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Trust the ‘Landlord’

Carly Anderson | Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shortly after my graduation, I had the pleasure of taking a weekend road trip to the New Hampshire coast with some friends after beginning my work with a group of AmeriCorps volunteers in New Haven, Ct. We had everything we needed to make the most of a New England summer afternoon: a sandy beach that tapered off into a wild and craggy coastline, sweet salt air, a warm breeze, cold drinks and easy conversation. While tossing the frisbee in the shallow surf, I noticed a rocky outcrop a few hundred yards offshore.  
 “Want to swim out to that island?” I asked my fellow frisbee-tosser.
“What are you talking about? Those rocks?” he replied. To his point, my destination was less an island and more a large cluster of rocks peeking over the waves.  
“Yes. It’ll be an adventure.” As I articulated my plan, its appeal only grew in my mind. I assumed my companion would be equally willing to join in my little expedition, yet his response took me aback.  
“No way,” he said. “Oh, it’s not that far…” I cajoled. “Carly, I’m not swimming out there.” In his defense, the wind had picked up and the surface was a bit choppy. Furthermore, the rest of our group was languidly sunning further up the beach. I suppose, given the choice, my idea of swimming out to an ambiguous destination in the cold water could hardly compete with the comforting lure of the warm sand.  I was decided, however. Despite the temperature, despite my companion’s protestations and despite the fact my “island” was an unknown mess of rocks a small distance from the shore, the moment offered a question: will you swim to the island?
I met Ms. Alison Rivera, president of St. Martin de Porres Academy, while she was on Notre Dame’s campus for a fall recruiting visit. We instantly connected, both being vegetarian yogis. She possessed the spark of a kindred spirit, committed to living with a sense of mission and compassion. We remained in touch and in late March, I received an email from St. Martin de Porres. Ms. Rivera invited me for a weekend visit. They were searching for teaching fellows, and she wanted me to consider a position at the school. Despite my uncertainty, despite my reservations and despite the fact this wasn’t part of “the plan,” I went.  
Ultimately, I chose to join the community of young teachers at St. Martin de Porres in an old convent on the outskirts of New Haven, Ct., embarking on a year-long journey in urban education.  Officially, I’m serving with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps through an administrative post – “Graduate Support Coordinator” – at our Nativity school. Unofficially, however, I am a surrogate parent, sibling, coach and mentor to the 57 students in our building as well as to our high school-aged “graduates,” now spread across various local public, private and parochial high schools. I monitor grades, coordinate tutors for the academically lackadaisical, sign reluctant teenagers up for service and enrichment opportunities, collaborate with guidance counselors and confiscate cellphones when texting girls becomes more appealing than geometry homework. Not even my wild imagination could have envisioned myself living this life from my perspective as a wide-eyed freshman moving into McGlinn Hall. It is the unexpected, however, that makes the adventure so thrilling. My life and work at St. Martin de Porres is exhausting, and it’s certainly neither a sexy nor lucrative business. It is, however, some of the best work I can imagine.    
In “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” C.S. Lewis writes, “You may be sure the Landlord has brought you the shortest way: though I confess it would look an odd journey on a map.” I am certain mine would look an odd journey on a map. I’m equally certain my future wanderings will look odder still. Even so, I trust the “Landlord.”
In any great journey, the defining moments pose resounding and terrifying questions. Is your conviction stronger than your fear? Will you go to this place you do not know? On that summer day in New Hampshire, I abandoned the beach, braving the waves alone to swim to my “island.” When I finally reached the barnacle-covered rocks, the wind and the waves crashing against the rocks roared, the silence was loud and breathtaking. From my little island off the coast of New Hampshire, for a few brief minutes, all I could hear or see was the sky and the ocean. And in that moment, I felt victorious.
I pray that you always choose to swim to your islands.  There will almost certainly be good, sound, rational reasons why it is impractical or inadvisable to risk the waves.  Let your conviction be stronger than your fear. Keep the faith. Relish the adventure.
Carly Anderson is a 2012 graduate of Notre Dame. She can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.