Sunday, November 04, 2007

Community Life: An Alumnus Reflects

My name is Jerome Santamaria. I lived at Newman House during the 2004/5 academic year, while studying for a Masters of Law at UCL. I have many fond memories of my time there and, more importantly, many dear friends from that time. What I want to write about are a few things I learned about community and about oneself in community. I experienced these things at Newman House in various ways and I hope that, in sharing them, I can contribute to them continuing through others. The ideas are pretty basic; however, the challenge is not in understanding them, but in consistently applying them.

First: make others feel at home. When I came to London, I was in the fortunate position of having relatives who lived there. One cousin, in particular, made sure always to include me in activities. And since I did not desperately need to make other friends, I ended up making heaps more. This sense of security – the fact that I already had a friend – allowed me to be myself at Newman house and so the friendships I formed were lasting ones because they were based on the real me. So, give people the space and attention to be themselves and you will be rewarded with rich friendships.

Second, and related to the first: if you have something nice to say, say it. Everyone has heard their mother say: if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Well, the opposite is true, too. If something good about someone else occurs to you, make sure you tell them, even if…especially if you normally cannot stand them. Too many times, people keep such thoughts to themselves, afraid that in complimenting someone else, they make themselves look less cool. Forget it – you will make their day. Moreover, in many cases, you will open that person’s eyes to something about themselves that they never guessed. It is amazing how we can often see things in others that they cannot see in themselves. For example, on my first day at Newman House, in my interview, Fr Peter asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a priest. It had not occurred to me. I am now in my second year at the seminary. Of course, it does not need to be this drastic – a simple congratulations after a presentation, or an interested question following a comment in the tv room can brighten someone’s day. That person then realises that someone else thinks they have something to offer. Their world will grow a little more.

Third, and again related to the previous two: use your struggles as information about others. The first time I went overseas as a student, my dad gave me a great piece of advice. He said, “You will feel homesick at some stage. The best thing you can do is to let it remind you that the person next to you is probably feeling the same. So, look after them.” If you follow this advice and turn to help others when you are in need of help yourself, then you will find many times that your vulnerabilities in fact become strengths. You will know how to help people because you know what it feels like. Of course, it is hard to do this, but it is amazing how it helps in all sorts of ways – in making friends, in realising more about yourself and in deepening existing friendships. Also, never assume someone does not need help. If you think they might or you are not sure, volunteer yourself: the worst that can happen is that they will realise you care about them and that’s not a bad result.

Finally, I wanted to say something about why I found Newman House such a great community. Not only were people supportive in the ways described above, but there were so many different ways to learn about yourself through others. There are any number of different cultures to explore, interests to share, discussion groups to join, parties to attend, extended lunches (and their accompanying conversations – I recommend SOAS coffee and pasties) to enjoy and dance-offs to win (game over, Liz!). Most importantly, there were countless people to get to know.

And don’t underestimate the Catholic culture – the vigils, the Mass, morning and evening prayer, coffee after Mass, societies – behind this atmosphere. You may think that it can happen anywhere and theoretically it should be possible anywhere. But it does not seem to be that way.

If you allow it to do so, Newman House can teach you what a community should feel like. And for that, I will always be grateful.

1 comment:

emme said...

Thank you for the stunning perceptions and the gentle care you pour through your words.
So glad you are on the track of priesthood and know you will bring great beauty to all you do and great energy to all those who are around you - both physically present and also those who read what you write - keep writing, it is inspiring and life changing.
Blessings of Advent light and love to you and all you touch.