Libby Gatti is a Micah fellow serving the MANNA community. She lives in our intentional community at 2 Garden.
By the 4th week of Life Together, I had tried to quit my job 6 times. I would go up to my boss’s office, close the door, and the conversation would go something like, “Reverend Tina, I really respect the work you guys are doing here, but I don’t think it’s for me.”
Let me explain: In my previous job I interviewed, hired, trained, and managed the teaching staff at a major nonprofit organization for homeless women in Boston. Every day I would come to work with a long checklist of things to accomplish, and accomplish them I would. So when I asked Tina what my primary responsibilities with MANNA (a worshipping community of folks who are homeless) would be, you can imagine my confusion when she said, “Become more fully yourself.” At first I thought, “Oh, that’s really lovely. I’m going to write a blog post all about that for Life Together!” And, here I am. But writing something other than what I had in mind at that time…
As the weeks went on, I realized how challenging this process of becoming was. I had consistently found self-worth and value in my productivity- the quantity of positive changes I was making in the world. But Tina just had me attending regular MANNA programs as if I were a participant: eating at our free lunch program, meditating with our meditation group, hanging out with homeless folks on the Cathedral steps. I was confused, and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough.
So when the MANNA community went on a camping trip in October, I was delighted to finally have something to do. I made a binder with our itinerary, went grocery shopping, and took notes at all the planning meetings. When we got to Vermont, I pitched all the tents, set up the food, made sure the campfire was going.
The next day I proceeded the same, but as night fell the temperature dropped. My teeth were chattering and it was clear that I didn’t have enough warm clothes. I prepared myself to sleep outside again, in this makeshift shelter, knowing that I would be cold all night. This is something the MANNA guys know far too much about.
Richard W., a homeless member of the community, saw my dilemma. As I lingered by the fire, not wanting to leave its heat, he quietly walked over next to me and just stood there for a minute. Finally he said, “Take my coat.” My eyes welled with tears, and there was no denying my vulnerability- that I needed him. Beyond needing him, as he slowly peeled off this outer layer and handed it to me, I felt how safe it was to need him. How essential it was to my own survival. This was a moment of my own becoming, and this was what Tina was talking about.
When we got back, I reflected on what it felt like to be vulnerable, and how the willingness (or necessity) of sharing that in community creates the space for becoming more fully ourselves. It is no small feat and the obstacles are enormous. It is terrifying to face myself in all my imperfection; but what has become more terrifying to me is the alternative: a life where I am only worth my accomplishments, my ability to get things done. A life where mistakes are unforgivable and nothing I ever do is enough.
So, as I’ve moved in this direction- towards becoming more fully myself- and been inspired by the tremendous work the MANNA and Life Together communities are doing in this regard, I’ve begun to wonder if this isn’t the change I wanted all along. I want a world with enough shelter for everyone, but even before that’s possible we can create a world where each of us has a community where it is safe to risk becoming ourselves. That’s what Rich was doing for me, and what the MANNA and Life Together communities do so well.
So, I invite you, too, to consider taking that risk. Seek out people with whom you can quietly walk alongside, offer safety to one other, grow in vulnerability, and wrap one other in the love of community.