Returning to the CCC and ESCAPE

Two students sitting on a rock with mountains as a backdrop.

Justin Bustamante (NHS’23) with his friend Molly Ropelewski (COL ’23) on the long hike at the CCC.

I write this reflection from my cabin at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center (CCC). We just finished the second of three days of Team Training for the new ESCAPE team. I forgot how short the drive was from campus to the CCC. I also forgot how green it is up here. I’ve walked around these grounds countless times in the past few hours, retracing the steps I left behind when I first came here two years ago. I want to lie down in the grass until the dark mountains shine light blue from the rising sun. I feel nothing but gratitude for the simple fact that I am back.

I first heard about ESCAPE three years ago when I noticed a poster in Healy Hall. It was almost a year later when I finally approached two students wearing their green ESCAPE T-shirts at a table in Red Square and a short month after that I was finally on a bus to Bluemont, Virginia.

When I arrived I stepped off the bus and tripped. As I picked myself up off the stones in the driveway, it seemed as though the white farmhouse rose from the ground with me. The blue-ridged peaks in the distance appeared to be both a few days and a breath away. I had arrived at the CCC for my first college retreat.

After the first day of listening to retreat leaders tell their stories, belting out songs way out of my range, and dancing with other students I had never met before, I dropped onto the grass and stared upward. The night sky darkened and as the stars appeared I knew I would return to see those stars again.

However, the pandemic had other plans and instead of driving west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, I found myself driving north toward the blue walls of my childhood bedroom where the white farmhouse became a Lego set sitting on a shelf next to a stack of unread children’s books.

It’s strange. For the last year, I learned that ESCAPE has no center point, and looking out the window at this Virginia night sky for the first time in a long time, I find it difficult to explain my thoughts and feelings. Being back here, being back on campus, being back in person, I think I feel everything. I feel the stress of in-person exams and in-person commitments looming over the horizon. I feel the excitement, not only my own but the entire campus, as I hear their loud, singing voices outside my on-campus apartment late into the night. I feel the hugs of countless friends and acquaintances as I walk across the quad, their impressions from long ago coming back up from my deep memory. I feel the expectations of the new ESCAPE team, of the program itself, and even my own as we venture into ESCAPE’s thirty-first year, yet the first one back after a global quarantine.

Sometimes, I feel as though I should be looking down, to where I stand (or sit, I suppose), reflecting on where I am and how I got here. Yet, I find myself also looking forward — looking forward to the first ESCAPE retreat in October, to the first round of exams, to the first stories I will hear from new friends, taking with me on the long hike in the morning the past two years of my time at Georgetown on campus and at home. I don’t know if I’ll stay on the path I feel I laid out for myself or if I have given myself the time to acknowledge and process the past year and a half, but I accept this uncertainty with open arms and with gratitude — grateful for everything that has happened between my first and third year as a Georgetown student and grateful for the prospect of what’s to come.

Justin Bustamante is a junior in the School of Nursing & Health Studies and a student coordinator on the ESCAPE team.