Humanure 2016

Joe Byrne helped the tree planting effort by harvesting some humanure. If you’ve never seen that term before, it refers to human manure, usually from a composting toilet.

This is humanure that sat untouched for a year.

The humanure was shoveled into the holes where the trees were being planted. Regular compost was also added.


Here’s the humanure before it was harvested.


Here Joe is scooping out the humanure and putting it in bags. In case you’re wondering: the humanure was dry as dust and gave off a woody (not a poopy) smell.


Here are a couple of the bags of humanure ready to be transported to the tree planting site.



Tree Planting

Shortly after we split our wood for winter, we put in some trees in the back portion of the cemetery, which we’ve decided to re-forest (we now call that section Jetta Grove, a place where the Buddha liked to meditate).

The trees were donated by Baltimore Green Space.


Here are some of the trees that we planted. There are a couple magnolia, and fir trees in the picture.


Tucker dug most of the holes ahead of time. This is one of about 25 holes.


Our good friend Booch also dug some holes, for the fir trees that now line the north fence.


Here Maia, Amy, and Dean work together to plant one of the trees.


Winter is coming! So it’s a good thing we got all our wood split. We rented a wood splitter a few weeks back and spent the good part of a couple days splitting the wood we had on hand.


Joe had the first shift, with help from Dan Parr, Emily’s brother, who was in Baltimore for a visit.


Ardeth took the second shift, with Dan continuing as head assistant. Tucker is in the background deciding which logs to bring out.


Tucker also spent a good bit of time stacking the split wood.


Here’s the the wood pile after we finished splitting. You might not be able to see it: there’s a row in back, all the way to the top, one in front of that one about three quarters to the top, and a short row in front.


Note: The following is a letter/email sent out in September by the emeritus members of Jonah House, who are Liz McAlister, Ardeth Platte, and Carol Gilbert. Liz has since moved to New York City (contact information below). She is dearly missed in Baltimore but continues her wonderful work for peace in the Big Apple.

September, 2016

Dear friends and family,

For the past five years, we, the elders at Jonah House, have been in the process of turning over the Jonah House Community and St. Peter’s Cemetery maintenance to the younger generation. As we continue this transition, we have begun, once again, to feel the freedom to re-enter more fully into the ministry of peacemaking.

The new core community at Jonah House – Emily Parr, Tucker Brown, and Joe Byrne – were attracted to our charism. They had participated in the life of Jonah House over the years, and responded to the call to come. They are forming community here! They are embracing this space with all the creativity that comes out of their lives and experience.

We find them respectful of the history and witness of Jonah House at the same time as they embrace the challenge to put their own stamp on it and to recruit new members. Check out the reactivated website – We experience them and their commitment as strong, deeply rooted in the Spirit, and open to the participation of a wide circle of family and friends. Also, the children (Auggie and Evie) bring wonder and amazement! Our yearnings for new community are gratefully fulfilled in them and in their process. What a blessing!

As we transition we want you to know that we have closed the Jonah House account so checks may no longer be made out to it.

Also, we provide you with the most current contact information:

Emily, Tucker, and Joe:

Jonah House, 1301 Moreland Av, Baltimore MD 21216
Phone: 410-233-6238

Donations for programs should be made out to St. Peter’s Cemetery Restoration Fund.

Carol Gilbert, OP and Ardeth Platte, OP:

1303 Moreland Av, Baltimore MD 21216
Phone: 410-908-4635

Elizabeth McAlister:
133 W. 70th St, New York, NY 10023
Phone: 443-804-6938

(After 43 years working to build the Jonah House vision, Liz feels the call and need to leave and to embrace whatever the Spirit is opening…)

It is a new moment, a new day and we give gratitude to God. We say “Presente” to all who lived and served here but have now left this life. We continue to celebrate their resurrection. We are profoundly grateful to the builders, work crews, residents, donors, caretakers, counselors, visitors, etc. who gave for us to be able to continue this St. Peter’s Cemetery oasis and our own peacemaking lives. We express deeper gratitude to the new community in the transformation being lived, as they carry Jonah House, the International Peace House/Community, into the future.

