Originally published on November 8th 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Wednesday.
By: Nicolo Orozco
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.
I was handcuffed by a police officer in front of my house the weekend before my high school graduation. Needless to say, I had made some mistakes. I had lost faith in myself, and I had lost faith in God.
For a while, I did not understand why I was being forced to go to a community college. I had always thought I was smart, but I was not. I may have performed well academically, but I was foolish when it counted.
I always thought I would graduate high school, continue to a four-year university and get a respectable job. Instead, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would not be moving out of my house and heading off to a university after high school as I had always dreamed.
I began spiraling into a deeper and darker depression, and I had little reason to hope things would improve. At the community college I attended, only 34 percent of students graduated or transferred after six years. I knew I could not spend another six years in my town.
One of my sister’s therapists suggested I volunteer at Camp ReCreation, a Jesuit-run summer camp in northern California that serves individuals with developmental disabilities. My sister has autism, and her therapist was once a volunteer at the camp herself.
Then, hardly a week after riding in the back of a police car toward what I thought was the end of my life, I found myself heading toward what would become a new beginning.
Yet, it did not feel that way in the moment. On the way to the camp, I viewed the week ahead as an obligation rather than an opportunity. However, it was a chance to escape, and that was what I needed.
When we arrived, I was paired with a camper in his mid-60s who has autism. Initially, I considered myself as just his helper, but he quickly became much more than a person I was responsible for — he became my friend. I was moved by his appreciation for the simplest things in life.
His profound love and gratitude made it seem like he was the one serving me, rather than the other way around.
Each camper I partnered with taught me a new virtue. The week my camper needed help in the bathroom, I learned humility. The week my partner was nonverbal, I learned patience and communication. The week my partner was in a wheelchair, I learned the importance of physical stamina; there are no wheelchair lifts in the middle of the woods.
Up to that point, I never felt God was a meaningful part of my life. But throughout my experience at camp, His presence overwhelmed me. I was originally supposed to be there for only one week of the three-weeklong camp, but I felt so rejuvenated and loved that I stayed for the full duration.
Despite not having gone in years, I found myself attending Mass at camp every day for three weeks straight.
Believers understand the Catholic Mass as the reenactment of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, in which the faithful receive his true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
God did not require me to ask because he knew it was exactly what I needed — spiritual cleansing and new friends who filled my life with the love of Him.
When I found myself hating humanity and myself, God called me to spend time with the most beautiful, loving humans I have known in my life. At camp, I could be who I truly am and, more importantly, be loved for who I am.
If not for camp, I would not have been able to transfer to Georgetown after a year of community college, nor would I have been moved to renew my faith and return to the Catholic Church.
In hindsight, it is clear that the campers helped me more than I helped them.
Service is a gift, not a burden. I think many Hoyas find this fulfillment to be true of their experience of service. No matter how busy, anxious or dejected we may feel, being women and men for others not only benefits our communities, but it is fulfilling and life-giving for us.
Serve and be served. Love and be loved.