Sometimes the smallest, briefest interactions just set the tone for the day. Monday was our first day of class, and I was grabbing some much-needed coffee when Gerry, one of the ASP faculty, approached me. He knew I had flight troubles last week, and that bag had gone MIA for a time. When I told him that it had, in fact, arrived on Friday, he smiled and said, “Ah, so — now that you’re getting more settled in, how does it feel to be home?”
First I was confused. Then I wanted to cry out of happiness. He was talking about D.C.
I told him, it feels good to be home.
Yesterday was our first day of service learning, or “neighborhood engagement” as it’s now called. My group of eight ASP students volunteered the afternoon with Home First’s Age-in-Place program, which assists senior citizens living in their own homes with basic cleaning and yard work. I went into the afternoon warily, because I’d rather work with kids than elderly, but I realized just how meaningful my time and effort meant to the woman we served.
Her name was Mrs. Adams, an 89-year-old woman living with her son in an area called Brookland. She said she has lived in D.C. her entire life, and she has been in her current house for nearly 40 years. The eight of us students cleaned house — everything from sweeping and dusting the blinds to cleaning the kitchen. My friend Tom and I tackled the refrigerator, which was…an adventure. Soy milk that expired in November? Peanut butter dated to go bad in 2010? (It’s going to become a good story, I’m sure: “Hey, Tom, remember that time we tasted Mrs. Adams’ peanut butter?”) Approximately one thousand half eaten loaves of bread? Cleaned it. Reorganized it. Boom. A spotless, beautiful fridge…two hours later.
But it was so satisfying to know that our work actually meant so much to Mrs. Adams. She hung out with us while we cleaned, and she told us about growing up in D.C. and where she goes to church. I had been worried that she’d be a crotchety old woman, opposed to letting young people clean house for her, but she was everything opposite of that.
As we prepared to leave, we posed for a picture and she suggested that we join hands and pray. After Jack prayed on behalf of our group for Mrs. Adams, she prayed for our semester and our time in D.C. Such a great moment on a beautiful January afternoon.
I guess I was expecting service learning to be the same as it was in the fall, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I appreciated the opportunity this time around. I know I went into it knowing that I love D.C. and it’s people — with a servant’s heart, prepared to see God in the small things — rather than as an outsider coming to fulfill a requirement…even if that’s what it is. Perspective just changes things.