Tuesday this week brought the blessing of a snow day, and thus a very happy campus population. Although my day began with an early morning work shift, I happily spent the rest of the day working in Kimball with my friends (we extended over several tables and became somewhat of a roadblock), eating snacks, and chatting as we attended our zoom classes and caught up on homework. After nearly 10 consecutive hours in Kimball (an impressive feat, if I do say so myself), we ventured on to St. Joseph’s where we prayed a rosary and attended a peaceful evening mass. The best part of my day, though, was after Mass, when all of us went sledding, built snowmen, and a few epic uphill snowball fights on the hills at the base of campus. All in all, it was a fantastic day, and I am so, so grateful to be here, surrounded by so many amazing people every day! 🙂
This past week was spring break, and while for many others that meant vacations to the beaches of Florida or time spent with their families, some of us had other plans. For us, spring break meant an early morning flight, a crazy connection, and a drive through the mountains to rural Virginia. What am I talking about? The infamous Spring Break Immersion Program (SBIP). As a freshman, I’ve heard the stories and recommendations for all sorts of clubs, programs and initiatives, but SBIP was one that always impressed me. Students who had gone before insisted that, despite intense work and a chaotic schedule, it was one of the best experiences they had ever had (so needless to say, my expectations were high).
Now, having joined the ranks of the SBIP veterans, I can attest that its reputation is far from an exaggeration, and much more than an intensely-planned marketing scheme (if it is, it is one I am happy to succumb to). The week I spent in Ivanhoe with my group far surpassed all expectations, and will remain in my memories as one of the most peaceful, joyful, and refreshing weeks of my life.
Yes, we slept on the floor, the work was hard, and we went days at a time without showering — but never before have I experienced such a rapid and profound human connection with those around me — both in my group and in the local community. They welcomed us with gratitude and love, opening their homes, their hearts, (and their refrigerators) to a motely group of New England college students, and in doing so, reminded us what life is really about.
One of the major themes of SBIP is the idea of one’s heart being ‘broken open.’ Although this sounds like a painful and uncomfortable experience (and in some ways, it is), the idea is that entering and so quickly leaving a community is bound to hurt. It hurts that we can’t do more, that we can’t know them better, and that we can’t stay. Our hearts are irreversibly opened, and through a little pain, we learn how to serve more selflessly, to care more deeply and to love more freely. Mine certainly was, and I hope it never closes.
It would be easy to write about the devastation of social inequity, the economic disparities, the failure of the healthcare systems and the poor city infrastructure that has left that little town the way it is now. Yet, what struck me more — and opened my heart — was not what that little town lacked, but rather what they had: a community.
‘Community’ is a word that is often thrown around, and can mean so many different things, but this past week showed me that a true community is much more than a mere gathering of people, united by some common characteristic or situation; it is a bond like no other, a space in which all are seen and known and loved to the fullest extent.
To process and understand everything I felt, learned, and experienced this past week will be the happy work of the many weeks to come, but I feel confident that the blessings of this one week will continue to grow and flourish for some time. With our dear site coordinator joining the ranks of my pen pals, and a newfound group of friends by my side, I have no doubt that I am bringing a small piece of that incredible community back home with me to the hill.
My Dad’s favorite author is the infamous Charles Dickens, and because of that, I was introduced to his acerbic writing from a young age. One of the quotes most memorable to me from our (often lengthy) discussions was this, found in Our Mutual Friend: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for anyone else.” Although this pithy quote has made its way onto bumper stickers, banners, and inspirational posters (much like Tolkien’s famous, “not all who wander are lost”), it has also taken up permanent residence in the back of my mind.
Navigating these past few weeks, this line has come up for me too many times to be completely ignored. So far, I have had two interviews: the first for the position of Kimball captain, a leadership role in the kitchen, and the second for a new role on campus as a Peer Wellness Coach. Preparing for the interviews, and specifically the age-old question, “why this job?,” I found myself coming back to the same conclusion, despite the two roles being wholly unrelated (it would take a better philosopher than me to find connection between dirty dishes and personal well-being): why, if given the opportunity and the capacity to make another persons’ life a little easier, would I not do it?
As all of campus looks forward to spring break, and quite a few of us prepare to ship out to our Spring Break Immersion (SBIP) sites (for me, Ivanhoe, VA), that question has challenged me to re-evaluate my daily life and how I interact with my environment. The premise of SBIP is that, although entering a community for a week will likely have no long-term impact or incite any sort of meaningful long-term change, it is worth it to go, simply to alleviate those burdens as best we can for the time being. Simply, some help is better than none.
This reflection, rather timely for the Lenten season, has motivated me to change my outlook on my daily life here on campus, shifting my focus from myself and my (quite extensive!) list of problems and to instead asking, “how can I lighten someone’s burden today?”. Holding a door, a smile, staying an extra few minutes after my shift or a simple “how are you doing?” undoubtedly will not fix any significant problem, nor will it have much effect on the community at large. Yet, I would argue that those things are far more important than anything else I will accomplish on a daily basis, simply because they might lighten another’s burden by the tiniest fraction. After all, I would much rather be insignificant than useless!
In the spirit of appreciating the little things in life, I’ve attached a few pictures of some happy little moments over the last few weeks: