In the Summer of 2019, I graduated from college in small town Rhode Island and moved across the country to join the Fools in big city San Francisco. If I could go back to the first day I walked through those hallowed purple doors, I would tell that Jolie to buckle up and keep her eyes open and defenses down. I didn’t know then that my Mercy Volunteer year would come to a screeching halt in March of 2020 alongside the rest of the world, but looking back now I am in awe of how much those short (yet, very long) eight months would change my lens of the world forever.
If you’ve ever stepped into 234 Hyde Street you know well that life with the Fools is jam packed and uncertainty lies around every corner. Each day I learned something new about the Tenderloin, San Francisco, poverty, homelessness, city politics, general tomfoolery and above all, myself. There is simply no space among the Fools for ignorance to thrive, so much so they included it into their mission statement: “Aware of our judgements…” This newfound awareness would come to be the staple of my time at the Fools. Those brief eight months challenged me to see outside of myself in ways that had never been asked of me before. They challenged me to look inside of myself, forced me to confront how I interact with the world around me, and launched a process of discovery that still continues within me.
The Fools not only shattered every myth I held about poverty, but empowered me to look critically at the beliefs I have held because someone told me so. I recently read Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle for one of my graduate courses and was reminded of my time at the Fools as summed up in this passage:
“Sr. Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother's House in New York, was asked, "How do you work with the poor?" She answered, "You don't. You share your life with the poor." It's as basic as crying together. It is about "casting your lot" before it ever becomes about "changing their lot."”
I can earnestly say I shed many tears during those eight months on Hyde Street as my life became tied to those around me and their stories became part of my own. I now type this between essays and clients in my second year of a clinical psychology program in Southern California. Over the last two years I have come to recognize how deeply grateful I am to the Fools for giving me a space to have a critical encounter with myself and the humanity of others. I have become more aware of the privilege I hold, I have learned to listen more intently to the experiences of my friends of color and those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and most importantly, I have learned to trust people's stories and accompany them in their pursuit of healing.
As I look toward my future career as a clinical psychologist, I see the purple thread deeply embedded in the tapestry of my story. This thread was tied around my wrist on my final day as a Mercy Volunteer to remind me that I have been woven into the Fools community for life; it has allowed me to live out loud in ways I never thought possible alongside people I never imagined knowing, let alone sharing my life with.