March 20, 2010

Last Lasts

Over the past year, many of you have become painfully aware of the toll that the lengthy Peace Corps application process can have on future/potential volunteers (and our dear friends and family, who bear the brunt of our worrying, whining, and obsessing .  .  . did I mention how much I love you guys?!).  Indeed, a year, give or take a few months can feel like an extraordinary amount of time when you are literally not sure whether you’ll be moving to Seattle or Africa.  Even the most seemingly mundane decisions like whether to eat out or stay home and settle for lentils and rice suddenly require an absurd level of scrutiny—do I enjoy the luxuries America has to offer while I can, or should I be responsible and save for the future?  While this sort of thinking can drive a person mad, it was also the catalyst for what was almost certainly the best year of my life (up to this point, anyway).

Though I still unabashedly argue in favor of a shorter application process for volunteers, I must say that I can think of few other life circumstances that produce a similar sense of urgency for everyday situations.  It is so easy to become complacent in our day-to-day lives that it has become a cliché movie plot or party game scenario to imagine what we would do if we were suddenly told we only had six months to live or won the lottery and had only a limited time to spend it. 

The Peace Corps is hardly akin to death or Power Ball (upon which end of that spectrum it falls depends who you talk to, although it goes without saying that I consider acceptance a big victory :o), yet it inspired me to closely examine how I was spending the time before my possible departure and gave me an excuse to take advantage of the opportunities that are easy to pass up under normal circumstances.  For the first time in my life, I actually made every decision a conscious decision, and stopped putting things off—I went to the big fireworks display on the Fourth, I ran a marathon, learned to ride a bike, went camping and hiking nearly every weekend over the summer, enjoyed the Farmer’s Markets, volunteered excessively, took roadtrips on a whim, went to concerts, made new friends, and generally didn’t let anything hold me back.  Admittedly, this approach has its drawbacks—it can be quite selfish, and didn’t exactly help pad my savings account—but it enabled me to become a stronger, more empowered, and ultimately happier person.

Strangely enough, though, over the past year my preoccupation with last chances and living in the moment evolved away from the notion from which it originatedmy impending departure—and morphed into a habitual change in thinking.  I have maintained an awareness of what little time I have left with family, friends, and animal companions.  I have participated in the ritual frenzy of packing and preparation (see previous entry :o).  Yet my acceptance into the Peace Corps still felt like an abstraction. 

It was not until I received an e-mail from the Peace Corps Staging Department that the implications and impact of my acceptance truly set in.  I am actually going to Africa.  Not to some romanticized land in some hypothetical future.  I am going to Botswana.  On April 11th.  I am taking United Airlines Flight #9816 then Air Johanasburg Flight #38 to Gaborone, Botswana.  Where I will live and eat and drink and sleep and work and play and get sick and make friends and get lost and learn and cry and experience the world in a whole new way.  For 27 months. 

These next few weeks will be full of my real lasts before my entire life will be turned upside-down, and the emotions surrounding it all are genuinely beginning to hit me—excitement for the experiences I will gain, sadness for things I will miss, anxiety for the change, and hope that my experience will be a success, whatever that means.  I’m down to my last few lasts before I have a whole lot of firsts, and I think it’s finally set in.