19: Taking a Break from Spring Break

19: Taking a Break from Spring Break

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Taking a Break from Spring Break

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

~Anne Frank

A lot of people, when they think of college, think of endless parties, keg stands, and an even more endless supply of cute guys (or girls). And when it comes to Spring Break, they think of all of these things even more so, once they’ve gotten the cheapest flight to South Padre Island, Cabo San Lucas, or whatever the latest hip place is to go on a college budget.

I, too, was excited by all the prospects of a fun Spring Break location, especially this spring, during my senior year of college. Would I go to Texas... or maybe pay a bit more and go to Mexico or Jamaica? This being my last year of college, I wanted to make it good.

My friends all had various ideas, but I kept feeling that I wanted to do something different, with different people... but where, and with whom? Everyone but me was booking their airline tickets and hotels; time was about to run out.

Being at Marquette University, a Catholic school, I walked by the campus chapel and prayed for a sign. I looked around, but there were no signs in sight.

Toward the end of the day, I was running late between classes, so I detoured through the school Union, where I saw my sign — literally. A poster board was on display in the middle of the foyer, “Looking for something different to do during Spring Break this year? Take an M.A.P. trip.” (M.A.P. stands for “Marquette Action Program.”)

As I read — about road-tripping to another state with a handful of other students, living in a low-income housing area, praying, making meals together — a girl came up and asked if I wanted to sign up. “I was just looking,” I muttered. “We could use another person,” she said. I thought about my friends’ plans: sunbathing on the beach, staying out all night, meeting out-of-state guys... and decided right then and there that I could do the same thing — only, I would be in the snow, staying in all night with unknown classmates, and still meeting out-of-state guys in Rochester, NY. I had never been to New York, so I was intrigued.

Instead of spending money, I’d be saving it. Instead of spending time with people I knew, I’d be spending it with people I didn’t. Instead of watching people try to use their fake IDs to get into bars, I’d be helping people who were recently released from behind bars of another kind.

When I told my friends, they were confused as to why I’d want to spend our last Spring Break away from them. I remember one saying, “So you’d rather pay to help the poor than pay to get a tan in Cabo?” “Yes,” I said without hesitating. While my friends and apartment-mates packed bikinis and sunscreen, I packed my winter coat and gloves. While they put their plane tickets into their purses, I got into a university-sponsored van with four strangers for an eleven-hour drive from Milwaukee, WI, to Rochester, NY.

We finally arrived in Rochester, and our destination turned out to be a decrepit side street. I thought surely we must have been on the wrong street. We’re sleeping here? In this neighborhood? And at a house with bars on the windows, one of them boarded up from what I could only imagine was a gunshot? And my friends are on the beach in Cabo San Lucas? Is it too late to get a ticket and join them? Maybe my mom could wire me the money. As I thought about all these things, a priest, Father Jim, came out and greeted us. He lived here and we’d be staying with him.

That first night, I didn’t sleep. How could I, with all the visions of drive-by shootings I’d seen on the news? In no time at all, Father Jim was waking us up — at 6 A.M. Didn’t Spring Break mean sleeping in? I bet my friends were doing that.... Father Jim explained that we had a lot of work to do. We’d start by volunteering at his parish, at a clothing drive. Then we’d go to a homeless shelter and play cards with people, as well as babysit some of their kids. Afterwards, we’d go to the local diner for lunch, a restaurant run by ex-inmates trying to turn their lives around. I imagined my friends ordering room service. Wasn’t the point of Spring Break to take a break?

As the days went on, I thought less and less of my friends in Cabo and more and more about the people we were serving. There was Dolores, who became a regular at the homeless shelter after she became disabled, lost her job, and couldn’t provide for her kids anymore on her own. She liked coming to the shelter for the camaraderie, limping from table to table, joining this game of bridge or that one; she was the reigning champ. There was Ted, a big, buff guy who worked at the diner as a waiter, who could have easily been a linebacker for the Packers in another place and time. He had been in jail for almost a decade, and was grateful to be anywhere but behind bars. There was Sheila, who hated for her kids to know how poor they were. She always tried to get to the church clothing drives first, to find the clothes with the fewest holes and things she could easily mend. When I looked at Sheila and her kids, I got tears in my eyes as I was reminded of going to church basement clothing sales as a child with my mother after her divorce.

At the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave Rochester. As we drove away, I already missed everyone we’d met; I even missed the ducking down in Father Jim’s house every time I heard a noise, something I had stopped doing by week’s end.

When we got back to Milwaukee, I looked at my friends, hungover and sunburned from their Spring Breaks. They went on about the guys they had met — I went on about the ones I had met, too. I wondered if Dolores was still beating everyone at bridge. I thought about what Ted was serving as the dinner special tonight, curious as to when I would be a customer again. And I hoped that Sheila would continue to find the best secondhand clothes for her kids.

Even though my friends wanted me to spend Spring Break with them, I am glad I took a Spring Break of a different kind. After all, that’s what college is all about: trying new things, even if that means spending Spring Break in the snow with a bunch of strangers.

~Natalia K. Lusinski

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