I’m proud, I am so proud. I nearly burst with joy to tell people that I live in Philly, West Philly. This place, these people, have become more dear to me than I could have ever imagined. This place, these people, feel like HOME. A home I am about to leave.
I don’t want to, God knows I don’t want to leave. But a change has got to come and this what I believe to be the best way to do that in this moment, at this time in my life. But does it ever come with a price!
It took me a while to adjust to Philly when I first moved here in September 2012, fresh from a year of volunteering in NYC. I had longed for Philly’s embrace after a difficult year in the Big Apple but a few months after moving into my studio apartment I felt more lonely than ever.
Enter West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, the congregation and community that absolutely changed my life. I never thought I would find a church I could call home or a community that would show me what Christ would act like, a place that would teach me what it means to love and be loved.
And love and be loved I did, with such abandon that now, as I picture leaving this place, my heart feels raw with emotion, like it could burst within me. Indeed my tears already have– if this was a piece of paper it would be covered in tear stains, the letters barely legible.
WPMF and the broader West Philly community has given me life, made my heart beat. These people have walked beside me, affirmed my gifts and dreams, counseled me, consoled me, advised me, loved me, held me, laughed with me, questioned me, prodded me, trusted me, sang with me, lifted me up, provided things for me, showed me what true community can be. And I hope I’ve been the same to them.
All of this, and yet I choose to leave? Yes, it is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. In many ways Philly has been so good to me except for one major area: work. Since graduating college I’ve found myself in administrative job after administrative job, most with little to no work to do an a daily basis. For someone who longs for productivity, meaningful work, and fulfillment you have no idea how mentally, emotionally, and physically draining it has been to spend 40 hours a week on a computer just staring at the screen (actually, if you’ve ever read my blog you probably do have an idea since I rant about it often, but I digress), especially when my heart longs to be doing peace, conflict transformation, and facilitation work.
I’ve wanted to go back to school for years now but have let my student loan debt nearly completely dictate my life. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve ended up in the jobs I have– I need a certain amount of money to pay off my loans so I take what I can get, often out of desperation. I’ve finally come to a place of loosening the grip these chains of debt have had on my life.
Yes, the debt is still there and I am being responsible about it but I cannot continue waiting until it’s gone to go after my dreams. I need more experience and education and working in dead end administrative jobs will not get me there. Enter grad school. After auditing a course in facilitation at the University of Pennsylvania this past semester, I realized just how much I’d been craving knowledge and education. It felt like the right time to start looking at schools and in many ways it was, except for that it was April and rather late to apply for fall. But apply I did.
One of the schools I was accepted to was the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont. SIT’s MA program in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation was something I’d looked into for several years and finally doors were opening for me to attend, one of which was the professor of the course I audited had gone there and highly recommended the program to me and me to the program.
In a matter of weeks I fought for more financial award money, visited Vermont with my dear selfless mother who suggested the idea of a quick road trip up there on Memorial Day weekend, and discerned the option with nearly every significant person in my life. And all this led me here, to this decision: I am going to Vermont!
As the excitement set in, so did the fear and the guilt and the sense of loss. I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was choosing to leave something before its natural ending. High school, college, and my year volunteering all had an expiration date, a natural ending at which most people in those communities dispersed and moved on. In Philly, I am choosing to leave something on my own, no end date, and there is no dispersing of community. My people will stay.
Change is never easy. As Heraclitus wrote, “Change is the only constant in life.” Some change is small, some, like this, is large but all change is necessary for growth. I’ve felt myself on the edge of birthing something new in my life for a while now and the time has finally come to bring it into the world. With Philly in my heart and mind and the support of my loving community, Vermont here I come!