Around this time of year, social media sites become replete with pictures and videos of spring break vacations. Whether one goes on an exotic trip to another country, or chooses to stay home to visit with family and friends, the goal is usually to make the experience something to be envied.

For most of my break, the exact opposite happened. I was envious — of those who had stayed home.

A week before the break, I had a marvelous idea to buy a plane ticket to visit Tyler, my best friend from high school. Since he goes to school in Virginia, and I hadn’t seen him in several months, I figured that it was perfect timing. His parents just moved to Thomson, Ga., and I was yearning to get out of “Bore-mont.”

I bought a pricey plane ticket, thanks to Delta airlines and my handy-dandy credit card, then I over-packed my bags, looking forward to the long flight and overwhelming debt soon to come.

Tyler and I wanted to make the most of our time that week, so the day after my arrival, we made our way to Atlanta. I desperately wanted to visit the Center for Disease Control Museum, given my odd obsession with death, but gave up on that idea quickly when we realized we’d have to walk more than a mile from our car — lazy, I know.

We agreed that our best bet for a good time was to spend $10 that I didn’t really have, on a day ticket to ride the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority — or MARTA — across the city. I can’t say that it was a blast, but it was definitely a new experience. I have a newfound respect for people who use public transportation as a part of their daily routine. I have been too spoiled.

Eventually, we set our sights on the CNN headquarters, where I took a ton of pictures and bought souvenirs so that I could disgrace my extremely conservative family and convince them that I’d turned into an extreme liberal on my three-day trip. I sure do have a weird sense of fun. Once I embarrassed my family sufficiently on all forms of social media, Tyler and I hopped back onto the mostly vacant MARTA and headed to as many cool-looking coffee shops we could find. We found two.

Our first spot was a Turkish coffee shop called “Ebrik Coffee Room.” The coffee was decent and the company was better. We spent our time people-watching, discussing social issues and going through a Banksy book. I was in my element, but still wasn’t finding the excitement that I was looking for. Our last coffee shop was called “Chrome Yellow Trading Company.” I was tired of coffee, so I opted for a tea and shopped around their “dry goods” section. I managed to send myself into more debt by convincing myself that I needed a new planner. I already use four calendars, so why not settle for a prime number?

Like the narcissistic 20-year-old that I am, I made Tyler take pictures of me in front of any place that I thought might fit the aesthetic of my Instagram feed. He obliged grudgingly, and I saw the relief sweep over him when I admitted to being too cold to go anywhere else for pictures.

So far, the trip was turning into a bit of a bust. There’s only so much public transit one can handle.

As we were waiting for our last ride on the train, a man approached us inquiring about where we were from. He proceeded to tell us that he had served in the army and lived in Texas for a while. The man said he didn’t really have anywhere to go anymore, so he just hangs out around the MARTA all day. He never once complained, but he did explain that the government offered him nothing after his service in the military, and the only thing that he had eaten that day was the Snickers bar in his hand.

As we looked at him with pity, not being able to relate, he kissed the ground in front of us, stood back up, and said, “No matter how bad we think it is here, we have it the best, and I’m so thankful that I was born in the United States of America, and you should be, too.”

We agreed with him silently, and he stepped closer to us and told us, “I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, and I don’t have any weapons on me. I’m not trying to beg, but I am starving.” Of course, like the young, entitled idiots that we are, we didn’t have any cash on us. Embarrassed that I couldn’t give much, I pulled out my wallet and counted out about $5 in change and apologized for the inconvenience of quarters and dimes.

As we walked away, Tyler stopped me and said, “Isn’t it awful that we apologize for giving him loose change, and he’s ecstatic that he now has enough to buy a snack to eat?” I immediately felt sick to my stomach and felt as if my desperation for an exciting Spring Break was frivolous and superficial.

The next day, I sat at Tyler’s house, racking my brain for how on earth I was going to write an article about my “super fun spring break.” I kept drawing a blank because I was sad that the man had to verbalize his life’s résumé, and explain to us that he has no addictions and no weapons for us to be willing to help him. I realized that we should feel some sort of conviction to help other humans in need, just because we’re humans, too.

It occurred to me that we need to be advocates for those who can’t speak up for themselves, and take care of those who have been neglected.

My spring break was not my most exciting, but it was the most eye-opening.

The rest of the trip, I dwelled on what I could do to focus less on myself, and more on those around me. I’m so thankful for the life that I have, and I fully believe that gratitude is more than a feeling, it’s a behavior — so why not act on it?

I’m not saying that next spring break I might go crazy and build an orphanage, but my encounter with that man made me more aware of what’s going on around me.

Lauren Graham

UP contributor

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