All of you remain in our hearts and prayers,

Liz, Carol, and Ardeth


When the Turks exterminated millions of Armenians…

Where were you, God?

When millions perished needlessly in World War I…

Where were you, God?

When Stalin killed millions of his own people…

Where were you, God?

When the Nazis murdered six million Jews during the Holocaust…

Where were you, God?

When the Japanese slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Chinese in Nanking…

Where were you, God?

When Dresden was firebombed during World War II…

Where were you, God?

When the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

Where were you, God?

When the U.S. destroyed Vietnam in order to save it, killing millions in the process…

Where were you, God?

When millions were murdered by the Khmer Rouge in the killing field…

Where were you, God?

When deaths squads killed tens of thousands in Indonesia…

Where were you, God?

When fanatical Chinese communists killed tens of thousands during the Cultural Revolution…

Where were you God?

When death squads disappeared tens of thousands in Central and South America…

Where were you, God?

When Hutus went on a genocidal rampage against the Tutsis in Rwanda…

Where were you, God?

When thousands of gay men were dying of AIDS and the government refused to do anything…

Where were you, God?

When the U.S. and its allies killed hundreds of thousands through sanctions and occupation in Iraq…

Where were you, God?

When Catholic priests sexually abused thousands of children…

Where were you, God?

When Syria slid into a vicious civil war…

Where were you, God?

When humans built an industrial civilization that poisoned the planet with carbon emissions…

Where were you, God?

* * *

When the world needs compassion…

We are your heart, God

When crimes need to be witness and revealed…

We are your eyes, God

When truth needs to speak to power…

We are your mouth, God

When injustice needs to be confronted…

We are your conscience, God

When the lost need to be gathered and embraced…

We are your arms, God

When those who are suffering need relief…

We are your hands, God

On the long road to peace and justice…

We are your feet, God


By Joe Byrne


Note: Below is the text of an leaflet that was distributed at the Fleet Week Baltimore Welcome Ceremony, at Baltimore’s inner harbor, on October 12. Jonah House and Pledge of Resistance – Baltimore organized a peace vigil to counter the celebration of war that is fleet week.

Credit: Patrick O'Neil

Photo Credit: Patrick O’Neil

* * *

On October 15, during Fleet Week, Baltimore has the dishonor of being the site where the new stealth destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, will be commissioned. It is a dishonor because the Zumwalt is a boondoggle of the grossest proportions and as such is a massive theft of the U.S. taxpayer and, in particular, the poor. It will also undermine true security in the United States.


When research and development is taken into consideration, the price tag for the Zumwalt is nearly 6 billion dollars. This is obscene given the needs of the people of the United States, from health care to education to basic infrastructure repair. Originally the Zumwalt was to be the first of 32 new stealth destroyers, but because this new line had ballooned in cost—81 percent above the Navy’s original cost estimate to Congress—the Zumwalt line was reduced to only three ships. At six billion dollars each, this is still three ships too many.

Martin Luther King once said that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” If we are not already there, the Zumwalt brings us perilously close to spiritual death. But the Zumwalt is not only an obscenity in spiritual terms. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower put it: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” In moral terms, the Zumwalt is an outrage; in fiscal terms, it is indefensible.

Baltimore is a poor city, plagued by the social ills caused by poverty, such as unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction, the drug trade, and the horrendous violence that comes with it. Six billion dollars would do much to alleviate the poverty of Baltimore. Six billion dollars would buy 50,000 homes. It would pay the yearly energy costs for 1.2 million households. It would buy all the groceries in a year for 1.5 million families. It would pay a year’s worth of health care premiums for 333,000 families. It would pay for the education of 400,000 students in Baltimore’s schools.

It should also be noted that the Zumwalt will also be exorbitantly wasteful in terms of its fuel use. When fully operational, it will take 78 megawatts to power the ship. That’s enough to power 80,000 homes. And, unlike a nuclear-powered ship, the Zumwalt will run on carbon-based fuel. That will lead to a lot of carbon pollution, the leading cause of global warming. The U.S. military is already the biggest single emitter of carbon pollution in the world. Ships like the Zumwalt will make things much worse.

