Essay Contest First Prize - "Men and Women for Others: A Lifelong Journey"
By: Kieran Halloran
December 1, 2011
While my commitment to working with and for others is bolstered by a genuine care for the common good, the seeds of such a desire were planted in the most horrific experience of my life. When I was nine years old, my father, a firefighter, lost his life along with numerous others in the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001. While this experience fostered the greatest amount of anger and hatred that I have ever felt in my life, it has also, through a roundabout way, fostered the greatest motivation to love and serve others that I have. However, despite the pain that I continue to feel from this loss, I view such internal suffering not as an excuse to be sad or angry but rather as a motivation to try to ensure that nobody else ever has to experience the same amount of pain that I felt. My experience of my father's death does not end at the suffering I experienced but continues on in a desire to serve those who suffer in the world today. This desire has been brought into fullness through the Jesuit ideals of being a “man for others” and such values at Georgetown enable me to further understand and fulfill my desire to serve others.
However, my responsibility and motivation does not just end at helping alleviate suffering in the world. Despite my anger that resulted from the attacks on September 11th, I have recognized that such devastation was not just the result of a few evil people who wanted to cause harm. And while I have never been able to find some sort of person or entity that I could blame for my suffering, through my involvement at Georgetown and especially with the White House Interfaith Challenge, I have come to understand the true cause for such an atrocity. My father’s death and the deaths of many other people was a result of a great lack of dialogue and understanding between different cultures. It is because of this fact that I am motivated to not only help other people who are suffering, but to also engage in dialogue with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths. This calling to be a “man for others” expresses very simply the motivation I feel that comes from my past suffering.
Although the loss of my father has caused the greatest pain in my life, it has also led me to experience some of the greatest love in my life through people who were living out that calling to be men and women for others. The summer after my father died, I attended a camp called America's Camp which was founded for the children of those lost in the terrorist attacks. And while I can go on forever about how spectacular America's Camp was, it would suffice to say that the phrase “love incarnate” doesn’t even come close to describing how amazing America's Camp was (the camp ended just last year). But the thing about it that made America's Camp so amazing was that the people who worked at the camp exemplified what it means to be men and women for others. In the face of such a great tragedy, these people came together to help us when we were in great need. And while there were many other ways to respond to such an event, they chose to respond through service and through caring for those of us who lost a parent in the attacks. Furthermore, the first year that this camp occurred, the majority of the staff members of the camp were not even from the United States. These people rallied around their common value of service and looked past their differences to respond to this need. Just as my father’s death showed me the effects of a lack of dialogue, this camp showed me what can be achieved when people from different backgrounds work together and work as men and women for others. Aside from bringing me some much needed healing in the wake of my loss, this experience has opened me up to wholeheartedly accepting people of different backgrounds. Furthermore, it has taught me how to live out this calling to be a man for others in light of the great amount of pain that I experienced. The people who served me and many of my friends through America's Camp have shown me what can be achieved when people live out the Ignatian calling to be men and women for others.
While the calling to be men and women for others certainly asks us to serve those who are less fortunate than ourselves, the practice of such a calling goes far beyond simple community service work. Rather than just providing for the needs of the less fortunate, this phrase is focused on a central value of love for others and calls us to understand other peoples and cultures as well as to be with the people with whom we are called to serve. While the calling to be men and women for others invites us to serve others, the implications of this action are far greater than they may first seem. First and foremost, this phrase invites us to love others because such service cannot be achieved without a genuine love for the people whom we are serving. This is the love that I experienced through the people at America's Camp and it is the love that has motivated me to participate in the many service projects I have gone on both before my time at Georgetown to places such as Alabama, Ecuador and Argentina, and throughout my time at Georgetown participating in service projects with the Knights of Columbus and going on the Magis El Salvador trip. It is this type of service, service motivated by love, that we as a Georgetown community are called to. And this love extends far beyond those whom we are called to serve and touches on how we engage with the diverse community here at Georgetown. This love that is central to the calling to be men and women for others transcends the simple community service one may do and encourages me be open to people from many different backgrounds, religions and cultures at Georgetown.
Aside from being a calling to love, the value of being men and women for others also challenges us to engage in different cultures with understanding and acceptance. If we are to truly serve others, then it is essential that we open up ourselves to new experiences and allow ourselves to be surprised by different cultures and beliefs. If we do not do this then we would never be able to fully be men and women for others. And it is more than just understanding the needs and values of those we are serving, but we must also understand each others needs and values that come from our different backgrounds, faiths and cultures. This is why it is imperative to not just engage with those we are serving but also engage with the people with whom we are working. It is this understanding between each other which would enable us to better serve our community and would help us to grow closer together. Through recognizing our shared values of love and service we could come to better answer the Ignatian calling to be men and women for others through an understanding and acceptance of each others' different
This implicit calling to understanding others that exists in the calling to be men and women for others is further supplemented by a calling to be in solidarity with the people we serve as well. Pedro Arrupe SJ, described this calling as a challenge to be men and women for and with others. For me this calling to live in solidarity with the poor is manifested through a commitment to engage with the many people from different backgrounds at Georgetown. By being in solidarity with others and engaging in effective dialogue with people from different backgrounds, I am able to approach others not as being people who are different from me, but as people who are equal with me. Despite the many differences that exist between me and people of other cultural and faith backgrounds, these can be understood and accepted by being with them and engaging in a true inter-religious dialogue. Through the Jesuit tradition, my simple desire to help those who are less fortunate than I becomes transformed into a calling to engage with those of different faith and cultural backgrounds.
For me the Ignatian calling at Georgetown to be a man for others is more than just a simple calling to serve others but rather is an invitation into a way of life. When I was younger I experienced first hand both the effects of a lack of dialogue as well as what happens when people live out the calling to be men and women for others. Ultimately, this calling goes beyond the basic service for those who are poor and suffering but rather is a calling to love and understand other peoples and cultures and is an invitation to live in solidarity with others of different religious and cultural backgrounds. The Jesuit value of being a man for others is not just a phrase that sounds nice, but rather is a calling that encompasses my whole life and inspires me to engage in effective and productive dialogue with people from different faith and cultural backgrounds while working to make the Georgetown community a better place.