My summer at Muggle Hogwarts: Ainsley’s reflection

The people around me heard me reference my semester in Budapest, Hungary at least a jillion times, so it’s only fitting for me to mention it once more as I reflect on my summer in Three Rivers. While in Budapest, I made friends with fellow Calvin College students who worked at the Service-Learning Center back on campus. They essentially forced me to sign up for a Service-Learning spring break trip and I wrote my name down for “Three Rivers, Michigan,” when I heard the other, more far-flung and admittedly more exciting-sounding trips were full. So I spent my senior spring break in Three Rivers and realized I really liked it. Basically I hauled around large sticks behind Huss, weeded in some hot crusty soil, met community members, got the giggles around a dinner table heavily-laden with alarmingly good food, squirmed through the “strongly-encouraged” daily quiet hour, and took walks around the Rectory neighborhood. It was a genuinely good time. When I found myself abruptly unemployed (fired) and in need of a summer (or any) job, I remembered Three Rivers and its knack for welcoming students, thinkers, dreamers and even awkward post-Calvin stragglers. I was drawn to join *cino, knowing the people involved are working toward intentionality, health-full living and meaningful question-asking. And they’re fun and nice. Their food tastes really good. We can make each other laugh.

I came at the end of May ready to join in on the Huss Project, since I saw it as an artsy Muggle Hogwarts, and any Harry Potter fan can understand why that sounded good to me. I helped put on Family Fun Nights and loosely supervised many of the weekday lunches distributed to kids at Huss. My new friend Ginna taught me about permaculture and guided me in my first gardening experiences. I volunteered at World Fare and learned about fair trade while eating chocolate and drinking coffee — a prime way to learn.

Joys hit me like runaway filibuster fireworks as I listened to Ginna gush about goats and how to sew together trapezoidal fabric segments, saw Huss come brilliantly alive for Future Fest, watched Jonathan demonstrate his knowledge of the weirdly-good tight pants song, witnessed Rob bike over a child’s skate ramp, and walked in on David celebrating the completion of that kitten puzzle. Hats off to him for that.

It was tricky adjusting to a new pattern of eating and to the lack of formal structure of class schedules and a consistent job. I didn’t know what to do with certain produce or how I would pay my rent come September. The stress of the unemployed unknown was often dissipated by friendships — a wacky variety of them — among housemates and neighborhood kids. Chelsea and I spent a good amount of time with two kids in particular, and traded funny, funny stories (like when one kid thought his mom was an alien), blunt advice (we adults need to stop being so obsessed with our cell phones) and bewilderingly hilarious comments (“one time, I mashed up some flies and made them into a goopy paste”).

I remembered that I can live on far less than I think, that kids are smarter and wiser than most people give them credit for, and that concepts like “radical hospitality” and “faithful presence” will never become clear-cut directives for living, but will take daily thought, trial and error. I want quick answers and comprehensive understanding, but I learned to let go of that a little more. I learned that I need to be braver and take more initiative and I learned that when I put myself out there, it’s usually worth it. I learned that clover roots lock in moisture and aerate the soil and they feel awesomely soft on your feet, so don’t weed them out of your garden. I learned it’s imperative for me to drive less and take more walks and more bike rides because that’s how you find the cool stuff.

I hope *cino will continue to be a place that invites and welcomes new people and I hope that *cino will keep growing into a place where individuals of different ages, races and backgrounds can hang out in one room and feel truly comfortable together. I hope the Huss Project will continue to keep its doors open to children (and forgive them when they sprint through the halls and interrupt prayers), support neighbors and local businesses, and value learning and friendship above material gain and expediency.

I write this having just gotten back to my home in Grand Rapids. I’m going to do what I can to save some money (find a job — any job!) as I spend time with friends and family members and try to decide if teaching in Hungary and beginning midwifery school are life routes I will pursue next. I will also be trying to send snail mail more regularly, since I’d like to combat transience in small ways, because I have a box of totally fantastic envelopes from Harriet E. Jackson, and because I’m downright attached to the beautiful people who made these weeks so worthwhile.

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