But it isn’t just a matter of paying bills or carbon emissions. The six billion dollar Zumwalt is not only a criminal misappropriation of U.S. taxpayer money and a major polluter, it is also a betrayal of our true security needs. In our world today, more weapons will not make us safer. In fact, the more we spend on weapon systems, and the more we deploy them in conflicts across the world, the more we create enemies who resent us for our military aggression. The United States would do better to use the six billion dollars it takes to build a Zumwalt to provide humanitarian aid for the victims of war.


The motto of the Zumwalt is “Peace through power.” It is a truism that power corrupts. The only peace that power offers is a corrupt peace. It is a peace that enforces the status quo, and endorses an ideology that profits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless. It is a peace that says “Might makes Right.” The false prophet says peace, peace, when there is no peace. The true prophet knows peace can be never be imposed by military power. The stealth ship called the Zumwalt represents a peace that is a stealthy form of war. It will inevitably be used to wage war on other countries, and is already inflicting suffering on the poor of Baltimore and the rest of the United States.

No more Zumwalts!!

No more war!!

Contact info:

Jonah House
Pledge of Resistance – Baltimore


By Art Laffin

Praise God our Creator, Source of all life.
I will sing praise to God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes and rulers,
in mortals, in whom there is no salvation.
When they die they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose hope is in God,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry and welcomes the immigrant;
who seeks to end racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination;
who labors to eradicate poverty, proclaim liberty to captives, and practice restorative justice!

For the Lord sets prisoners free,
and opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord raises up those who are bowed down
and loves the righteous and those who do the works of mercy and peace.

Stand with and for the victims; renounce all racial profiling, violence and killing;
disarm all guns, killer drones and nuclear weapons;
beat all swords into plowshares;
abolish torture, capital punishment and war;
protect all life and creation;
love one another!

For just as the Lord watches over the homeless and refugees;
and upholds the orphan and widow, so must we do the same.
But the way of the wicked He brings to ruin!

To all earthly rulers,
to people everywhere—
take notice: the reign of God is at hand!
Follow God’s commands, not opinion polls!

God is sovereign over all earthly rulers and powers.
God, alone, is our judge—it is God who will have the last word;
not presidents, generals, judges and the rich and powerful.

Happy are those who put their trust in God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice;
who care for the earth and practice nonviolence;
who seek to create the Beloved Community.

Let all generations praise God.
Let us praise God forever!

These poems were written by Joergen Ostensen when he and his father George visited Jonah House a couple months back. George coordinated the building of the Community House with more than 100 peacemakers from all parts of U.S., and some from Europe, from May 1995 to June 1996.  Joergen was baptized by Steve Kelly, SJ, in the Community House on Oct. 10, 1999. Sr. Ardeth is joyfully one of his godmothers.


The Never Ending Storm

By Joergen Ostensen

Thunder in Baltimore,
The storm floats in
Like the cruise ships at the inner harbor.
Rain follows thunder
Even as lightning precedes it.

But the downpour will not end the reign of heat.
Hot nights and hotter days,
Pools full of people packed together
Like the stone-faced sharks in their prison with glass walls.

Other prisons are glass-less;
Few can see in and less care to.
Edifices of crisscrossing steel overflowing with sad stories.
Yet those that enter usually return.

Thin streaks of pale blue descend from hazy heavens;
For fleeting moments the gods could see this strange town of sand.
A black land ruled by blue people.
Crossing streets and battered city blocks whose favorite son was Gray.

But no god gazes on these rows of houses holding hands;
Here the jails are crammed like swimming pools while the churches stand empty.
Thin blades of grass grow out of cracks under crosses;
Shards of bottles broken like the dreams of their drinkers litter the
Where grandma would have strolled on a Sunday in a forgotten time.

The rain has come.
Sheets of tears falling from somewhere,
All is wet
No discrimination
There’s enough of that everywhere else.

The city that can’t clean itself takes a shower.
Waters from the sky clear away the blood from the playground;
Tomorrow the children will play there after work.
After the corner slows down.

Electricity pours down from the heavens,
On the school by the park.
The place no one will pay for at City Hall.
Where the pupils were never told the name Benjamin Franklin
And will never hold his picture in their hands.

