Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Learning About Myself through Others

Throughout this semester, I have learned many valuable things about both myself and the Baltimore community through the events that I have attended. These events really allowed me to deepen my understanding of the value of literature as well, as the requirement to connect the two in our blogs made this very clear. Of the events that I have attended, however, the most poignant one for me was the Ignatian Family Teach-In in Washington D.C. Even though I wrote about this in a previous blog of mine, now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it I feel that it was even more valuable and surprising to me that I would have expected.

For most first semester college students—myself included—finding yourself and finding your interests is the main struggle. Extra curricular things were not difficult for me to find, as I pretty much just continued my high school activities by joining the Chimes and the Ultimate Frisbee team, but attempting to find an academic interest that suits me best has been very difficult. There are so many things that I have a slight interest in, but nothing that stands out as a major or something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I decided to go to the Teach-In because of the positive experience I had in attending it during my senior year of high school, and hoped that I could gain more insight into the message presented this time around.

The results, for me, were remarkable. I knew that I had an interest in helping those less fortunate that I, but the Teach-In really gave me tangible ways to do that, and surprisingly interested me much more than expected. The speakers there were some of the most powerful I have ever listened to. One nun in particular talked about being raped and tortured during the 1970’s in Honduras, and how it motivated her to take action. Hearing someone who has gone through something so traumatizing and awful be able to overcome such adversity and want to make a difference in the world made something very clear to me. I have to do what I can to change the world in any way I can. I’m not entirely sure how, but I’d never been quite so inspired to actually do something. The social injustices presented in Washington were all atrocious, and I don’t understand how our society can continue to ignore them.

So, for now anyway, this Teach-In has made me decide that I want to go into a service program for a year after college before graduate school. Whether it is through the Peace Corps or the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or any similar organization, I want to spend time serving people in the world and doing what I can to make their lives better, even if only for a moment.

For me, the events, and in particular this one, were the most surprising part of my experience in Understanding Literature this semester, and I will apply the things I learned from them to my daily life.

Search Within

On Monday I attended a SPECTRUM Meeting which was a discussion led by Father Linnane addressing sexual ethics and morality. We discussed the recent suicides that have taken place throughout the country, specifically the death of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, who took his own life due to bullying actions over homosexuality. Father Linnane shared an interesting story with us. He compared the story of Tyler Clementi to an experience he had while visiting his parents in Florida over spring break. It was during the time of Lent and he woke up early to attend mass. As the priest read his homily he stated “I am not afraid to say that fornication is a sin, I am not afraid to say that birth control is a sin, I am not afraid to say that abortion is a sin, and I am not afraid to say that homosexuality is a sin.” After the completion of mass, Father Linnane went back to meet with the priest and explain that he had just misrepresented the teachings of the church. Father Linnane went further to explain “a sin has to do with the subject, with freedom; homosexuality is not a moral issue, its condition is blameless, and it is not a matter of choice.” Father Linnane quotes Kant’s moral theory when he says “Always treat persons (including yourself) and ends in themselves, never merely as a means to your own ends.” This quotation was the basis of the lecture and sums up Jesuit education and values right on point. You can’t judge a person by what’s on the outside; I know we hear that so much, but it is the truth. What a person holds within is far greater than the way they appear from the outside. Sometimes it takes time to reveal the true personality of a person, but everyone deserves to have the opportunity to show who they truly are. Father Linnane started off his lecture by explaining his role in the Loyola Community. He said “as president, it is my job to make all students feel welcomed – mind, body, and spirit – and safe.” This lecture can be connected to his earlier letter and can also be linked to Jesuit education, teachings, and values. In his earlier letter he reiterated the fact that through mourning, grief, and loss our Loyola community came together to support and help one another through hard times. Something that really struck me about the lecture was when Father Linnane said what worries him is that bullying incidents due to homosexuality could happen on our campus. He said the use of social networking site to post anonymously about others is increasing and worsening. Studies have also shown that Roman Catholic students are more promiscuous than students of any other religion. We have to develop a level of respect for ourselves and others. The boy at Rutgers is an example of a person who was disrespected, pushed over the limit, and stripped of his personhood. Father Linnane discusses when entering any relationship it is important to have commitment, trust, maturity, mutual understanding, mutual consent, mutual good-will, respect, justice, and love.

