Since May, I’ve been looking forward to this past week and holding onto it as if it would be my savior from this program. After four straight months of being in Crown King, in small town CK where everyone knows everyone and regular excitement is hard to come by, my team and I would finally be leaving to go back to campus.
North Highlands isn’t the most exciting place in California; it’s far from it actually. The minute I get onto Watt Avenue, I’m immediately reminded of why I despise the area. Filth and graffiti everywhere, buildings with no character, a long list of recently committed crimes labeling the people who inhabit the town, and a general lack for natural beauty showcased in many other areas of my home state.
However, reaching Watt Avenue always bring back an exhilaration that I can’t quiet explain. Soon we would be on campus where a class of amazing individuals were waiting to graduate, friends who have helped mitigate the frustrations of the program and served as a reminder to me throughout the past ten months that our generation is full of dedicated, passionate individuals. After four months in Crown King, I would have taken Watt Avenue over the hill in a heartbeat.
My week started off with a short vacation in Encinitas to get my wisdom teeth removed, followed by a quick trip to Santa Barbara where Cooper and I were able to see his family and my friends.
The break from AmeriCorps was just what I needed. As I’ve said before, morale has been really low the past few weeks. There are attitudes and energies floating around that I don’t want to be a part of and it’s very apparent how much the entire team is dreading the extension. I never thought three weeks would sound so long, especially after almost a year of service, but the thought of going back to work has sounded so awful. Being on campus and away from the monotony of brush clearing brought a mild refresher that I believe we all needed to help us pull through these next few weeks.
I often tell myself that I won’t be able to properly reflect on this experience so quickly after the program ends, and I still believe that to be true. There are a lot of lessons that I’ve learned while here that will not be apparent to me until sometime far after the program has ended. Sometimes that’s a frustration for me, tricking my mind into believing this year has not been as productive as I could have hoped. However, there are small lessons that I’ve taken away that are already apparent and those lessons are ones I would never trade my year in for.
The largest lesson has been in appreciation. The luxuries I use to have, like the ability to jump in my car and drive where I want or to sleep in a room with a door and privacy separate from nine others, don’t often cross my mind as something I crave. I’ve been sleeping in the living room on a different couch each night without the ability to close out my team for four months. For eleven months, I’ve used safeties when backing up the van, have traveled with restrictions that go against the grain of my own methods, have worn uniforms that are uncomfortable and unfavorable, and have lived by rules that limit my ability to do things that I would have never thought twice about outside of the AmeriBubble.
A few weeks ago, Cooper and I got a hotel room in Prescott so that we could stay in town while his grandparents were here. We spent the night with silly grins on our faces, remarking every once in a while how incredible it was to have a room with a door and the ability to lay in bed eating whatever we wanted while watching television. While in San Diego, we had the freedom to take my car and drive wherever we wanted, and when meeting up with our team, we woke up at four a.m and drove to the hotel where they were staying without thinking twice about travel restrictions or uniform requirements. I wore yoga pants or my swimsuit almost everyday and didn’t once look at my BDUs. I kept alcohol in my fridge and had a glass of wine with dinner.
All of these things seem so simple now, yet the program has allowed me to view these things in such a different light. My appreciation for the small things has grown immensely, and I’ve been grateful for the luxuries in life that most probably don’t see as anything other than regular life. If weeks after the program ends I still can’t find the other lessons I’ve learned while here, I’ll be grateful enough to be walking away with this lesson. It’s a perspective that I appreciate a lot already, being able to see every small thing as something that I could easily not have access to, and it’s allowed me to look at what I’m given in a much different light.