SWARTZ: Day of service, memorable for sure

Matilda Swartz

It’s 7:40 a.m. on a Saturday. I am not stumbling back into my room after late night shenanigans. I am groggily changing into a borrowed ‘Nova Nation shirt in preparation for the 2009 St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service.

It’s 8:45 a.m. After a brisk walk through Main Campus and an impatient line for coffee and a muffin, I am standing with my service group, riding that brief adrenaline rush that results from a surplus of sleepless weeknights. Our group is not blessed with a low number allowing us to leave right away; the only thing making the wait any easier is the appeal of our destination: the Philadelphia Zoo.

It’s 10:30 a.m. Our group signs in with zoo officials and gets acquainted with the extraordinary environment as well as the incredible staff who would accompany us throughout the day. After dividing the group by the common denominator, gender, the girls went off to beautify the gardens as the men were whisked away to chop bamboo. It barely feels like service when you are working outside on a cloudless, humidity-free day, surrounded by peacocks walking freely around the park. Lunch next to the zoo’s hot air balloon and a mini tour through Bear Country and Cat Falls only add to the day’s excellence.

It’s 2:45 p.m. After a few group photo opportunities, we say our goodbyes to the exceptional zoo guides and our four-legged friends. The group disperses into the two separate vans and departs. Ten minutes later, we’re in the back row of the van that became a party in a fender bender near Fairmount Park. Our novice van driver pulls off into the park. The scene has a drastically different tone than the earlier half of the day. What was once sunny and filled with lions, tigers and polar bears is now a mess of license and registration. Thankfully, no one is hurt.

It’s 2:53 p.m. The other driver has refused to exchange information with ours and has notified the police, who are way too busy with real accidents in the Philly metropolis to respond to this unnecessary call. Inside the van is just as messy. The majority of the riders question each other as to why our flustered driver couldn’t collect herself. From my back row, I silently sympathize with our driver. It is a hell of a lot easier to say, “Be calm” when the responsibility is not on your shoulders. Thirty minutes turn into one hour, one hour evolves into 90 minutes and our half of the service group is now sprawled about Fairmont Park, awaiting authorities that won’t appear. The inaction is wearing on everybody; I personally chalk this up to karma. This is my punishment for neglecting to properly celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

It’s 4:40 p.m. The wait has taken its toll on the other driver, who has finally agreed to exchange info and let us free. The ride back is sweltering but otherwise uneventful. Most minds wander into thoughts of how different the afternoon would have been had they taken the other van. Most of us are too tired for liturgy or dinner, glad to answer our bodies’ pleas for showers and sleep.

Now, I wonder, was it worth it?

Was two hours of senseless waiting, tension and a scratched paint job enough to turn what began as a glorious day of good deeds into a chaotic civilian horror story?

Yes and no.

Anyone involved would be lying if he or she said that the event did not make some sort of dent, even if minor, in their day.

Despite the pitfall, in the endless recounting of the day’s timeline to all who weren’t there, the story always begins with the moment when we left the zoo. With each telling, the story concludes with giraffe sightings and our favorite staff member at Gate 8.

Such subconscious decisions in chronology prove that, despite missing what was rumored to be a fantastic dinner, our tumultuous day was enough to satisfy a Wildcat’s appetite, but not enough to break one’s spirit.

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Matilda Swartz is a sophomore communication

major from Longport, N.J. She can be reached at

[email protected]