Maureen Hovenkotter, the new Program Coordinator for Jesuit Volunteer EnCorps, reflects on her journey of recently leaving retired life and joining the JVC Northwest staff:
I am often struck by God’s sense of humor and how we sometimes receive answers to questions we didn’t even know we’d asked. A month ago I was retired, just taking life easy; going back to work – especially full time – was the last thing on my mind. I was safe and secure, not too challenged or stressed, though sometimes feeling a little bored and empty. Now I find myself asking, “Oh, my Lord! What have I done?” or maybe more appropriately, “Oh Lord, what have YOU done?”
Since agreeing in August to coordinate the Jesuit Volunteer EnCorps program – which provides opportunities for people 50 and over to stay engaged in a world that very much still needs them – my quiet, safe little life has changed dramatically. Maybe I’m becoming the change I hope to see in the world.
While I was blessed to be able to take early retirement from a job with the U.S. Senate several years ago, in truth I often felt a little disconnected from life. I had lost my sense of purpose. It felt like I wasn’t doing much to make a difference in the world. As a widow, I was spending too much time alone.
Fulfilling this need to stay engaged, to be part of something bigger, is exactly what JVE is about. There’s a funny, but poignant, line in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which the young manager talks about India being a place where western societies could “off-shore” elderly people. It says a lot about our attitudes towards aging and our preference for youth. But contrary to those attitudes, people do not become surplus when they get older or retire.
JVE was started as a dream to help fill the needs of older people to still matter, to still have community, to grow in their faith, to have a place at the table, and to allow them to continue to use their wisdom, gifts and life experience to help others. I realized I was being invited to support and further this effort, which was worth giving up my free time. So my days of taking my dog on long walks, of staying up late and rising whenever I wanted, of puttering in the garden, of spontaneous trips to the Oregon Coast, and endless games of Spider Solitaire have come to an end. Instead, I find myself surrounded by the contagious energy and enthusiasm of wonderful co-workers who are younger than my daughter and son.
Despite feeling overwhelmed, no longer quite as safe, secure and settled, I feel life returning. I have a renewed sense of purpose. I hope to create opportunities for other people my age to experience those feelings through participation in EnCorps. It’s like I had been coasting, hiding out from life, from God. But God always knew where I was and what I needed and continues to lead me. I find reassurance in the words of Psalm 139, “Lord, you have probed me, you know when I sit and when I stand. . . If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand holds me fast.”