The Things I Carry: A Peace Corps Story
So maybe my Peace Corps story is a lot of the time written for myself, but I hope it finds those who are searching for answers and confirmation as they make bold choices meant to enhance their lives or discover their soul.
“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” ― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
It was around this time two years ago that I started getting ready for my big trip to China with Peace Corps. I remember the exact moment I discovered I would go to China, the plethora of emotions that washed over me, and how I didn’t sleep for practically an entire week just thinking about what was to be expected in the next phase of my life.
Fast forwarding to now, I have exactly 6 months until I make my trip back home to America to finish my Peace Corps story, start a new phase of my life, and somehow, the same feelings I felt two years ago are back again. Like I did two years ago, I find I am up late at night thinking about it or writing in my journal in hopes to ease my mind. Things have gone so fast and they will just keep going faster now.
I’m certain during our Pre-Service Training Peace Corps touched on how to make our service meaningful, but for the life of me, I can’t remember that particular session. A lot of the trainings are a blur because of how much information you are processing upon entry to China. Over time, I think I worried too much about things that didn’t matter without remembering that eventually, I would leave this life to move to another. In some ways, I made the most of living in China and in some ways I know I didn’t make the most of it too.
I do my best to not think too much about what comes after my Peace Corps story because I think it takes away from you living in the moment, but there is no denying that I will go home soon and I can’t ignore that. Eventually, plans will need to be made and now is a good time to change things that are causing agony.
This has also been the time in which I realized there are many people I will leave here, not see for a long time, or never see again. The thought alone worried me. I wish I had better relationships with some of the people here. Not all of my relationships in China are perfect, mostly because we don’t always agree with each other’s cultures, habits, and ideas. In the spirit of these realizations, I chose to put aside the differences and disagreements for the sake of saving relationships I actually really value and love.
Life is too short. I don’t wish to go home feeling regret because I could’ve done something differently. I also wish to remember the greatest of things of my service rather than the bad as well as be remembered for the good and kind things I have done.
It’s amazing to think that after 18 months of living someplace, that was once completely foreign to you, you somehow built a life. When you join Peace Corps, I think people forget to tell you that. They forget to tell you that after time, the service turns into a life and you live it. You buy groceries, you wash clothes, and you hang out with friends. The more you integrate, the more it feels like you have lived here your whole life. After two years of this life here, what do you do with that experience? Do you just forget everything you learned and resume your old life? How do you take those two years and incorporate it into who you are and will be?
By the time you reach 18 months, chances are you already made it a part of you. It won’t be until you are gone from it that you fully realize you will always carry it with you; the people, the language, the culture, everything, all of it. Even if the experience can’t be used in the next phase of your life, it will always be a delightful part of who you are and how you transformed. You’ll find that your old life carried on as well and you may never be able to relate to it again. But think of it this way, it’s another opportunity to reinvent yourself.
As I both struggle with and find great satisfaction in this truth, I know that I will forever keep with me the things that I gained from living here. Relationships will last forever or they won’t. As we move away, we move on. This is a part of life. I decided I would always carry with me things I have control of like language, healthy lifestyle habits, beautiful memories, character transformations, Christmas cards from my babies…. laughter.
I write about this whole Peace Corps story because it somehow helps make it all real. I include all parts of it, ugly and beautiful.
Connect your stories of past and present without holding too tight to what was. Remember that life will go on and has gone on with or without you being there. Life will both never be the same and never change. But in the end, it will all be perfect and it will all be worth it.