saying goodbye to JOIN in the language of cards.

By Malcolm White, Immersion Coordinator

My last day at JOIN was on Friday. As a Jesuit Volunteer, I am only on contract for one calendar year, so August approached like the witching hour in my last weeks at JOIN. I buried the idea of leaving for a while under the frantic list of overdue tasks following the Portland Plunge, my biggest event of the year in late June. Yet, no matter how I resisted, the days of July melted away in the 100+ degree heat until only one remained, and I reluctantly told folks that if these silly goodbyes were to happen, now would have to be the time.

The day dawned with anticipation and chaos for me; quite typical of any JOIN landscape. Like a graduation of sorts, I felt the pressure to set up food and festivities for visitors to come in order to meet my final high expectations. In the end, nothing quite worked that way and yet it was perfect all the same….

JOIN can seem like a foreign land with its own language upon first visit. The chaos of the House seems unintelligible, and for the brand new employee watching his brilliant co-workers easily swim through the currents of confusion, one had to wonder “can I do this?” So on that stupified first day long ago, I finally recognized some familiar lingo coming from the cribbage table corner. I’d been playing the card game for 15 years, so while I’d maybe struggled interacting with people earlier that day, I felt welcome in an enironment where diamonds and clubs were the language of the day rather than social work dialects. I met Jake, the self-proclaimed “Captain Crib” that day, along with a few others, and friendships were formed around the knowledge that even if I had no clue about how to write you a laundry voucher, I would be able to at least lose (and occasionally win) at cribbage with you….

…Fast forward back to July 31. The afternoon of my final day was waning, and Jake and the other usual players hounded me about getting in my last games with them. By this point I was adroit at writing laundry vouchers and felt like I could carry that same swagger at the card table. After Jake thrashed my predecessor, I sat down in front of this 350 pound man and said “I’m not that easy to beat.”

I have never quite been so incorrect. Josh easily dispatched me in a quick game and then, being a generous soul, gave up his spot in the winner’s seat to allow me my final games with other rivals. One after one they came, one after one they left victorious. When the smoke cleared, I had lost 4 straight in a card game whose language I spoke fluently. Oddly enough though, it was a reverse situation to my earliest days: while I apparently could not play a good hand of cards to save me from drowning, I laughed and joked with each of my opponents easily throughout the fiasco. I finally stood up from the table not upset at my humble 0-4 record, but rather grateful to have known and spent the year with Jake and each of the smiling gentlemen who had so capably administered my losses.

As the door finally closed and I gave my last hug and told my last inside joke, I realized I spoke the language of JOIN with ease. But as with any language, steady practice is the only thing that keeps one adept, so as I venture back to the East Coast I know that I will slowly lose the fluency I so happily earned through countless hours of cribbage and chaos. And I will miss it. I think that one day in the future, when I finally do manage to beat my next opponent in cribbage, I’ll look back and only wish that I could lose 4 straight again…