Earlier in the semester Father Linnane wrote a letter and within stated “In a Catholic university these fundamental questions are ultimately bound up in the question of God’s nature and God’s will for us, as well as in the possibility and meaning of human transcendence. At Loyola University Maryland, concerns such as these find expression most evidently in the core curriculum, but I must emphasize that no path of inquiry—graduate or undergraduate, professional education or liberal arts—can exempt itself from engaging these questions and how the work of each program serves to advance the human good.” Jesuit education and values teach the focus and good of the whole person. It teaches the acceptance and welcoming of others graciously and without a label. It teaches respect and love.

The lecture concerning sexual morality and ethics can be linked to the poem “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun” and short story “The Birthmark”. In the poem “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun” by William Shakespeare the speaker describes his mistress in an unappealing way, but at the end explains how she is still the most beautiful lady to him. This shows the idea of looking past the exterior and loving her for what she has inside. On the contrary, in the short story “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alymer is unable to look past the imperfect upon his wife, Georgiana’s, cheek. He conform her to disliking what she see even though she has lived with the birthmark and it has always been a part of her. His obsession to fix the blemish leads to her death. This shows how an imperfection can destroy a relationship. If you really love someone, you love them for everything they have and you don’t try to fix the flaws. Nobody is perfect and nobody is flawless. Father Linnane did a great job explaining that no one person is superior to another, we must graciously accept all. We don’t necessary have to agree with their beliefs, but we cannot disrespect others because they have different views and values from us.

What is the most surprising thing I have learned this semester? The most surprising thing I have learned this semester is that if you actually take the time to uncover the true meaning of something there is no limit on how much you can learn. I never took the time to go out in the community or to really analyze a piece of literature before this class, but in going to several events on campus and participating in the transportation assignment, I feel more connected to the Loyola community. The most influential event was definitely the Hunger Banquet. I am now a member of the group on campus, Ignite Change, and next week I will be participating in an event run by the club to make a difference. It is called A Million Pleas and we are going to set up a table in Boulder next Monday and have students record themselves saying “Please…”. This event is to raise awareness to the impact of nuclear weapons and try to ban their usage. I was nervous for this class because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to balance the workload, but each exercise made me appreciate the class even more. I love the teaching through presentation aspect because it encourages students to engage in conversation which opens a variety of different viewpoints from the readings. Overall the most surprising thing I learned this semester is Jesuit education and values surround us every day and by taking the Jesuit teachings into account we better ourselves as well as others. I am very grateful for being able to have taken this class this semester, it was definitely one of the few I looked forward to attending each class.

