What does a life of service look like?

Pulling weeds at Gorman Heritage Farm. Immersing and educating myself on the issue of homelessness. Building home garden beds for Evanston residents. Leading a group on the topic of urban education in Cincinnati. Staying on a farm. Growing relationships with men experiencing addiction. These are just a few of the service opportunities that Xavier has provided me.

Whether it be Alternative Breaks, X-Change or Community Action Day, I have been blessed with countless opportunities to serve. All of these service opportunities have been programs that challenged me to examine what service means to me.

The gifts of our Ignatian heritage tell us two things about service. First, our service must be rooted in justice and love. Second, we also must aim for solidarity and kinship. How can we achieve these goals? What does “just” service really mean? Just service means that the service we engage with must truly seek to resolve a social problem. Just service puts the needs of others above our own. Just  service builds long-lasting relationships that are based in solidarity and kinship.

Service that has its goal in solidarity is not short-term. Solidarity is not something we can achieve during a spring break trip or once a week for a semester. True solidarity influences every aspect of our lives; it is not part of a vocation, it is vocation.

This is a very daunting task for so many of us. We want to be nurses, politicians, businesswomen, advertisers, mothers, fathers and countless other things. Can we do all of this and still devote ourselves fully toward solidarity and kinship? What can we do to still make a difference in the lives of others while living the lives we want to live? This is a large question, and I recognize that I do not have the only answer, nor a complete one and maybe not even the correct one.

For me, service is found in relationships. Just service is building relationships and simultaneously empowering others. This can mean a lot of different things, such as seeking to educate others or perhaps using person-first language.

What does this kind of service look like though? Does this mean going weekly to a soup kitchen and forming relationships with the people there? Does this mean joining a Big Brother/Big Sister program?

All of these are great steps, but one question we need to reflect on is what happens when you stop going? What happens when you graduate, your schedule changes and you can no longer do that service? This can be so detrimental to those you have been “serving.” Forming a relationship and then abandoning it, even with valid reasons, can cause more harm than the good initially done.

This is why, personally, I find great value in direct service. I would prefer to spend my time in service by painting a fence, filing paperwork or pulling weeds. Doing work such as this empowers staff members at organizations to spend more of their limited time with those whom we aim to serve. In just service, if our true goal is to seek social justice, it does not matter what role we play in the process as long as we are a part of a process.

I think this is one of the reasons I have always been attracted to programs like Community Action Day. As co-chair, one of my roles is to read through participant feedback and try to improve the service experience. Every semester, without fail, we receive the quite understandable critique that participants would like to spend more time with children or residents of the programs we work with.

This is surely quite laudable, but I believe it overlooks the benefits of direct service. We aim to go to places like LADD and paint bedrooms or other general maintenance tasks so that the staff can better build relationships with their residents. This direct service isn’t lacking or less meaningful than other service. Rather, this service is relational. One of my favorite parts of Community Action Day is the overarching relationships we are able to form — the relationships between Xavier and the community.

There are nonprofits around that build Community Action Day into their maintenance plans. Sites block off the day months ahead of time. The relationships that Xavier has been able to build in Cincinnati through Community Action Day and its associated empowerment of important service organizations are what make it worthwhile for me.

On that day, while we are painting, pulling weeds, sorting through donations or whatever else the community needs from us, we become part of a large relationship that serves the deeper relationships at play, a tradition larger than ourselves. If you want to be a part of this amazing program, please join us March 30 at 9 a.m. in the Xavier Yard.

Miles Tiemeyer is a junior history and Philosophy, Politics and the Public double major. He is the co-chair of the upcoming Community Action Day.