This past week marked the final day of my JVC year, which the good people over at the Detroit program office rounded off with a final retreat on the banks of Lake Michigan. Besides the sun and swimming, the staff treated us, once again, to a handful of insightful speakers, each with a message that extended beyond the JVC year.
Our first speaker, Fr. John Staudenmeier, a Jesuit from the University of Detroit Mercy, talked to us about the grief that accompanies goodbyes. He explained that the Jesuits take on a vow to go wherever they are most needed at a moment’s notice, a vow which gives them an expansive sense of the world. Yet, Fr. John noted, many Jesuits also fail to really get to the places where they go.
By this, he doesn’t mean that they get stuck in the airport. Many Jesuits, knowing their stay is likely temporary, fail to really put down roots in their community. I would argue that this is a neurosis that affects us all, especially in this day and age, and especially young adults. We move for jobs and school and relationships, and in order to avoid the grief of goodbyes, we avoid attachment.
But this grief is a deeply beautiful thing, Fr. John explained. It’s a sign that you made real relationships, that you experienced something of value. It’s a sign that you truly got to the place where you were going.
Complimenting this concept is a favorite novelist and poet of mine, Wendell Berry, who wrote that “all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.” Let it in, and let it break your heart.
At the moment, I’m in a liminal space, done with JVC and about to move on the grad school, and as I sort through my experiences, I find that the grief I feel is sweetened and eclipsed by a profound gratitude. My wish for the year was to take leave of my students, fellow teachers, and community with a bad case of broken heart, and I’m grateful to the people and the experiences that allowed me to fulfill that wish.