Trade the White Sheets for a Suite

Growing up in a city where high poverty exists, I always got very frustrated – not with the rich who have everything and give nothing, but with the poor who do nothing to change their lives. There were always homeless people standing at intersections asking for money and I always thought, you could spend the time you spend standing on this intersection at a job, even McDonalds would be better than this! So, I’d drive away in my car without giving them a dime. When that didn’t work, I thought food is the nutrients of life. If you don’t have food, you can’t work. My new idea was to give to these beggars – not money, but food.
I would drive through the city to school every morning with bread in my passenger seat, and hand each homeless person enough to fill up his or her stomachs. One day, after school, I went to Fortunato’s on York Road (It’s a pizza place). This man came up to me and started babbling about how he hasn’t gotten his check in months because the governments corrupt and he was so hungry, he would starving and couldn’t go another day without having food. So, I gave him my perfectly good, just bought, untouched pizza. I figured he was at a pizza place asking for food, so he wanted pizza. Fortunato’s has an outside sitting area where we’d always eat, so I was sitting there with my friends after giving this man my food, and he walked down two or three stores and threw my pizza in the garbage…. After that, I was so disheartened. He didn’t want food, he wanted money, and what he would buy with that money would probably not be food. I couldn’t believe that someone in such a predicament would lie about needing food, when so many people in Baltimore would have done anything for that slice of pizza.
After that, my impression of homeless people changed. I thought all homeless people were drug addict lazy bums that didn’t want to work a day in their life so they’d rather stand on the corner of intersections begging for other people’s money so they could buy drugs and alcohol and whatever else assisted them to be homeless in the first place. I stopped handing out my bread and I stopped offering people food. That seemed to work for me for a while, no disappointments, no let downs, no feeling like my big heart is just too big and I’m absolutely stupid for caring about these people. I never stopped caring - I just stopped showing it.
As time went on, I began to miss feeling like I was helping. I kept telling myself I wasn’t helping and that doing nothing was the best thing for everyone, but deep down I always knew that was wrong. Just because of one man being a scumbag doesn’t mean every homeless person in this city will throw my pizza away. It's like "Shane," just because he's a cowboy doesn't mean he's a dirty killer. There's no reason to past judgement on people; cowboy or homeless man. Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to do Care-A-Van over the summer, I knew it was a calling, telling me that I need to give back like I had before, and that there is no reason for me to do what my heart feels is right. Therefore, I signed up for Care-A-Van for this semester, and it couldn’t feel better. You learn so much about people and yourself through this experience. I have talked to people who set up their beddings right down the street from my house, who went to high school with my dad and who work at places that provide Baltimore with goods and services. These men and women work, and work hard! They are not standing at intersections begging for money, they work 12+ hours a day to make a living that not even a 19 year old college student could live off of. They’re not drug addicts or alcoholics, they are good men and women that just can’t seem to catch a break.
As you get to know people through the semester, you feel more comfortable talking to them about certain topics, which you would not really bring up to a stranger. Last time I was at Care-A-Van, we started discussing with a man an issue that I have never once felt comfortable talking about, especially with someone of a different race. A little white girl and two big African American men started talking about racism. I felt unbelievably rude, but I had a cast on so I thought they might take pity on me and not want to knock me out for being so bold and stepping out of place. The two men, both grew up down the block from my father on Dylan Street, about racism. One man graduated with my dad at Patterson, and their stories sound like they’re from two different worlds, much less high schools. My father has told me some stories about his high school, which was, of course, racially integrated at the time. His brother and sisters, who are older, went to Patterson when it was still segregated, so I knew these men wouldn’t know them from Moses. But my dad attended Patterson with both blacks and whites and didn’t really care about it. He said most black people were in different classes and they ate lunch at a different time, but there were fights every day in the hallway, but he wasn’t in them so he didn’t care.
When talking to this man on Central Ave. about his high school experience, he said he had to take a city bus to school every day and if he missed that bus or if the bus was running late, he had to walk. He said he had to walk fighting the entire way. He’d come home at nine in the morning and his mother asked why he wasn’t in school and he said, “I fought half way there and couldn’t fight anymore, so I had to turn around and walk back where no one would fight me because they already did.” This man isn’t homeless because he liked drugs and alcohol; he’s homeless because he couldn’t get a high school diploma because people didn’t like his skin color! Then, these men were asked a question that their answers astounded me by. This, by far, is the most surprising thing I have learned from my Care-A-Van experience. The men were asked, “which is worse, back then when racism was well acknowledged and you knew who was racist and who wasn’t, or now, when racism is there but not spoken about and you have no idea who hates you for your skin tone or not?” Both men, without a doubt in their mind, declared that they’d rather go back to the days of being beaten up on their way to school than have the type of racism we have today. One man said racists are now hidden behind suites and they’re the ones who rule the world and go into office and become people’s bosses and you will never know why they demoted you or fired you but you can only assume it’s because you’re dark skinned. Before, racist people could hurt you, but now they can run your life from a desk, and that’s the worst racism of all. These people will not care about your children or your wife and cut your pay rate into so many pieces you can’t even buy food for your family. It was never the answer I expected, but I completely agree and understand why they feel this way. I am not surprised at these men for feeling as if they’d rather be punched in the face than endure the racism of today – I’m more surprised at the white supremacy punks in suites that feel as if they can get away with such a thing. And the most surprising part of all is – they do.

Homelessness in the City

Almost two weeks ago, I attended an event at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore that was held to raise awareness of homelessness. The event was originally brought to my attention by my philosophy professor who is a strong advocate for the homeless, especially in areas of healthcare availability for those who are less fortunate. Although the events purpose was for everyone to sleep out at the Inner Harbor, I was unable to do so because of prior engagements planned for the next day. I was, however, able to hear people talk and share their experiences of homelessness in the city.

