The prospect of coming to Jamaica to help as a volunteer began taking shape around this time last year. In a post marking the anniversary of my quitting a job to find a better use of my life, I gave a detailed account how the prospect came to be. That development led me to Sr. Patti Rossi, a nun in Altoona, Pennsylvania who connected me with the Mission Society here in Bull Savannah. Were it not for her or the nearly-abandoned web page listing her contact information, I may have landed elsewhere on the island or possible never arrived at all.
Before yesterday, I had never met Sr. Patti in person. But she wrote to say she was coming to visit and we clearly had to meet. She, Monsignor Michael, and I went to lunch and it felt like a significant thread that had been nebulously waving in the ether finally connected to the larger narrative, making it more complete. Sr. Patti is quite a force. Quiet and unassuming, she spent nine years here in Jamaica, a lengthy amount of time in the Amazon, and recently spent time with a missionary setup in Haiti. She hardly sounds like the woman who, in a recent email, hinted at retirement. Sr. Patti is a generous soul who ends her emails to me with, “Sleep warm.” My lunch with her, combined with the impending close of the school year and my departure in three weeks, gave me a sense of things having come full circle.
After lunch Sr. Patti wanted to visit a close friend of hers, a nun with whom she worked closely during her time here. We went to Sr. Naomi’s house and the two reconnected in the blink of an eye. The three of us spent the next hour or so over tea and coffee; them trading stories and catching up, me explaining how I came to be in Jamaica. Toward the end of the visit, a former student from the girl’s school overseen by the nuns stopped by. Her name was Megan and she had in tow her six-month old son. I cannot remember his name, but his wide, bright eyes have stuck with me; that and his incessant drooling as a result of teething.
Megan was completely surprised to see Sr. Patti whom she remembered from her days at the school. She politely asked where I was from, what I was doing in Jamaica, where I was living – the usual questions I receive from locals. I almost have my response down to a 30-second elevator pitch. Sr. Patti then remembered that Sr. Connie, another nun connected with the school, used take Megan and a friend to the US during the summer to visit parishes across the country for outreach and fundraising work. Megan made multiple trips and I asked if she remembered ever visiting Wisconsin. To my surprise, she recalled more than one visit there. I began singing “Jesus On the Telephone,” the song I heard those two little girls sing during their presentation at Mass in 1998. (I have heard it a few times since being here too.)
“We sang that song all the time!” she exclaimed.
While she did visit the US in the late 1990s, it was difficult to determine if she specifically visited Platteville, Wisconsin the same weekend I did. It is possible, however, and we let that be enough to carry the conversation forward. Megan was very excited that she may have impacted someone so deeply with such a simple act, that it inspired me to devote some time to a corner of the island in need of some assistance, and that it fits into a larger goal of finding more purpose and fulfillment in my life. It simply underscores the kind of impact anyone can have on another person and how we should never take that power for granted. If someone in your life has impacted you similarly but you have never told them, drop them a line and let them know.
Again, today has been punctuated by a feeling of things having come full circle. T.S. Eliot wrote, “The end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started and to know the place for the first time.” My exploring feels far from over, but this closing of a loop, so to speak, does feel like I am back where I started: having tried something new in order to find something better, but not feeling sure I have found it at all.
But I do have to trust that I am closer. And that is the difficult part of the adventure for me – trust. It’s a blind faith that vulnerability and “not knowing” lead to certainty, or some form of it. Gambling on myself by quitting my job was difficult but I never doubted I would do it. Trying my hand at new jobs in new sectors was equally doable. Trusting it will get me where I want to go – that is what maps are for. At best I have had vague signposts I can barely read while stumbling in the dark, which brings me back to the conundrum of letting the process unfold when I am ready to take action. I suspect clarity will come when this is over and I have taken the proverbial step back. Perhaps then I will know the place for the first time.