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The Vacation in the Parking Lot: What Are You Looking For?

Jen brings her desire for unity--in her family and in her city--to the vacation. Here is what happened.

Jen presenting on "The Hidden Wound."

As my husband and I packed for the Boston vacation--this year in New Hampshire--we were fighting and the kids were sitting around not doing much to help. My husband goes to these vacations for me, not for him, so there is always tension between us and everything feels divided for me.

In my frustration of not being able to convince him of anything, I prayed. I asked the Holy Spirit to help my family see something on this vacation, to know why we go, because the reason was clear for me, but if it is not clear for him, then this experience divides my family. This is mom’s thing and everyone just drags their feet doing this for me.

The rain was supposed to last all weekend. That did not help. Because of Covid, we had planned to spend as much time outside as possible, so when we got there our vacation crew set up a big tent in the parking lot in front of the dorms we were staying in. On the first night, we sat under the tent together. It was cold, windy, and rainy. We started with some singing, and my oldest daughter Anna jumped up to join Christian who was leading the songs like it was something she always does. My family does not spend much time during the year with these friends. Anna seemed so comfortable and at home with everyone. My husband was amazed as he watched her.

At the introduction later that night, Carlo explained why the moment of the vacation was so dear to Father Giussani. He said that on a vacation one could experiment with a life lived with a certain awareness, with a particular group of people. He asked us: “Why did you come? What will help us live better when we get home?” John introduced the theme of the vacation: What are you looking for? He challenged each of us to think about this and live it as an open question in the days we spend together.

My first answer to this question was “unity.” I am looking for unity with my husband, who was not excited to be there, unity with my kids, unity in our society, because racism is challenging the city of Boston and the school where I work. I wanted to see the possibility of unity during this vacation.

Needless to say, all the plans had to change because of the weather, which threatened to ruin everything. We spent the first day inside the Lakeside Center for the introduction of the games instead of actually going to a lake to swim and play. We played inside games, happy to be together and be dry. We had free time in the afternoon--which was something different from past vacations--where we were able to have some leisure time with family and friends without this fear of needing to plan every moment of the day.

Moms buying food for the vacation

Since it was raining, my husband invited some friends for a cappuccino at our townhouse. He opened up in a way I did not expect. He’s not a "people person," so his choosing to spend his free time in this way was a surprise. He had the chance to meet some new friends and he wondered why everyone was so interested to know if he liked the vacation and if he was having a good time. When it came to game time, we were allowed to use the athletic complex in the big bubble, and my husband was all in for the games. Sports is what we love, so having the chance to play in the bubble was awesome for us.

As we planned each piece of this vacation, no one knew how it was going to go exactly, but my friend Andre said that from the beginning he sensed the Holy Spirit was with us, and I followed him and Monica who asked me to be part of the culture crew to prepare the cultural presentations at night for the adults.

I was asked to present on Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound because it dealt with the question of racism that my school and city are grappling with, but in a different way. When the question “Is there hope?” was posed at the Fraternity Exercises, I had to say that when it comes to the topic of racism and the way we are facing it in Boston, I did not have hope, because the divide is so big and no one is willing to cross it out of fear.

Wendell Berry instead talks about racism as a wound that is in all of us. This book is his journey of recognizing and uncovering this wound. For me, this book had a more unifying way of judging our experience of racism-- recognizing the wound in all of us, the original sin in the history of the United States. I was shocked that after one of the hardest school years of my life, weary as I was of remote teaching and accompanying my own kids in remote learning, I still wanted to do this work, and was glad to wake up each morning to prepare the book presentation.

Ewa, Sharon, and Christian also gave a wonderful presentation on poetry with the kids. Sharon presented a slideshow about the beauty of nature and Ewa and Christian worked together to present a poem about finding God in nature called “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The older children wrote their own versions of the poem and learned many cool new words. The younger children had fun learning what alliteration is and coming up with their own lines as they colored pictures of the images in the poem.

This was the perfect segway to the hike that we managed to squeeze in when the sun finally came out on the second-to-last day. The kids went exploring for “dappled” things and found bright-colored salamanders, beautiful rocks, and “trees with burls.” They came back wanting to add lines to their original poems they were creating!

Serving on the lunch crew was my daughter Anna’s favorite part of the vacation. My son, Matthew, really liked it too. They gathered at 7:45 each morning with bandanas on their heads to join the assembly line of sandwich making and lunch packing. They felt proud when lunch time came, to see the fruits of their work.

Our dinners were presented each night by a team of costumed cooks, collaborating and creating wonderful meals for us. They took us to Italy on the first night with lovely lasagnas and pasta dishes, Mexico on the second night with tacos, rice and beans, and the 4th-of-July celebration could not have been better: hotdogs, pulled pork, mac and cheese served by cooks wearing red, white and blue bandanas and sleeveless shirts that said “Living the dream.” All of our very talented musicians got together to form a rock band to end the final night in style. We sang, we laughed, and we danced the night away.

I’m so grateful for the education that my family received during this vacation in the parking lot, working with the lunch crew, writing poetry, taking care of each other in so many different ways. I saw an openness and unity amongst all of us that was truly exceptional. My kids and my husband were so engaged and happy. I certainly found what I was looking for and more!

Jen, Boston, Massachusetts

The lunch crew


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