There were plenty of people in attendance. Most brought sleeping bags and some snacks. People presented their lives and talked about their experiences with homelessness. The way in which these people spoke made you realize the hardship and challenges that these people encounter. Most people assume that homeless people are homeless for a reason such as addiction or bad life choices. But this is not always the case. Sometimes people are homeless just due to plain bad luck and misfortune. I was able to talk to one gentleman who talked of how he lived on the streets in the city for almost a year. He was working a low paying job before, and when the economy hit, he was laid off and could no longer afford his small bedroom in a rented house. He had to turn to living on the streets. He was not able to get a job, because he had no means of contact or stability in his life at that point. Many months later, he was able to find someone who gave him a new low paying job which enabled him to go live in a different small bedroom where he still today lives in poverty.

I have never had a thorough understanding of what it really means to be homeless and the challenges these people face. I’ve encountered homeless people around the city, usually begging for money. To be honest, homeless people have never scared me, but they have always given me a sense of uneasiness. I’m guessing that the sense of uneasiness has come from being approached and asked for money by a complete stranger.

Listening to people who have been in this situation has brought me to a new understanding of the challenges that homeless people face. Hearing of how these people did not know where they would sleep at night, what would happen to them while they were sleeping, where they would get their next meal, and if their life would improve made me realize how fortunate I really am to be born into the life I was. Another huge issue is the healthcare, or lack thereof, that homeless people receive. Most are underserved by our current healthcare system.

I am fortunate enough to work at a hospital downtown that provides a great deal of charity care for those who cannot afford it. The Shock Trauma Center receives the most seriously injured and critically ill patients in Maryland. As part of that, we provide a great deal of care that goes uncompensated—as trauma happens to everyone. I recently helped take care of a homeless gentleman who was stabbed in the abdomen. As part of his care he received emergent surgery, a week long hospital stay, hot meals, baths, and upon discharge he received a great deal of bus passes so that he could return to the clinic and get where he needed/wanted to go. All for free. It made me feel great to know what I was helping someone who had not had those amenities in a very long time, and was so grateful for the care he was receiving.

As a central theme of the class, we are asking what it means to be human and lead a good life. From this perspective, leading a good life simply means taking care of others. Whether it is advocating those who need advocating for, or providing care, or simply being kind, what matters is helping and taking care of others. This event has made me think about homelessness in new ways. It has erased some of my preconceived notions about the homeless and how they got to where they are. This experience would have been much better if I was able to spend the night and take in the full meaning of the night.

The most surprising thing that I have learned in this course is that literature can be approached from so many different angles. As we have read poems and short stories, we have critically analyzed the text and sometimes arrived at different conclusions as to the meanings. Both conclusions could have been fully supported by textual evidence, however they could have been complete opposites. It always interested me that people can take such different stances on what literature means and what the author is trying to say. Although, what surprised me even more was that the conclusions were reached usually because of past experiences. Whenever I have analyzed literature before, I always went directly from what the book or poem had said. Never before have I brought in personal experiences to analyze the literature against to arrive at a meaning. This has proved very effective during in-class discussion and blog postings.


First semester of my freshman year here at Loyola has been both enlightening and tons of fun, and I think Understanding Literature only added to my experience. I initially thought that all the extra events and bus trip were going to be a complete drag and waste of my time, but I was pleasantly surprised. I learned so much through attending events and exploring Baltimore. These are things I would not have done if I wasn’t assigned to do so. I think the extracurricular events really helped me to discover all that Loyola has to offer its students, and conveniently I got to have these experiences during my first semester. I have learned great tips for applying to jobs, to have tolerance for other groups of people through learning about their struggles, and even how the Catholic Church is sometimes misrepresented from my most recent event with Father Linnane.

Father Linnane gave a great talk on sexual ethics last night. He talked about his training in this field and then went on to share with us an experience he had a few years back in Boca Raton, Florida when he went to visit his parents. He said that he would go to mass with his parents everyday, “but on this particular day they had slept in—thank god!” He told us that the Priest gave a homily about how Lent is a time to repent for our sins. He told the congregation that he knows what a sin is and he unlike most other priests is not afraid to tell the world what they really and truly are. This included birth control, masturbation, fornication, and even homosexuality. At this point Father Linnane said that the crowd’s—probably no one under 60—faces turned white and their jaws literally dropped. This statement absolutely enraged Father Linnane because this priest completely misrepresented what the Catholic Church stands for. Sins require a reflection then grave wrong doing, and homosexuality is not a choice therefore it can’t be a sin. There were probably many people in the crowd who believed the priest when he said that homosexuality is a sin. This made me wonder how many times groups, organizations, and other people go misrepresented and we believe what we are told purely because we have done no other research. This reminded me about how in Twelfth Night Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, in order to work for Orsino–-the man she has fallen in love with. At this moment Viola is misrepresenting herself to Orsino and to Olivia who is now attracted to him. As one can see when you misrepresent something you can create a whole web of problems. This goes the same for the priest who said homosexuality was a sin. By misrepresenting the church to its followers he is likely to cause a web of problems. Catholics may tell other Catholics this so called belief and then you will have the people believing something completely untrue.