The storm will pass on before The Sun has been delivered.
Tomorrow the sun will bake west Baltimore again;
And the heavens will empty of dark clouds…
And yet…

Long has a darkness clung to these streets unhindered;
Staunchly waiting like the glass in the crevice where Winchester meets the curb.

* * *

Just Balloons on a Bridge

By Joergen Ostensen

It will be a hot night;
They all are in August
On the West Baltimore streets.
Where people die and rats live.

The sun is setting;
Reds and deep purples
Like a Ravens jersey painted over.
Exhaust and tobacco smoke fill the air.

Cars line the curbs in all directions.
Broken down Toyotas from another century;
A beaten up Chevy that remembers every crash like it was yesterday;
And a sleek new Mustang in a deep scarlet
The color of blood.

Lafayette off Bentalou
Over the bridge with no water underneath.
To the left a sign reading FOOD MART.
Maybe once but no anymore;
Only an empty lot with a pile of trash.
Probably a grocery store run by the rats.

On the other side kids play on the playground
Slides long and hot from a day in the Maryland oven.
A game of hoops has started
Teenagers call out insults and challenges.
Somebody gets hot;
The beautiful swishing of nylon that has yet to rip.
A brand new car speeds past;
The music blares,
A rappers raspy voice permeates from the custom speakers.
Everybody sees him but nobody witnesses.

But the bridge like the city is filled with sad stories.
On the white siding there’s a shrine
Not ten feet away from the court where the kid steps back for a J;
He’s money from outside even though his family is broke.

The wind tosses the red balloons;
Catching the eye of the passerby.
The balloons are the same shade as the Mustang;
A tinsel cross sparkles in the sunset.
Its not Christmas.
RIP letters that tell a story.

“We love you.”
Inscription on the white siding
A fading photo touched by days in the heat
Discolored like the slides where the kids always play.

A boy in a photo on a bridge,
Dark skin and darker hair;
Dread locks cut short;
A shadow of a smile;
On a shadow of a man who couldn’t have been twenty.

His name is written in magic marker
The fallen angel who should have gotten a bronze star.
Everybody knows what happened and it wasn’t a car crash.

Once he was a smiling boy
Who slid the slide and shot the three ball
He probably laughed and cried like all the rest.
He probably dreamed of a future
But there is no future on the white paneled bridge with no water underneath.
All that’s left of him now is balloons that the wind;
The plaything of the wind.

“Next point wins.”
A cry from the players on the blacktop.
A drive and a kick and jumper from the wing.
That one didn’t miss but I pray the others do.

The kids run home;
On sidewalks that have been broken for decades.
No one wants to see the streets when the red leaves the sky.
No one wants to see Tavon’s friend in the Mustang.


By Tucker Brown

I was recently asked by Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling department to serve as a panel discussant following a talk given by Dr. Ken Pargament, one of the pioneers in the psychology of religion and spirituality. The faculty wanted me to share some reflections on the application of pastoral counseling principles in urban, underserved communities. As I sat with the topic I’d been given to consider, I thought about the way in which people sometimes talk about poverty as a “social problem” and the accompanying assumption that it’s remediable through hard work, education, and programming intended to advance disadvantaged communities. All of which presupposes, it seems to me, that poverty is either a personal failure or a breakdown in the system and that we only need to strengthen the person or tweak the system to overcome it. But what if the system is doing what it’s supposed to? Poverty, then, would really be a form of structural deprivation. A kind of forced starvation (i.e., material, emotional, intellectual, relational) in which so-called underserved communities suffer by necessity while others horde, inherit, and secure — even violently — the world’s resources. This was my line of thinking when I prepared and offered the following remarks:

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I live, work, and play at Jonah House: An intentional peacemaking community founded by Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister and a few others, who, motivated by faith, believed that it was their moral responsibility to resist every incarnation of violence and oppression. Their resistance often meant risking arrest, putting their lives and their bodies on the line for the sake of bearing witness to equality and justice, love and the way of nonviolence.

As I reflect on the question we’ve been asked to consider — particularly in terms of Dr. Pargament’s point about exploring new domains for therapeutic interventions outside traditional clinical contexts — I do so from this rather radical — and by radical I mean root, or original — tradition of peacemaking.

