Reflections On Appa

I thought I was strong, that I could avoid it, that it wouldn’t affect me the way it has affected people in the past. But it hit me the moment I embarked on the 12-hour bus ride down to Virginia and has grown deeper every day-I’ve got the Appa high.

I was excited to go on the Appalachia service trip for Spring Break, but in the few days leading up to it, my excitement was a bit subdued. I had heard so many people talk about their plans to relax at home with their families or tan on a Caribbean beach, and part of me honestly just wanted to take a breather and bum around for a week. I was also a little concerned because my group, Exmore, was the largest of the Appa groups. With 19 people, I didn’t know if we would all be able to click as well as the smaller groups. But, as soon as we met that Friday night before the long bus ride, I knew I had made the right decision, and by Monday, I could tell that this was going to be one of the best and most rewarding weeks of my life thus far.

Our trip was through Habitat for Humanity, but due to more crazy winter storm weather (it snowed a whole 1.8 inches on Monday), the first half of the week was more of a retreat than a service trip, with plenty of bonding activities. As childish as they may be, there is something so magical about playing games and singing together like a family-which we did a lot-and there were so many moments of pure joy and laughter that could not have happened any other way. Building relationships without texting or social media was also especially meaningful for me. Nowadays, the way we meet and develop friendships with people is so contingent on technology-we check out Facebook or Instagram to try to determine what kind of person someone is, we check out Twitter to try to determine how funny someone is, and we text to try to determine if we connect with someone-but none of these involve truly getting to know a person. Spending a week building relationships based solely on face-to-face contact, conversation, and laughter was unbelievably refreshing and made our friendships that much stronger.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the trip for me was how much we were able to interact with the community around us. Because we were a habitat trip, I assumed we would just be building a house rather than getting to know the people of the area like you would in a community trip, but I was pleasantly surprised by the reality. We stayed in an Episcopal church in the small town of Onancock, and the members of the church were some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. Several folks brought us food (they were very concerned about our wellbeing during the “snowstorm”), and many contributed air mattresses, which was greatly appreciated for our sleeping arrangement.

We were able to have two dinners with the church community, and I appreciated the opportunity to talk with and learn from such down-to-earth and loving people. At the first dinner, I talked with Nick, a psychiatrist helping schizophrenics in the greater Eastern Shore area. We discussed the progressive nature of the church, which I was not expecting because, I’ll admit, I had stereotypes about most rural and southern communities (especially religious ones) being socially conservative. The priest, Rev. Ford, broke this stereotype down even more when he talked with us Wednesday night about the similarities and differences between the Episcopal and Catholic faith traditions, and how his church deals with controversial issues like gay marriage, abortion, and female priests. Although older people constituted much of the community, it was refreshing to see how much Rev. Ford cared about the youth and our connection (or lack thereof) to the church-he genuinely wanted to understand why our generation is generally more ambivalent toward organized religion, and what churches could do to change that sentiment. Talking to him and the other members, I was struck by how happy they were to be in such a small town with a small and close-knit community. One man I talked with at the second dinner, Bruce, told me how he used to work in Manhattan making more money than he ever knew what to do with, and he wished he had moved to Onancock much sooner because he is so much happier here. It was so powerful to see how they lived so happily with so little, and how they welcomed us as family in such a short time.

Building the house itself was quite the experience-when we got to the work site the only finished part of the house was the foundation. This meant our job was to build the exterior framing. Few of us had done anything like that before, and it took us a little while to get the hang of things. But working on a project like that as a team, with a clear goal in mind of helping build a real live house for someone, and the many, many laughs along the way made it more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Despite the less than optimal weather conditions and shortened time frame, we were able to get all four walls up by the end of the day on Friday, which was so satisfying-especially after meeting Sharon, the house owner, and seeing how much it meant to her. By the time we left Friday night, all 19 of us were unquestionably on the “Appa high,” and loving every second of it.
So, I would say I’m sorry about all of the obnoxious “Appa love” taking over campus and social networks, and about the friends who won’t stop talking about their respective “Appa highs” even when you’ve clearly reached your limit hearing about it-but I’m really not sorry at all.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.