One of my favorite moments from my year with Johnson Service Corps came right at the end. I was anxious and distracted, applying for jobs, making plans to move, and repeatedly checking the most recent COVID-19 numbers (a habit I slowly forced myself to kick). I was also feeling the anticlimax of the ending. A planned year of intentional community had been interrupted by a pandemic, and now I could not see most of the other corps members as the year wound down. We planned one last get together – swimming on the Haw River.
We split sandwiches at the Saxapahaw General Store and made our way to the river. The water was cold and the current rapid; I fought to keep myself from being swept down the river. Eventually, I landed on a good rock and was able to keep my place in the middle of the river. We were quiet for a while, and I felt myself relax for the first time in months. It was good to be among people I loved and to turn off the pulse of fear and my increasing need to find small things to control. I’ve tried to remember moments like that one as I look back on a year of service that turned out nothing like I had planned.
My post-JSC life did not turn out as I had planned, either. For nearly my whole life I had wanted to be a teacher, and I was thrilled when I landed a job as an English teacher at a STEM-focused middle school in my hometown. But teaching in a post-pandemic setting drained me to my core. I was working nearly sixty hours a week while also taking grad school classes. More than a year of virtual learning badly damaged the social-emotional skills of my middle schoolers. My school did not have a counselor, so I spent my planning period talking to hurting children and my lunch break stepping between students who were getting in fights. The exhaustion pushed me into physical illness.
I remembered the peace I felt during the best moments of JSC and tried to do things that helped me find those moments again. I got up at 5:00 am so I could run, I went on hikes, and found a therapist. I kept in touch with my mentor from JSC, Nancy, who always helped me talk through my spiritual questions. Eventually, I realized that I could not value my mental and physical health while still being a teacher. Things had not turned out like I planned, but I knew I would be okay.
After quitting my teaching job, I returned to Code the Dream, which was my partner organization at JSC. CTD helps train underrepresented communities in the tech sector in software development. In my role at CTD, I am able to apply many of the lessons I learned while teaching in a new context. I am also able to build on the skills I developed during my year with JSC in an organization that values justice and equity in the tech sector. Code the Dream adapted to the pandemic by becoming fully virtual, so now I am applying those early lessons about virtual community every day.
I went back to the Haw River a year after my time with JSC ended. It’s been another year since. I’m still applying the lessons I learned during that year and finding new resonance in those lessons in my life now. And next time things take a sharp turn in a direction I do not like, I might find myself again at the Haw River, standing in the current.