by Elise Hearne, Class of 2018
This summer, as I prepared to move across the country to begin Fellows in Charlottesville, I didn’t know what to expect and wondered what it would look like to enter into a year of fellowship with fifteen strangers. A month in, my mind lingers on the word “story.” Each member of this year’s Trinity Fellows class has a story that has taken them to places and experiences that no one else has seen. We carry with us the cumulative influence of our families, friends, hometowns, universities, and many more transformative life experiences. This year, our stories overlap in a beautiful way.
As we settled into our cool metal chairs for the first day of orientation, I glanced around at a room comprised of fifteen faces I only recognized from recent Facebook stalking and wondered where we would possibly begin. The first few days were a whirlwind of information and expectations. We spent hours frantically scribbling down notes and important dates into our notebooks, pausing briefly to permanently damage our retinas from the eclipse, before continuing to listen to lectures. During one of these lectures, Tim Jones, the Director of Community and Care at Trinity, first introduced the importance of “story.” He explained that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Yet we don’t live in a vacuum. We connect our own storylines to grander narratives.
Two weeks ago, sitting in a circle on the floor of a family room as rain fell through the fog over the lake outside, we began to walk each other through the turning points of our lives. From the major life events and decisions to some of the smaller narratives that make us who we are, I was amazed by the trust and vulnerability displayed. After sharing both beautiful and immensely painful aspects of our lives, we were embraced by empathetic tears and life-giving words. This willingness to allow others into our stories in raw, unadulterated ways is a perfect picture of how transformative and renewing this year can be. In the peaks and valleys, we have made the commitment to love one another and nurture this community as we grow together in wisdom and grace.
Everyone in that room understood that this group was a safe place to be fully known. We no longer needed to force ourselves to appear “okay” by any standard, but were challenged to admit our faults, insecurities, and struggles. As the weekend drew to a close and the weight of these stories hung in the air, we leaned into one another. We shared meals. We sang with each other. We prayed for the presence of God to heal and comfort each one of us.
In a matter of weeks, these friends have become some of the most influential people in my life. Knowing me and choosing to enter into my story, they challenge me to grow as I learn more about who I am, who God is, and who each of them are.
As our stories continue to develop, I am grateful for the fifteen caring friends who bolster me to learn more about the larger narrative of our lives. I’m grateful for a community that has opened their homes, fridges, hearts, and brilliant minds to pour into sixteen twenty-somethings. And I am grateful for a program coordinator and leadership team that love us selflessly, motivating us to do the same for others. This year, as any other, will hold its share of challenges, but I am confident that there is no group of people I would rather choose to surround me than these this community.