Year of Youth 2018

It Took Having the World in My Hands to Realise That I Didn’t Want Any of It

Last edited 4th July 2018

It Took Having the World in My Hands to Realise That I Didn’t Want Any of It

In 2017, I moved halfway across the world. People began to comment that my life was ‘goals’ and that I was the definition of ‘living out my best life.’ They’re referring, of course, to my year-long exchange in Europe characterised by Instagram updates with a different country every week, badly-spoken German and independence that every young adult dreams about. Even the mere task of reflection feels boastful.

Although I regard it as one of the most significant times of my life, what most people didn’t see on social media posts of my grand time away was the growing dissatisfaction brewing within me. Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful for all I’ve been able to experience. But there was something extremely off-putting about traveling the world emptily.

There, I said it – empty.

There were deep parts of me that started to feel empty. But I journeyed on, harbouring my feelings of discontent and disillusion, and bringing them with me to almost all corners of Europe. For the most part I didn't understand. I was seeing places that people only dream of seeing in their lifetime, and all within such a short period of time. I was offering up my heart in some of the most beautiful Churches imaginable. And yet... I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted more.

I’m an avid believer that God always speaks to us in a language we understand. As for me, I sometimes feel like God speaks to me in such huge, obvious, and dramatic ways. Not because I’m special or set aside in a particular way, but simply because my head can be up in the clouds. So, it was fitting that He answered my prayers in the same manner.

It was a beautiful Spring evening in Paris and I walked out of Ladurée with a gourmet pain au chocolat. Could I BE any more cultured? I crossed one of the world’s busiest traffic lights in front of the Arc de Triomphe and that’s when I saw them. Not one, but four. A whole family, actually. A mother, a father and two young girls. They were sitting down on the sidewalk, not begging but observing those who walked by, looking for any inch of mercy. The father’s eyes were large and heavy, almost as if he’d been crying for a long time. The mother hugged her daughters, as any mother would. In front of them was a sign, poorly written but enough to make out key words, “WE COM… SYRIA. WE RAN.”

Maybe I’ll never understand the nature of war, but I’ll never forget what I saw it produced. A family, torn apart from their home. Forced onto the street with nothing, vulnerable, through no choice of their own. And there I was, coffee and pastry in hand, and I felt empty?! I looked at the girls and couldn’t stop thinking that they might never have the opportunities I’ve had. For me, the alluring sights of Paris were a sign of a dream come true. For them, nothing but symbols of despair; a home that they never asked for. I wanted badly to stay, to give everything that I had in my wallet. Instead, I decided from that day on, to give much more of myself and answer the call that God had been probing in my heart for so long - to be a champion for the poor and a voice for the oppressed.

As I type this, I’m back home. I’m back to being a full-time university student. I’m back under my parents’ roof. I’m interning a few days a week at a charity. I’m budgeting whatever money I have left. The biggest luxury I have right now are my daily soy lattes and my life is no longer that traveller’s dream… but I’m a lot more fulfilled than I’ve ever been. I’ve realised that what I was searching for all that time was a sense of purpose. As I wondered aimlessly through Europe, I started to dislike or even despise my own privilege and thinking of solely myself. I used to think that I’d only be able to help the less fortunate once I became stable and affluent enough to take care of anyone other than myself. But I know now that’s not the point. Like the widow’s offering, the quantity doesn’t matter, only the depth of love and self-sacrifice. As St John Paul the Great once said, ‘man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.’

Even though I didn’t know that family, I felt close to them. There was something about their vulnerability and humanness that I was drawn to. I think about the girls over and over again and it breaks my heart to think their many hopes and dreams are now so difficult to attain. I think of how many other people in the world share the same narrative. I know I can’t save them all, as much as I would move heaven and earth to, but I know that a step toward that is letting their story be heard.

How beautiful is it that one can only find themselves when they make their lives about others? To live a life for the betterment of others? God is a big fan of paradoxes, apparently. It took having the world in my hands to realise that I didn’t want any of it.

Koreen is a young, passionate heart striving to be a saint. She has vast experience in youth ministry and is especially interested in Catholic social teaching. Her regular day involves binge-watching nature documentaries on Netflix, drinking her body weight in tea and consuming at least three different types of chocolate.

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