The frizz in my curls, grime under my nails, and the rips between my jeans faded away in the mist of northern Maryland. Last week, I was weightless. Surface burdens were cured with love, service, and a new family.
Eight days ago, twelve strangers gathered in a crowded airport at 5 in the morning. At the time, the only thing we had in common was a gate number and the commitment to use our spring break to bring a little bit of light into a community. What we didn’t know was exactly how much light we would bring into ourselves.
I fell in love with service 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic. When I was a little girl my cousin took me with her to see this elderly woman who lived in the village. She was frail, thin, small and wore a dress with tiny daisies. She sat on a wooden rocking chair in her living room that had pictures of disciples, saints, and a colossal rosary hung by the doorway. The room was small and all the windows were open. A faint tropical breeze eased the heat we endured from the walk through the village.
“Por qué estamos aquí?” I asked, confused on why my cousin took me here.
“Ella se esta muriendo,” she responded. The woman was dying. “We are here to say goodbye.”
We were not the only ones in the living room that sweltering hot afternoon in the Dominican Republic, the room was packed with relatives, friends, a pastor, and the sound of children laughing in the nearby farm. In this impoverished village with limited electricity, unkept dirt roads, and in the face of death, the one in the rocking chair in the stained daisy dress seemed to be the happiest woman alive. She was among those she loved and that was enough.
It may seem unrelated, but for me the connection from this and my love for service is clear. I have devoted my entire life to love and community. When I wear a daisy dress and sit back in a rocking chair I want my final glimpse of life to be full with people who can smile in the face of sadness. I do service because everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live in happiness and among those they love despite their circumstances.
In Maryland, we slept in a church’s attic for six nights. With no showers, we drove to the YMCA every day to wash after long days working for Habitat for Humanity. Together we power washed porches, installed dry wall, did trail work, scraped flooring, painted ceilings, poured cement, swept floors, fixed windows, and most importantly found love within ourselves. Our little group of strangers, through sweat, service, and enclosed spaces turned into a second family as our hearts swelled with joy from the satisfaction of the work we were doing.
On the third day of our Maryland service trip I met a woman who has been volunteering with Habitat for seven and a half years. Every Wednesday, she takes a day off from being a nurse to care for the community she lives in. After only speaking with her for a few moments, I felt a sensation unlike any other. I was in the presence of someone who truly understood the power of love and humanity. For six days out of the week, she professionally takes care of other people. She watches people die, babies born, cares for the sick, love for those who need love, and still after all of this volunteers every Wednesday. This woman does not see service as a box to be checked off or something on her to-do list. She unapologetically loves others for a living. If each human on this planet took a day to live like this nurse does, even for a few moments, the world will instantly become a kinder place to live in.
I live through the words of Cornell West: “…social justice is what love looks like in public.” I will never stop doing service because I will never stop loving. What is important about service is to remember that it does not live in the boundaries of a few days, but it must survive in each of us. I do service because for me community service is not only a trip or an extra bullet on a resume, it is a responsibility that comes with being human. The power of community does not end in an airport on the last day of an alternative spring break trip because the love in a community never ends. Community service is more than an Instagram post. It is more than a hashtag. It is a lifestyle with a balance of self love and selflessness. In order to serve we must rise like the mist in Maryland and love like the woman in a daisy printed dress.