When I got to California, I knew I was deep in the land of Hollywood celebrities. An environment focused on outer beauty, fashion, success and other superficial things. But I was surprised to learn that, like every other state, one highlight or landmark does not define the entire place. All of California or even Southern California is not Hollywood. It’s filled with hardworking people, too. People who are living in multi-million dollar mansions and, not far away, people barely getting by on the streets.
I was surprised to find a strong, thriving group of young adults living out their Catholic faith. Growing up in South Carolina, Catholics are a minority, making up barely 5 percent of the population. But here, at least a third of the population identifies as Catholic. Mass was celebrated in more than 30 languages.
There was a core group of young adults who were familiar with my little Volunteers for Life community and Sister Paula’s work. So it didn’t take long for her to reach out to them to get to know me.
The first big adventure was a trip to the beach. I still wasn’t too familiar with the geography of Los Angeles, so Sister Paula thought it best if I got a ride from someone rather than trying to go on my own. At least this first time.
So a guy that lived in Newport Beach traveled at least an hour just to pick me up. Then we drove to Redondo Beach to meet up with other members of this group before caravaning to Manhattan Beach. There we enjoyed an afternoon of playing in the water, casual conversation and eventually a lively game of beach volleyball. I played horribly, but it was a relaxed environment. And it was just nice to spend time with people in their 20s and 30s.
Afterward, many us drove to Huntington Beach to join another group for a bonfire on the beach. Someone brought a guitar and we sang along. It was a wonderful day and evening.
But living in the city is very different from what I was used to in South Carolina. Here, they didn’t seem to bat an eye at spending an hour to drive 30 miles to reach Los Angeles city limits. Or to beach hop. I certainly wouldn’t have done that on my own.
Over the course of my time in Los Angeles, I found more ways to get involved with this group. It was a wide network spread out across Southern California. They had a weekly email blast pointing out all the activities happening, for learning and socializing.
Among the opportunities were weekly and monthly events held at a bookstore in Santa Ana. On paper it might have been about a 40 minute drive, but it often took at least an hour or more just in one direction. But I’d go for the community. To be active and to participate. Not that I said a whole lot, but I drank it all in.
One subgroup was in charge of arranging speakers. They didn’t wait for a ministry at a particular church to arrange programs for them. They did it themselves.
I joined some of these young adults for a hiking trip in Altadena.
I joined others for a private screening of the movie Bella, after it had won People’s Choice Award at the Ontario Film Festival, but before it was officially released in theaters.
We traveled north a bit for some cross-country skiing. I assume that’s what it’s called. We weren’t going down big hills but mostly using the skis to move across the snow along a path. That did not go so well for me because the guy rented me downhill skis instead. I experienced lots of falling, but I tried to make the best of it. I wouldn’t be opposed to an attempt at snowshoeing, but I don’t think regular skis are in my future.
It was hard to know how much to open up and share with those I met. After all, I only expected to be in this state for a year. So it was challenging to know how close to get.
But I do remember sharing some details of why I was in California, why I had signed up to be a volunteer, and it always seemed like a small thing. I continuously felt like my efforts weren’t special or significant. Even if many of the people I met said they wouldn’t be able to make a similar commitment, it continued to feel like I was taking the “easy way out” of making an adult decision of what job to pursue.