Over this week I have had the amazing opportunity to talk, to re-connect, with several of my favorite people in the world. The problem with being so far away is not that communication is necessarily prohibitively difficult (although usually fairly inconvenient), but when your life is so physically removed from the lives of others, it also becomes somehow emotionally separate, or at least less connected. Many years ago, someone shared with me a poem they had written (this mysterious someone just happens to be one of these wonderful individuals with whom I spoke this week--the one and only Thomas Storm) and a quote from that poem has always stuck with me. I share it in the hopes that it may similarly haunt others of the traveling and/or adventurous disposition. The quote:
“I walked into the woods today and found the grass growing without me.”
I think this perfectly describes the sentiment of reconnecting with good friends after a period of emotional and physical distance. I didn’t realize until I spoke with these people how much I actually missed them and yet, at the same time, their energy and spirit and encouragement was exactly what my travel-weary heart needed.
The Peace Corps experience is a lot of things. One thing it certainly has become for me is a way to gather a deeper understanding of myself, an appreciation and perspective of the complex nuances that compose the slightly insane individual that I am. When you live in a social and cultural situation that, even despite the greatest efforts on everyone’s part, is extremely isolating such a self-reflective process is inevitable.
I just finished re-reading the book Life of Pi which chronicles the fictional experience of a shipwrecked survivor at sea for many months. The situation is one of extreme physical isolation and while I am daily surrounded by people (I live in a rural community, not a deserted island) I found myself relating so well to the main character. There is so much more to human connection than just physical presence.
Every day I sit with groups of individuals and we have conversations and discussions, make jokes and commiserate about this and that--these moments are wonderful and I appreciate them immensely. But it is almost in these moments that I feel most alone. Culturally, I am a visitor. Linguistically, I am a child. Personally, I am such an outlier that most of my proudly wielded individuality doesn’t even register for most of my neighbors. Such is the lot of a Peace Corps experience and I am hardly the first, nor the last person to run such a gauntlet.
Please do not interpret these notions somehow as complaints or sorrow, they are just observations of situations that continually help me grow as a person. The idea I am hoping to illustrate here is that, despite all this ambiguity in personal definition and identity, it takes the smallest things to keep a wandering spirit grounded in something like home. Talking to my friends from the states, people that are as close to family as my own family, hearing about their lives, re-telling those old stories, these are the things that bring me back to life.
In this place, I am living and thriving in my own way. Indeed, this is one of the most enriching and enlightening experience of my entire life. But the contrast between this place, this life, and my life at home sometimes make me feel like separate people. There is something so full and beautiful in this idea, but at the same time an emptiness and a confusion. My life is truly a life of contrasts. Despite that, I still have my anchors, I know those people would fight any storm to keep me at harbor, if not in my body than in my spirit, always. You know who you are. Thank you and I love you.