Winter is my favorite season. Now, I know this makes me seem crazy, and many people gawk at me when I share this tidbit about myself, but there is something about the gentle snowfall and icy air that gets me every year. Looking at the ice formations on the beach, making a cup of hot chocolate, Advent Mass at Old St. Pat’s, exploring the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. The glisten of the sun off the glittery snow, the majestic feel of a light snowfall, the feeling of cold air when you take a deep breath. All of these images make me feel more alive and brighten the beauty of God’s creations here on earth. At a time of year when everyone is holing up inside, instead of looking at it as a negative thing we can look at it as a time for community support and growth, a time when everyone is together as the months towards the end of Amate come closer and closer. With the recent inclement weather my North House community has been spending a lot of time indoors together. This has given us the time and opportunity to reflect, on a community and personal level during this mid-year point of Amate. Naturally, the winter season represents a time of reflection due to the holidays and the New Year. Personally, I took a lot of time over the break to look back on the many changes that occurred in my life since my move to Chicago. The first half of Amate was a rollercoaster ride of emotion. I struggled with homesickness (I have quite the obsession with my home state of Michigan) to challenges at my site placement. On a more positive note, the first half of Amate brought me new meaningful relationships and hands-on knowledge of social justice issues.
With the cold weather came a sense of joy and renewal. Prior to the Christmas break, my house went caroling in the streets of Uptown. We stopped by our director’s house and continued on through the streets serenading a few neighbors that came out onto their porches and balconies. It was a gorgeous winter night. As we sang our last (and favorite) carol, Silent Night, to the nuns next door, a sense of peace came over me. Everyone was laughing and smiling. This memory I have will forever be carried in my heart as a favorite Amate moment. I felt the presence of God in this cold winter night, bringing with it a sense of being in the right place at the right time. This sense of calm came at a much-needed time when many of us volunteers are experiencing some burnout and anxiety about the future. This peaceful moment summed up my feelings of community, a stable support group through this tumultuous ride we call a year of service. Despite the many disagreements we can have regarding dishes and chores, my community has been a place of refuge when work and life in general gets tough.
The recent polar vortex brought an opportunity for us to come back together after break to renew relationships. Just a few weeks ago, Chicago was struck by a massive cold streak. Many of us Amate volunteers were confined to our house for the Monday and Tuesday following the holidays. Although many would see the polar vortex as a negative thing, it brought with it many gifts. For starters, it reminded us how fortunate we are for warm housing and food during such a harsh time of year in the city. The polar vortex snow days also allowed us North House residents to relax and spend quality time together after nearly two weeks apart. Those few days where we had no choice but to stay inside are some of my favorites from the year so far. It felt nice starting the day off with coffee in the community room with no obligations, refreshed from time at home. Lots of laughs ensued when we decided to try a science experiment by throwing boiling water outside that instantly turned into snow. Our snow days consisted of funny YouTube videos and games. The perfect conclusion to the day was our spirituality night. Amy, a fellow North House resident, prepared a kind of a mid-year reflection. At this reflection, everyone expressed how going home made them realize how special community was to them, how blessed we all are to have been brought into each others lives. The reflection got a little teary eyed, but overall it brought me a sense of great joy that God has brought me 11 wonderful friends. We ended the night with an attitude of excitement and hope because we knew how much we had grown in the last six months, and we still have six more months to strengthen our community.