In mid-August of 2017, I began one of the biggest adventures of my life. I packed everything I possibly could into the back of a 2009 Toyota RAV4 and drove the 2,081 miles from Seattle to my new home in St. Louis, Missouri. The decision to move to St. Louis was an impulsive one (as most of my best decisions are). It took me until halfway through my senior year at Gonzaga University to realize that I wanted to use the knowledge I had gained from my Human Physiology degree to predict outcomes and better understand the “why” behind the healthcare issues that plague our world rather than throwing drugs at every problem. So, in December, I applied to St. Louis University’s MS in Health Data Science program, and before I knew it, I was on my way.
In the midst of all these rash decisions I was making, I experienced another big change. During my second semester of senior year, I decided to take Dr. Henning’s Environmental Ethics course to fulfil my last few philosophy credits. This class changed me. I went in thinking that I cared about the environment, and I came out not being able to separate a single part of my life from my passion to care for the planet. What surprised me the most is that my faith grew a new limb. Some seem to view religion and environmental protection as mutually exclusive values, but my faith was invigorated by this new desire to praise God through respect for His creation.
The summer after I graduated, I lived out my care for the world like I never had before. I took extra time to stare at the mountains, I cried when the smoke from wild fires filled the streets near my home, and I wrote emails to companies (Halo Top) asking them to please use less packaging because I really liked their products and didn’t want to stop using them (or rather, eating them). I only ate meat if it was free range and grass fed and I refused to drive when I didn’t have to, walking all around the city to buy my groceries and taking the bus to my volunteer “job”. I was a new me.
One of my biggest fears moving to St. Louis was that I would stop caring. I had a perception of the Midwest as the center of gas-guzzling, garbage-producing, corporate America, and I didn’t want that to change the new values I had gained. As it turned out, I ended up loving the Midwest. Sure the mountains weren’t quite as big, and the air wasn’t quite as fresh… But St. Louis had its own special, humble beauty, and each person I met was so nice to me. The love and acceptance I felt as I became a part of the St. Louis community left me feeling like I was in the right place at the right time.
So, my perceptions of the Midwest were a bit off, but my fears were not. I let my care for God’s creation fall by the wayside. Without easy access to a method of composting, I started to produce more trash. Surrounded by midwestern-style food and midwestern-style food-eating friends, I gave up on my grass-fed free-range only diet. And without much access to buses, I drove long distances to grocery shop and visit friends. I didn’t completely stop caring about the planet, but I didn’t go out of my way to treat it well, like I had before.
Last week, my roommate and I went to a “Tap Into Faith” event at a local brewery. An incredible woman with peace sign earrings and naturally grey hair was the speaker that night. She introduced herself as a spiritual director and she said so many wonderful things and gave us the advice we needed to hear. At one point, she mentioned appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation, and immediately I felt a pang of guilt realizing that I had lost this passionate part of me that cared so much for the earth. St. Louis had given me this warm and loving community of friends that were, for once in my life, similar to me. It had given me opportunities left and right to challenge me and grow in my faith. But somehow in the midst of all of that, I had lost that new faith limb.
So now I am faced with a challenge – to stay true to my values even if they don’t fall within the norm. It’s a challenge that feels very familiar, but presents itself in a new and exciting way. I need to re-invigorate my passion and my faith by finding new ways to protect the planet. Whether it’s incorporating my weekly grocery store trip into my long walks or bike rides, doing away with plastic produce bags, or baking my own energy bars to reduce my waste, I will find new ways to invite change in my own life and inspire those around me to do the same.