The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The first step on a long journey; saying "yes."

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... You must do that which you think you cannot.
--Eleanor Roosevelt

The afternoon of Thursday, February 24th was a sunny day. I sat in the window seat of the coffee shop I work at, the sun all but burning me in its unexpected, yet more-than-welcome appearance after a dark morning of soft, pristine snow. I was trying to keep myself awake long enough for my ride to pick me up. It was almost 1:00 P.M. and I had already finished a full day of work. I pulled out the Eugene Weekly, delivered earlier that morning, and flipped straight to the horoscope section. My fatigued body crumpled and my back and head rested on the glass of the large front window. I read Gemini, smiled, and wondered if things like this were only coincidence? Either way, I grabbed the scissors and cut it out, hoping no Geminis would open this particular copy and be disappointed. It read:
"You're not scared of acquiring more clout and luster, right? You won't get nervous if you suddenly have to deal with more success than usual, right? You won't run away if a power spot you've been cultivating for yourself finally starts providing you with the opportunities and responsibilities you'd been hoping for, right? I just hope you're ready to handle the good stuff that's available, Gemini. Please don't confuse this enjoyable stress with the other kind."
My ride, Justin, showed up and I handed him the small paragraph I had just cut out without saying a word. After a moment of his eyes scanning the small font, he chuckled to himself and handed it back to me smiling.

The night before we had sat on the couch in our living room, warm and comfortable, basking in the perfect combination of lighting and colors that make our living room really worth living in. And while we were sitting on our comfy couch in our comfy house, with our nice and affordable things, full from a tasty meal, I started to cry. Not surprised by my sudden outburst, but concerned all the same, Justin asked why I was crying.

"Because I'm scared," I said.

And I was scared because I had received my invite to the Peace Corps, the thing I have been working towards for over eight months, but was not even sure I still wanted. The invite was for Peru leaving June 9 of this year to become a Youth Development Facilitator. All that time I put into applications, medical paperwork, phone calls, interviews, research, extra volunteering, financial and legal paperwork--it had all paid off. All of the good things and all of the bad things I had heard about the Peace Corps were laid out in front of me and now I was given seven days to deliberate between my desires and the information at hand to say "yes" or "no."

To say it in terms that are neither eloquent nor refined-- shit got real.

It was only natural that I was not only scared of leaving for 27 months, but also whether I would be making the right choice for my life and subsequently, the lives of those around me.

So as I sat on the couch crying and listing everything I was afraid of-- failing at my job, living with a host family that doesn't like me or is using me for money, my personal safety, my sanity, my relationships-- Justin stopped me and said, "So what you're really afraid of is the unknown."

It was so simple, I hadn't even realized it myself. Tears running down my face, I took a deep breath in and sighed out, "Yeah. I'm really scared of the unknown."

And maybe the scariest part was, even with all these things I listed, I still wanted to say "yes."

Justin did the best thing a friend, companion, and boyfriend could do. He stayed strong while I was incredibly weak, and told me everything was going to be okay, this was my life to live and no one else's. He said my safety would always be a concern of his, but he knew I was smart. He would be sad to see me go, but he would hate even more for me to regret giving up a dream. I had waited for him to crumple with me, to tell me what to do whether it was stay or go, but he just hugged me and let me cry.

Realizing that my fears and worries could easily be summed up as "the unknown" made things a lot easier. Because when it comes down to it, I can't justify being scared of what I've yet to learn and understand. I spent years of my childhood scared of gremlins, ghosts, and E.T. Obviously, what I'm talking about is a lot bigger and more complex than that, but how many things in life start out big and scary but are diminished to such trivial fears?

I didn't say "yes" and accept my invite that day, or Thursday either for that matter. No matter how many ways I twisted it or tried to change it around, I knew in my heart of hearts it's what I wanted. I waited until the last possible day, day six, and I called my parents to let them know I would be accepting my invitation. I received confirmation of my acceptance on February 28th and officially began the process of becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer-- one day before the organization's 50th Anniversary.

I'm not saying there aren't risks in what I'm doing. I'm not saying that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, either. As I see it, the benefits outweigh the risks. I will have to take more precautions and be more conscious of my personal safety, that I understand. But right now, I don't have time to be scared. With less than three months to tie up loose ends and do what I can while I'm still in the U.S., being prepared (if that's even possible) is all I can think of. By June 10th I'll be in Peru beginning my three-month training, focusing on language and technical training, and in August I will begin my position as a Youth Development Facilitator. I'll be doing anything from guidance counseling, after-school programs, and HIV and STI awareness, to teaching English, starting a girls running club and helping build self-esteem through extra-curricular activities. I won't know whether I'll be placed in the Andes mountains, near the arid plains, or on the Pacific Coast until I've finished training, but when I do I'll spend my remaining two-years there and be living with a host family for my entire service. My return date, which startles me whether I'm saying it out-loud or writing it, is August 18, 2013.

Although this decision wasn't simple and I asked advice and thoughts from loved ones all over, I knew where the answer was all along. And that's why the horoscope was such a funny "coincidence." Like a school yard taunt, it seems like even the cosmos are asking me what I already know; I can't get scared and just run away, right?