"Community is like a crucible" by Jay Hayden

Jay Hayden was a Life Together Fellow at the Esperanza Academy from 2012-2014. Here's his story of what happened next...

Greetings! My name is Jay and I was a Life Together fellow at the Esperanza Academy from 2012 – 2014. Nearly two years ago in June of 2014, I celebrated my final act as an intern in traditional LT fashion by sharing a Eucharist on the lawn of 40 P complete with song, prayer, grass, sunshine and an oil blessing anointed by Jason Long (thanks bud!). Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to cap my experience with Life Together than such a sacred moment.

So what happened after? Well, for those of you who were there, you may remember I was the first out the gate after the ceremony. My car was already packed, and I drove up to Vermont to spend six weeks reading and frolicking around Bread Loaf Mt. at an English graduate program. At the same time, I was trying to secure a place to work come fall. I applied and was accepted as a member of the Haley House Live-In community (more on this later) where I have been intentionally living and working since September of 2014. Flash forward two years, and I am looking ahead to wrapping up both my time at the Haley House and my graduate school and moving across the country to sunny California for more, but different, schooling.

Back when I was part way through my final year at Esperanza, I had decided that I did not want to become a career teacher. Teaching is phenomenal, working with youth is invigorating, but I could not reconcile my own beliefs with those of our modern school systems. This marked a departure from a plan I had thought was solid for over five years. I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to remain living in community. I credit much of this process, both my discernment as well as the fortitude to change paths when I heard a call, to Life Together. When a co-worker at EA told me about the Haley House, I immediately knew that this was the place I wanted to continue my journey.

The Haley House is a multi-faceted organization that comes from the Catholic Worker tradition and is rooted in the belief of positive and powerful transformation in the spirit of Dorothy Day. Started as a soup kitchen in 1966 by Kathe McKenna and her late husband John, the Haley House has burgeoned into a multi-faceted organization that extends to multiple parts of Boston. From the original soup kitchen at 23 Dartmouth St. where I currently live and work to low income housing units, to anti-gentrification and business models in the form of a bakery café and the new Dudley Dough, both located in Roxbury, the Haley House has been having a significant impact on the people of Boston for a long time. It connects Catholic churches, schools and other charities with real work and real people, mostly through the power of real(ly good) food.

    So I applied, was accepted, and in September moved in with this wonderful community. The two years of intentional living that I had done previously was a blessing, and all those third Friday trainings paid off in full as I navigated relationships between my housemates, the office staff, the guests we serve in the Soup Kitchen, and myself. We open our doors for breakfast at 5:30, serving up home cooked meals to hungry people. I think what helped me most was having real conflict management skills. The Haley House was a very different community, one that has always been more anarchistic in nature. I think of it as a natural progression from the Life Together community. We were left mostly to ourselves to figure out our relationships with those around us. The type of structure that LT uses is not present. The members of the Live-In community were accountable to each other, with no real boss to refer to about what that looked like. While I enjoy many aspects of this environment, I was very grateful to have two years of training in intentional living under my belt when things started to get difficult. And they did.

When conflicts arose, I knew that I had the tools and experience to handle them. I could reflect on lessons from Arrington (‘Community is like a crucible, where through conflict and engagement our impurities are brought to the surface and worked out’) or Br. Curtis from SSJE (“Life is so hard. So hard”, ‘If, after meeting someone, I do not love them, then I do not know them well enough’, and ‘Community is great, that is, of course, until it isn’t’) or conversations with my spiritual director Perry (‘How do you think they felt then?’). I was offered the chance to examine their words in new situations. I knew how to take care of myself, and stay healthy and balanced. I knew the strength that comes from having a spiritual practice to lean into. Going through this second round of intentional living has strengthened my resolve in myself, in my spiritual practice, and in the transformative power of community. I know that these skills will only continue to serve me as I serve others in different communities in my life to come.

So where to now? Well, as I said earlier, I am moving to California to begin another graduate program, this one a Masters in Theology with a focus on Buddhism and chaplaincy training through the Graduate Theological Union and the Institute for Buddhist Studies out in Berkeley, CA. (As of writing this, I have not been accepted, still crossing my fingers.) My ultimate goal is to one day work in a program like Life Together, providing leadership and spiritual training to young adults in the context of social justice and service work all within a Sangha (community) and grounded in the Buddhist tradition. In Buddhism, the Sangha is one of the “three jewels”. Community is one path that can lead the practitioner to enlightenment, and given the same prominence as the Dharma (teachings) and the Buddha (one who is awake). I know that my own grounding in community has deeply impacted my life, and has propelled my personal growth, and I hope that I can provide the space for others to learn its rich lessons.

    Had it not been for Life Together, I am sure that I would not be on the trajectory that I am currently on. LT is a truly transformative institution, both within Massachusetts and within each fellow. I want to end by thanking Arrington, Jason, Rebecca, Esperanza and all those who have helped me as I walk down the path.