On the first day of each new session, before class begins, the latest Caroline Center trainees gather together for orientation. After a few announcements, the staff turns the floor over to the women for what has become a familiar ritual. As they go around the room, each woman is asked to introduce herself and share with the others what it felt like to receive her letter of acceptance into the program. Without fail, what begins as a routine exercise in icebreaking eventually takes on aspects of the sacramental. The testimony starts out in measured notes:
“I was grateful.” “I was happy.” “I was proud.”
And builds from there:
“I hit the floor!” “I thanked the Lord!” “I read it over and over again…just to be sure!”
As the testimony continues, you realize just what is at stake for each of these women:
“I didn’t know what I was gonna do…”
“This was my second time applying…”
“I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck…”
“I never walked across a stage for graduation. I hear you have a graduation ceremony at the end. I wanna give my parents that…”
“I lost my brother. I lost my job. This is it for me…”
The women listen to each other with respect and compassion interjecting the occasional “Uh-huh” and “I hear that!” before moving onto the next woman. Only the next woman cannot speak. She sits there for what seems like an eternity and chokes back tears, but still cannot speak. Someone hands her a tissue. The others wait patiently.
“I’m just…I’m just ready to get my life started,” she says with quiet resignation, as if to say, “I’ve got no where else to turn.”
“You’re in the right place,” a staff member assures her, just as quietly. Something dawns on one of the new trainees and she adds,
“Everyone has a story. Some pieces of all our stories are the same. Hopefully, we can help each other and be there for each other. No one needs to be alone.”
In this moment of communion with each other, a moment bordering on the sacramental, the women have come together, an outward sign of a spiritual reality. Now, they are ready to begin.