eddie, we’re all a little bit weird. I hope my Pitt Pals take no offense when reading this, but this weekend helped me understand just how countercultural our lives are, and just how open-minded you have to be to live as we do.

            When you share a common cup and get a minimal stipend, you have to make your own fun. So, Friday night when a group of us wanted to grab a few drinks and hit the town, what did we do? First, we went to fuel up at The Harp and Fiddle Pub, home of FREE wings and cheap beers. We sat outside on the patio for hours as we were serenaded by some local musicians (Sean’s mom and stepdad…rock on, Mary Fran!) as well as a surprise performance from an 8-year-old with his opening debut, The Second Grade Blues. Then we headed back to Milly to split a few beers, later venturing out to find a local dive bar. We wandered into the place with the loudest music…a little joint called Vino’s Pub. We walked inside to find maybe 10 people sitting at the bar calmly watching the Pirates game. But upon close inspection, we realized when two tables were pushed together we could create a space that vaguely resembled a dance floor. The next task on the list was to make friends with the DJ (a lovely man in a Steelers cap named Albert), request solely 90s music for the rest of the night, and voila: five pals, ten legs, and unanimous commitments to dance and sing BSpears and BSB at the top of our lungs for the remainder of the evening.


            But our Friday night festivities did not stop us from getting up bright and early Saturday to participate in a Downtown Beautification Project. We went from painting the town red Friday night to painting the town’s iron fences black Saturday morning. Mad props to the Pitt Pals for their dedication and willingness to participate in an event we knew nothing about…I found the project online and the team jumped in, no questions asked. Four hours of painting and one hour of getting the paint of our arms and legs later, we made our new city just a little more beautiful.


            After a Saturday Primanti’s community dinner (cole slaw and fries on the sandwich?!?!?) and movie night (Life of Pi), Sunday we headed down to Oakland for Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I can’t imagine what people think of us, a pack of kids all strolling along the street together, weaving in and out of other pedestrians. We’re like a gaggle of geese in our very own flight formation. After Mass we went over to a non-denominational service in the Cathedral of Learning put on by the H2O Church. One of our community members belongs to the church, so we all decided to tag along. It was a great praise and worship sesh with a moving witness and lecture. Afterwards we hung around and got to know some of the other service-goers. It’s always a fun game to explain to new friends who we are and the crazy lives we live.  

            And I’m realizing more and more each day just how much I love these crazy lives of ours. With 11 people all virtually living together there is always going to be someone ready to jump in on your plans. Whether you’re wandering into a dive bar, busing it downtown to help with a service project, or exploring a new worship service, you won’t have to go it alone. You will no doubt find a Pitt Pal as crazy as you are.  🙂



The Pitt Pals

3 Sep

The Pitt Pals

Coffee Made with Holy Water

2 Sep

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you–just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Growing up in a Catholic family and attending Catholic Masses, I learned how to pray at a very young age. Make the Sign of the Cross, fold your hands, thank God for that extra brownie at lunch, apologize for fighting with your brother, and ask Him to keep you healthy and safe. Rinse, wash, repeat.

But things are different now. I’m different now. 

When I attended a 5 day silent retreat in January, I began to see that talking to God only gets you so far. You can talk His ear off (does God have ears?), but if you don’t listen the conversation is shot, and you’re just that obnoxious girl that won’t shut up. 

I have come to Pittsburgh to learn how to listen to God. The Voice of God, my Inner Voice, is constantly whispering in my ear, but too often there are other songs bouncing off the walls that I can’t tune into the right channel. But I heard that voice singing a song of Steelers and yinzers, so I followed that tune. When I first decided to do a year of post-grad service, I spent days flipping through the Catholic Volunteer Network catalog, starring every service placement that sounded interesting. ….I starred over 100. But then I found Change a Heart, and it is the only application I completed in its entirety. You know that peace you get when something just “feels right?” I think I’m tuned in.

This was our first week of service at our placement sites. I’m serving at Ursuline Senior Services and the Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support, where I am learning how to be a volunteer coordinator and am being trained in grief peer support. There’s a lot to learn, but I have wonderful supervisors and already feel like I’m part of something good. I still don’t know why this is where I ended up, and maybe I’ll never be privy to that grace. But sometimes the point is to trust, not to know.


And then other times, you know with absolute certainty that you are where you should be. I was overwhelmed with this sensation the other day, when I wandered into the Sacred Heart of Jesus Store. I got out of work a little early and started walking around town, eventually walking past this hole-in-the-wall. I walked right past it, barely paying attention to the store front. But then I stopped, looked behind me, turned around and walked straight in without hesitation. It was like the Voice said, “yes! This is the place you’re searching for!” though I wasn’t aware that I was searching for anywhere at all.



When I walked in, there was an older woman and a German spitfire nun sitting by the door. They pulled up a chair, told me to sit down, and we proceeded to spend the next hour shooting the shit  (is that okay to say about a nun?). She made me a cup of coffee with Holy Water she found in the back, and gave me a bag of food to take home to my house. I walked out of the store and laughed all the way home. Those who know me know I’m a wanderer, and this was just the reminder I needed that “not all who wander are lost.”

Life’s a whirlwind when you begin to listen to your Voice…you never know where you’ll wander or who you’ll meet. Buddhist, Atheist, Catholic, or confused, we all have one. All you gotta do is shut up, listen, and, to quote one of my Pitt Pals, “do you”.