In discussing underserved communities, I think it’s important to begin by examining how we understand economic and social disparities. I would like to suggest that the pervasiveness of poverty, in all its forms, is not a failure of our systems, but a reflection of their proper functioning. In other words, underserved communities are a necessary consequence of social systems intended to advance, preserve and secure access to wealth and well-being based on certain identities like race, in particular whiteness, as well as educational background, social class and capital, profession, geography, gender, sexuality, and language. To name only a few.

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As spiritually-integrated helping professionals, I believe we uniquely experience a moral imperative to resist these and other injustices and to accept the risks of doing so. But what are we willing to risk to transform the systems and institutions that perpetuate and preserve structural disparities? And if we believe that, as a principle of pastoral counseling and as Dr. Pargament pointed out, the therapeutic relationship initiates a spiritual dimension, what would it mean for us to hold and participate in this sacred space, especially in our work with underserved communities and clients, outside the clinical context?

My decision to join Jonah House grew out of my personal and professional struggle to address these questions. As I worked with clients from underserved communities, first in Baltimore and then in New Mexico and Oregon, I was confronted with the matter of my moral responsibility to help change the injustices that necesitated their poverty, whether material, emotional, or educational. I came to the conclusion that an individual therapeutic relationship, for me, wasn’t sufficient. That I was called to another way.

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At Jonah House we care for a once-neglected 22 acre cemetery, 8 acres of which is a forest patch that offers beautiful greenspace in an otherwise treeless neighborhood withering from violence, addiction, and other symptoms of structural inequality. We run a food pantry, host student groups, and organize social justice actions in the city and elsewhere. In all that we do, though we fall short of the mark, we try to co-create a healing presence and kindle the spiritual dimension that’s the heart, body and wisdom of therapeutic encounter.

I’m not suggesting that the life I lead is an exemplar everyone should follow to realize transformative social change. And I will add that I’m still, and always will be, considerably more privileged than my neighbors in West Baltimore — in spite of my good intentions to live in solidarity with them. The risks I take are choices and theirs are not.

But I do believe, to paraphrase the Jesuit Dean Brackley, that by resisting a world obsessed with wealth, security, upward mobility and prestige, I’m able to see more clearly how that world — its values and the disparities these values necessitate — engenders and preserves underserved communities and the kinds of struggles they suffer with daily.

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This clarity invites me to live differently. And it’s a constant challenge, particularly to my privilege and the ways I benefit from systems intended to reinforce whiteness, maleness, and formal education. The challenge comes to me as a question, like a koan, whenever I interact with others in my community: What might I risk so that you don’t have to live at risk every moment of your life?

I leave you with that question to consider.


I try to remember how I imagined Jonah House when Ben Warner first explained it to me one evening at Towson’s Urban Farm in the spring of 2015. I guess I saw images of my girlfriend’s catholic high school. I pictured a stone parish with a bell tower and overgrown headstones facing the street from behind wrought iron fencing. I wondered how large the garden was where sisters walked up and down rows of all manners of colorful produce that would go to the food pantry I had heard about. I originally imagined godliness and Christian purpose at the mantle of the work at Jonah House and I was dissuaded, feeling separated from the church. Ben explained, however, that these sisters are unlike any nuns he had ever met.


After meeting the community members and visiting the grounds, I was inspired. I felt obscurely that this was what I’ve wanted to be a part of. I’ve grown up in an area where bigotry is common and often acceptable. I came to Towson University in an effort to escape that climate and experience some genuine sense of diversity of culture, race, and wealth. To be close to Baltimore. Towson was an improvement, but still the campus was separated from and in many ways blind to the suffering of the areas around it. When I would drive into downtown Baltimore to see a play or visit a museum, I would suffer a sense of uselessness when we drove by the people stuck on street corners. I was not and am not hardened against cardboard signs and tin cans, held out for pocket change. Poverty is something I have only ever spectated. But here in Jonah House were people concerned with acting on it and engaging with people who suffer.