This week I attended the student run lecture, Death and the Maiden: Marian art in Medieval Execution. The speaker told how she traveled to Florence to learn about the role that Mary has played throughout the Church and how she is portrayed through the art of the Medieval Era. It was noted that Christians usually first learn the Hail Mary prayer, which asks for her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death”. Showing that Mary is present now and always in the lives of Christians. The speaker then went on to explain the Fra Angelica’s lost Tavoletta and its meaning. Essentially it was displayed as two opposite parts of a whole, which was used to shield the eyes from punishment and to be able to see God. The discussion then lead to obeying the law and the consequences that would come if the law were disobeyed. If the law were disobeyed there would be public humiliation and possible death, all in front of the entire community. This is where the Tavolett would come into play and shield the eyes from the punishment and allow them to know that they would see God.

The discussion then lead to two parts of one Tavoletta, which had the crucifixion painted on one said and the coronation on the other. It was discussed how the were painted on the opposite sides of one piece of wood. And it was discussed how they were truly connected and what it meant to have these two different paintings supposedly opposite of one another. The speaker then began to relate Mary into the discussion, and told of what the importance of her really was. It was said that through the Meditations, also known as the 5th Gospel, Christ’s life was described in much an easier way, through the Mary. It portrayed the mother-son relationship, which Mary and Jesus had, and the importance of Mary in Jesus’ life. It was determined that the portrait of the crucifixion, that Mary was not seen as an observer, but rather a participant in Christ’s passion, as she literally pointed to Christ. To reinforce the humanity of Christ, Mary was used as a mother’s perspective on her son’s death. Through Christ’s physical death, Mary experienced an emotional death.

I suppose the overall message that I got from this lecture was that there are many different perspectives that a person can take on life. There are many different angles, views and approaches to these perspectives and there really is no right or wrong way to choose which one to follow. But sometimes it may help to change direction and to look at something from a different view to really understand what is going on and the true meaning of what is being shown. I really have not viewed religious art in any way, but after the lecture, I now understand that there may be different meanings and thoughts which can arise from a single piece of artwork, and have a completely different view then originally thought.

Painting a Community

The time we spend here at Loyola should be the time where we grow as individuals, but as we are building up our resumes and learning about ourselves we should also keep in mind that surrounding us is a community, which is trying to strive along with us. In the beginning of the semester, when everyone was signing up for groups and organizations, I roamed from table to table and came across a group which would go to a nearby location and paint murals at some point in the year. Art has always been a passion of mine and I thought it would make for some easy community service, so without thinking much about it, I wrote my name down. Time went by and I kind of forgot about my obligation until I got an e-mail asking about when I would be free to paint. I was a little hesitant at first to reply since I didn’t know anyone who was going and I didn’t want to intrude on them if they already formed their groups, but I ended up responding and I am so happy I did. When it came down to the day that we were leaving I got to the meeting spot a little early just to find out that I was the first one to show. I stood there awkwardly for a minute and went off to check my e-mail to make sure I got the time right and when I came back everyone was there. I grew nervous again but then realized that everyone seemed a little scared, so instead of us all standing around quietly and shy I started to talk to the girl next to me, and then other people joined along and when it came time for us to go to the school, where we were painting, it seemed as if we were already comfortable with each other. This experience was perfect for any freshman here at Loyola, because when we got there I really felt a sense of community. The kids at the school all suffered some form of family problem and the people who worked there spent their time helping them. As we painted the mural some of the kids would wonder into the room and tell us how good it looked and gave little suggestions and it really made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. We stood and painted for a few hours and even though I filled my required time I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and keep those kids happy and it was then that I realized what I learned that night. I learned that you shouldn’t hold back any opportunity since you never know what you will learn, and when you find things to do, you shouldn’t do them just to get some community service under your belt; you should do them because you have a passion for it.