December 17, 2011
Thus ended part II of my trip, tutoring at the dorm. What an amazing five months! Way back in college, before it was cool to have a bucket list, I did write down a few things I wanted to do before I died. I don’t think swimming the 100 butterfly in the Olympics is going to happen. But the only other item left besides having a family is living in another country for a long time. Done. I should probably get going on that family thing now.
I have been agonizing about the decision to stay or go home. I wrote the crossroads post to help myself work through it. To the many people who have given me input, thank you. It means a lot. I spent some time reflecting this week on how I came to be here. I still have a self-view of myself as just a young high school teacher who grew up in a small town in middle America trying to get it right.
But then, I started to look at my life as a body of experiences, wow. I have traveled all over the world and United States doing volunteer or cultural work. I ended up in Peru on a motorcycle. I have conversations like, “I can possibly shoot down to Argentina in February so I can visit your orphanage”, or “I want to teach math and Spanish classes in Socma in January and February”.
How did I get here? I am not a world traveler, I just tagged along on a few service trips then organized a few myself. I am not some expert on the United States, I managed to travel around it because my students wanted to help. I am not a motorcycle guy, I’ve only been riding for 2 years and am constantly learning simple things. I am not a famous musician, I only learned guitar to play at summer camps. I am not a visionary, I am just a simple volunteer at a project that other people poured their hearts and time into to create. At the end of the day, there will be no books or movies written about my life, and my impact on the world will be minimal. I only mention this because I can easily be you.
You can always compare yourself to someone else and make yourself look good or bad. But when I look at my life, what I have been able to do, and especially these last six months, I am very, very happy.
So if living this type of life is so rewarding, why don’t more people do it? Let me start by saying that the perspective I come from is the one of American middle class privilege. I won every lottery that exists. I am wealthy. I have a strong support system. I have a great family. So this only applies to the tiniest percentage of people that live in this world, which happens to be my friends and family and the people I am assuming are reading this.
Is it fear that holds us back? Almost every time I have volunteered or done something outside of my comfort zone I was really, really nervous at first. When I started traveling, I have always been told that I will be killed by terrorists or drug dealers, robbed, jailed, or other terrible things will happen. And all that has happened is I have found the human race is more beautiful and more dreadful than I ever imagined. There are systems of unbelievable injustice and conflict in the world, and some individuals are capable of such evil it is tough to handle. But on the other hand there are huge numbers of kind, selfless, tough people who work tirelessly to improve the world we find ourselves in and make life better for all.
My world back home is safe and comfortable. I am surrounded by luxury and security, so much so I don’t know if I have the guts to leave it permanently. But even leaving temporarily has been amazing.
So take a chance. Let go. Do something in the name of good that would otherwise cause you great fear. If you travel, don’t be a tourist. The beach will feel good and the pictures will be beautiful, but they won’t compare with what connecting to the human condition will do to your soul. Most times the people you serve will gain little to no benefit, but don’t use that as a reason to not do it. You will grow. It will open your mind. You will eventually find ways to truly make a difference. And who knows where it will take you.
I read on another motorcyclist’s blog that the top deterrent for most people is the “What if” game. It stung as I thought of that amazing ride through the mountains to Arequipa that was tainted by me getting involved with “what if”. He is a dangerous foe, and has championed many experiences going unlived. Another posted, “If you don’t go too far, you will never know how far you can go.”
But what if we played the other side of “what if”? What if everyday life was interesting and beautiful? What if you spent one day helping a tiny community gain access to electricity, and the next was spent twisting through magnificent mountains on a motorcycle? What if you had intelligent, interesting friends from all over the world who inspired you by the lives they lived? What if a small group of young women cared deeply about you because you taught them something no one else took the time to teach them?
What if the risk is really worth it?