When I was a kid, my parents would take my sister and me on backpacking trips through the Cascades. What I remember most clearly from those trips--along with fond memories of plunging into frigid alpine lakes and mounting steep and dusty trails up flowering hillsides--was the fear I felt at night. In my sleeping bag, I would contemplate the dangers that lumbered in the dark. This is my earliest memory of meeting the unknown--that shadowed wilderness in which my imagination bloomed with terrifying possibilities.
Trips across the world and many nights in the wilderness since my childhood have tested and, in some sense, quelled my fear of the strange and unfamiliar. Yet, I continue to experience this fear as I walk through life. I realize it is something I can’t escape. Today, one day before my last day at New City Initiative and less than a week away from the end of my year with Quaker Voluntary Service, I am again entering a new stage of life. I am meeting the unknowable again.
I recall that this year was once uncertain. When I first came to Portland last September, I knew very little about what my Quaker Voluntary Service experience would look like, what exactly New City was, or whom I would work with. Full disclosure: in my first few action plan meetings with Village Support Network teams, I had very little idea of what I was doing; the first few Village trainings I presented on material and advice gleaned from experiences that I’d never had. Regardless, Susanna, Paul, and Willa trusted that I would adapt, that I had something to give. With their support, I have grown so much in so many ways; I have had many accomplishments. I have learned to stay confident that I have what it takes to do well and to trust that my experiences up to my present moment will aid me.
I’ll leave on Friday comforted by the words of Pema Chodron, which Willa shared with the New City Staff at one of our recent staff meetings: “Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears.” Although I predict the next stage of my life to be far from chaotic, New City--with its energetic and dynamic character--has effectively modelled how to move with the changes inevitable in work and life.
So to speak, this year I have been a student of “making the path by walking” into the uncertain dark. Fear is inescapable, but it is surmountable as long as we learn to greet uncertainty and to trust that we will move through it. I am so thankful for this lesson.
Carson Dietz Hartmann served as Quaker Voluntary Service Fellow/Community Coordinator at New City Initiative from September 2014-July 2015. He will be spending the next few months traveling around the Pacific Northwest, while applying for positions at community development corporations around the country. Rudhi Chrissma Putra, the incoming QVS Fellow, will assume the Community Coordinator position in September.