Sink and Swim

This week I had my screw-ups as well as my triumphs, and I’m just as much proud of the first as I am of the latter.

The weeks leading up to this internship in Gettysburg, working in the Campus Kitchen, I naturally had some anxiety: “are you kidding me? I’ve never cooked before” … “what if I can’t connect with senior citizens” … “what if my Spanish is horrible or embarrassing?” … whatifwhatifwhatif

It’s not a very fun game to play, and it’s not helpful AT ALL. So, when talking to my mother, she gave me some very simple, “mom advice”: she told me, “sink or swim — this is the kind of job you’ll have to learn on the fly, and soon enough, you’ll get the hang of it and you will be ‘swimming’.” Okay, sure?

So, now my week …

IT ALL STARTED MONDAY.

My cooking shift with Uyen began at 3pm. Monday was our first day working with multiple volunteers and we were a little unsure of how it would go down. Sitting in the cps office that morning, I tried my best to plan our menu that day for the LIU lunch bags, but I still felt lost. What would go in a lunch-bag anyway? When Uyen and I started the shift, it was a bit chaotic. Volunteers left and right asking us: “What should I do next?” … “Is this sandwich okay to use?” … “Where can I find this?” … and me, with a look of confusion and some panic responding: “I’m sorry, I’m not sure …” Fortunately, Tammy conveniently arrived mid-way through the shift to “check-in” on Uyen and I (hint-hint: to make sure we weren’t sinking!) … and the rest went fine.

Yeah, Monday was tough. But, the challenges of that day gave me a far clearer picture of what had to be done for the next time. And by next time, we were ready. Wednesday’s shift was quick, smooth and efficient: All of our volunteers were occupied with tasks, meal bags were filled with yummy and nutritious foods, and we were finished with ample time before that night’s Circles Dinner. Yeah! Go us! Wednesday, we were swimming!

BUT THEN, THE FRIDAY COOKING SHIFT.

Hold-on, I prepared! I did my job.The entree for that night was breaded chicken from the freezer, that we would re-bake. We were ready. But, when Uyen and I discovered that our chicken was actually still raw and we were on a time-crunch to serve it at the senior dinner, that vein of frustration once again began to throb in my forehead.

But, we managed. We improvised. We persevered. And, we triumphed. Dinner was a big hit at the senior center with great reviews. On the menu: chicken, homemade applesauce, salad with fresh lettuce from the Painted Turtle Farm and banana ice cream for dessert.

Looking back on my week, despite the exhaustion and the frustrations, I did some pretty amazing things:

* Working a three hour cooking shift with the group of autistic children, and then immediately going to ESL classes afterwards to tutor Spanish-speakers.

* Sticking around after I dropped off Tuesday’s Meals on Wheels lunch-bags, and then going along on the delivery route to meet some outgoing, smiling and even feisty seniors.

* Coming out to the Painted Turtle Farm potluck to see Jasmine and Adrienne in their element.

* Learning how to make homemade applesauce and banana ice cream among other tasty dishes.

My rough-spots in this week were just as valuable as the times I felt like I was swimming. In fact, it was the challenges that not only reminded me that each day, I am pushing myself further out of my comfort zone to do new and exciting things, but that I am also learning and growing along the way.

With that, I am going to tweak my mom’s advice: Sink and Swim.

It shouldn’t have to be an either/or kind of deal. It should never be about thriving or failing. I’m proud of the moments this week I did well, but I also respect those where I was confused or panicked, and then took the initiative to ask a question and figure it out. Those moments of sinking remind me that my summer truly is a learning experience, and that I am here equally to learn from my surroundings as well as to give back to it.

~ Eric

Gettysburg, PA

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