As a freshman member of Appalachia Volunteers, allow me to clear some things up about my participation in the organization here at Boston College:
1) I signed up partly because that’s all I had to do: sign up. At a school where any sort of application – to the college itself, to other service organizations, to housing – feels like a variation on the Hunger Games, this was a plus.
2) Being a member meant securing for myself since September the distant hope of spending spring break in a warmer setting than my cold, gray home state of Connecticut.
3) The meetings were regular and reliable. Same time, same place, week after week. This routine, however comfortable, did not make the 5:45pm Newton bus any more enjoyable.
There were short meetings and long ones, good speakers and boring ones, days when I got there on time and days where I missed the bus and barely made it to attendance. Some people donated to my letter campaign and others didn’t. Mostly, Appa was just somewhere to be every Sunday night. I’d heard “Appa Love” floating around, sure – but only with air quotes and sheepish smiles, nothing I understood as I sat on the floor of Eagle’s Nest instead of catching up on Downton Abbey in my dorm. I may have been involved physically, but I didn’t feel like I was really a part of this club.
That detachment changed from the first night I sat at a long white table in a yellow-painted room in the basement of a church in Roanoke, Virginia, surrounded by ten strangers, playing Apples to Apples and making small talk. It changed even more when we went out the next day and cut down bushes, picked up trash, and made friends with residents of a local nursing home. The eleven of us ate three meals a day together, told bad jokes and sang annoying songs, sat in our “Reflection Room” and told each other things nobody else knew about us. And by the time I left Roanoke, I couldn’t remember ever feeling like I didn’t belong in Appalachia Volunteers.
Appa Love exists. It exists because monotony stops. We are outside of the BC bubble, apart from a comfortable routine that centers on our individual selves. We have committed ourselves to spending a week serving others, and only when that commitment becomes real does the love become real too. It doesn’t matter if you watch the four walls of a house go up under your hands, or if you watch one person smile as they tell you their story; any work is good work if you mean what you do. Connections are made on Appalachia when we tell people they matter to us, when we embrace the parts of them they don’t embrace about themselves, when we reach out our hands and let ourselves be held by those we have known for mere days. Those connections may only be carried back to Boston in group texts, Facebook photo albums, or memories – but maybe those are vehicles enough to make those connections last.
As my favorite professor says, “Nothing can be known until it is first loved.” I didn’t know how important Appalachia was to me until I fell into Appa Love, and it has changed how I see myself and BC. And if that doesn’t make sense to you yet as you read this, that’s okay – because spring break 2014 isn’t so far away.