My father asked if shaving my head was a requirement for staying at Jonah House. I wasn’t sure how to explain it. I didn’t want to be bothered with hair, clothing styles, how I looked while I was in this place. I wanted to separate myself from materials. Of course, when we arrived Tucker and Joe, the only other men living in the House, did have their heads shaved. I made a point to assure my dad that I was not joining a cult.

My first few nights were more difficult than I expected. Everyone was tremendously welcoming and loving and I hardly knew how to accept it. Augustus wished me good night. Then Emily gave me home-made ice cream with strawberries from the garden, and we watched a movie together, as if I had been a part of the family for weeks. When I went to my room in the basement that night, there were five beds and no table, so I put my alarm clock on the floor. For perhaps the first time in my life I felt very far from home.


When we began the yard work, I expected to feel a greater sense of purpose. Tucker spoke to me about the value and process of work, and explained how important it was for Auggie and Evie to grow up watching their parents work so that they may live the way they do. There were times when weed-whacking seemed endless or picking rotten fruit felt pointless and I would start to believe I could never be strong or patient enough to live the way this community does. The purpose of my work came spinning back to me when Auggie and I ate strawberries that were still warm from the sun or when Ardeth listened to a funny story from one of the food pantry members as she got him greens from our garden. After sitting in the evenings, it became easier to look back and think of the successes and failures of the day. Lying in bed, I often thought about the presence of Ardeth, Carol, Liz, and the Jonah House community on Bentalou street as I listened to the distant pops of either fireworks or guns in the neighborhood.

I struggled most to prepare food for our community. I have very little experience and trying scared me. In my mind, food is so close to home, so basic and natural, that it is our connection to the community around us. We share food with the locals and we work on our small patch of Earth to provide for ourselves what we can. I once heard my uncle say, paraphrasing Alan Watts, “Godliness is not peeling potatoes and thinking about God. It’s just peeling potatoes.” Our work and our preparation of food are our communion with the earth. I didn’t want to burn our communion with the Earth. But Tucker, Joe, and especially Emily were extremely helpful and encouraging. They showed me efficient ways to harvest greens and simple tips to sautéing vegetables. They also all made a point to compliment my work.

In the second to last week of my time at Jonah House, it seemed the morning news had nothing to offer but violence. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the Dallas Police Officers. It was weighing heavily upon me, and Tucker made the suggestion we do something. To be closer to Baltimore, I thought. We made six signs, wishing for peace, the most powerful of which read:

Awaken from the Illusion of Separation


There in the grass, with the wind blowing our signs over and the sounds of the inner harbor’s bustle all around us, we sat. With the intention of peace makers and allies we sat. I felt strongest on that day. I felt I truly was a member of this place of peace. Before long, our sit was interrupted by marchers who surveyed our signs. They were wary at first, but then approached and hugged us. They asked us to join them, so Tucker, Auggie, and I walked down the street, joining the movement. Auggie was perplexed. He watched faces and clapped when the march ended.

As my stay was coming to a close, I was sad to leave this family, and especially Auggie. The sisters hugged me and reminded me that I am always welcome. Emily taught me to make pickles and one of the few things I took from the house were three jars of pickles and two of relish in the satchel Joe gave me. I did not know how to thank these people for making me a member of their community. How do I thank someone for love? I admit, however shamefully, that I was also eager to return to some of the comforts of my home. It is no small calling to choose a life of so little material value and there were times when I was frustrated and wearied. Jonah House gave me a taste of a life I will one day return to, whether it is on Bentalou street, in Garrett County, or off somewhere else in the world. A life where items have no possession, but are merely visiting me while they bring me joy. Where food is something I can raise from the Earth, not just something that comes in boxes with expiration dates. Where I value the work that I am doing outside of the transferrable wealth it may bring me. And a life where I live by and for a community that loves unconditionally.


It is difficult to be thrust back into the role of college student. I am busy from the moment I wake up, when I click off the same alarm clock with glowing green numbers, and yet the sense of purpose I felt at Jonah House is much harder to find here. So many people wedge past each other as we walk to classes, headphones in our ears. So many people are trying to be alone. Each day I am trying to be patient and practice loving strangers. It is often that at the end of the day I must step back, breathe, and respectfully remind myself to awaken; awaken.


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