Finding the Authentic Self

Sometimes at college, it’s hard to really get to know people.  I don’t mean like “favorite color, favorite movie, favorite Starbucks order”-type getting to know people, but actually seeing people for who they are, for who we don’t normally get a chance to see them as.

Chit-chat with friends before and after class, over lunch in Boulder, or while walking back to your apartment at the end of the day is one thing, and a game night with friends after a home-cooked meal is another, but how often do people actually allow themselves to be fully vulnerable, completely open to others and honest with themselves?  This problem isn’t something specific to Loyola, or to college kids in general either.  I think that we’re all too busy with the things we deem “important” in life, like running errands, studying, working hours upon hours, and trying to squeeze in a bit of sleep to worry about authenticity in our relationships.

But during my week of SBO (Spring Break Outreach) I got to know eleven other people, many of whom I see on campus on a regular basis, at the truest level, one detached from schoolwork and other on-campus stresses.  I mean, when you squeeze twelve people into a two-bedroom basement apartment (with one bathroom, I might add), you’re bound to get pretty close.

But we didn’t just get close because we were forced to do so by circumstances.  We became close during those eight wonderful, intense days because we wanted to be.  With some help from Loyola, we gave ourselves the opportunity to see our peers and classmates on another level.  I had a conversation, while walking into the prison (see my last post) with one of my participants, about her decision not to go abroad, and why she’s so glad she didn’t because she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to participate in SBO.

Another night, I sat on the sofa in the living room of the house we stayed in with another one of my participants, long after everyone else had ventured back downstairs (and the two guys fell asleep on chairs), about our families, our struggles, our passions, and our plans.

Conversations like these happen at Loyola, don’t get me wrong, and I can think of more than a few.  But I think the great thing about SBO is that it puts together, for a week, twelve people who, under no other circumstances, would ever be together.  In telling stories I refer to group members as participants, but let’s be honest, these people are my friends.

Together, we spent a weekend at a prison with a group of guys who taught us more than we could have ever imagined (see my last post), spent hours pulling nails from pieces of wood, sorted clothes for a re-entry organization we worked with, and cooked all of our meals as family.

Every night we ate our home-cooked meals, sitting on the floor in a circle, discussing the day, maybe having an argument, making fun of each other, and laughing. A lot.  We then reflected on the events of the day for two hours or more, learning from and with each other.  By the end of the week we had two and a half pieces of looseleaf taped to the wall that comprised our “quote wall,” a masterpiece collection of goofy quotes from all of us throughout the course of the week.

These eleven other people now hold a special place in my heart and in my mind.  I think of their different perspectives, what they all brought to the table, how we made an awesome team, and how twelve very different people became close friends.  Next year, some will graduate, some will go abroad, and some will be here at Loyola still, but it will never be the same.  We can never get back that same feeling we had on SBO, when all we had was each other, for better or for worse.  But each of us knows that he or she has eleven other people, members of the Loyola community, who will always be there.  Even if, after a while, I don’t see or talk to some of my group members again (not that I want to think about this possibility), I know one thing.  I will carry each of them with me: in my thoughts, my actions, and how I approach the unknown, with confidence in my leadership abilities and trust in my friends.

My SBO group atop Federal Hill in Baltimore on our last day.

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