Friday, September 7, 2012

525,600 Minutes

How do you measure a year?
One year ago I became a sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer. I swore before God, man, and my colleagues that I would do all that was within my power to represent my country well and serve the people of The Gambia. I packed my suitcases for the last in-country move and rode four hours up the dirt road to my new home. I said a tearful yet excited goodbye to the 12 other teammates who had grown to be as family. I said hello to a new family, a new village, and new site mates. I made a “thankful” list to calm my emotions. 

So how do I measure this past year? In daylights, in laughter, in cups of coffee? I will measure this year by how the circumstances changed me.
What I value has changed. I have never been a terribly materialistic person, though I won’t deny that I enjoy nice things as much as the next person. However, the circumstances of (1) being an entire world away from those I love most as well as (2) all that is familiar only made my desire for them stronger. ‘Tis absence that made this heart grow fonder. Recently, I’ve been having rather significant conversations with a local about why I would leave a comfortable life, a good job, and free country to live at poverty level in the blasted heat of Jamaica. While there is more than one motivation, the underlying reality is clear: because of the ability to meet new people and opportunity to impact each other’s lives. A year later, I write with confidence that the things I value most aren’t things…they’re people.

My definition of “friend” has changed. In our social media-induced approach to relationships, a “friend” ranges from someone you met briefly, a friend of a friend (literally, someone you haven’t ever met), or someone as close as your spouse. As I left my gaggle of friends in California to begin life in another land, I was very surprised at those who made effort to show their support. I cannot judge, for I will freely admit my own failure to be a good friend to those whom I have seen off to faraway lands. (Many deep apologies to those of you who know who you are.) This past year I have been overwhelmed by incredible people I have met, and the real friends I have made. In Peace Corps we joke about our colleagues being our “government-issued friends,” but reality is that this is the start of lifelong relationships. Words cannot scratch the surface of the impact the Haidous family, my Peace Corps Africa doctors, the few at PC Washington, and my new church family in Folsom have had. Not only did the circumstances of the past year provide for new friends, but it also redefined my friendships with two friends from childhood. My new definition of a friend is exactly as King Solomon wrote: one who sticks closer than a brother. (And I happen to have very strong ties with my sisters.)

The things I find contentment in have changed. As a young adult living in a posh suburb of Los Angeles, California, contentment was hard to come by. I constantly felt the need to be doing something. Having a variety of skills and abilities wasn’t enough; I wanted to master everything I tried my hand at, and I wanted to try something new every week. Sitting and staring at the sun set over the ocean was the closest I came to contentment. Contentment in Africa became sitting in the shade of my private, 10’x15’ back yard reading a trashy novel. Contentment as a medical evacuee became having an Internet connection. Contentment in Jamaica has become sitting under the Ackee tree and chatting with the neighbors as they do their wash. Over the past year, I have become more content in the small things.


I recently listened to a podcast in which a man likened uprooting a tree for transplant to that of uprooting a person from their life. He said, “transplanting trees and transplanting people causes a shock to the system and delays growth for a season. But they’ll both recover in time. Growth happens slowly and steadily as we set down in one place, as we dig in.” I couldn’t help but relate to this analogy, knowing that we do recover in time. Though I have felt a great shock to my system this past year, I ultimately trust the Master gardener.