Friday, September 9, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye – All Good Things…..

Time to Say Goodbye – All Good Things…..
I started writing this blog about three weeks ago.  Now it is 48 hours before we leave Plovdiv.  Our lives are scattered right now - littered with conflicting emotions.  I expect this blog will mirror  these confusing feelings.     We know it is “Time To Say Goodbye”,  but we don’t seem to be completely ready. Or, maybe it is just that we were unprepared for all the events and pressure leading up to the final days in Plovdiv.   Although we are conflicted, we also know “deep down” that “All Good Things must end”, and so must this stage in our lives.   It is time to move on…. To the next adventure – what ever that may be.               
Actually, as I try to put the last 29 months into perspective, Lynn and I started the commencement to the next stage in our life in May 2009.  We just did not know what was going to be happening to us then.  Now – at the end of our service, I’m still not sure we understand what has happened to us.  But I do know we have learned, changed, and grown.  And what may be one of the most important parts of this growth is that the strong love we had for each other has continued to get stronger through our service.   Just like during the early years of our marriage, we have both continued to be independent.   We each have had separate challenges as well as common obstacles.   It is the sharing we have done as each of us learned new things which have made our bond stronger.   If you ever want to test the “metal  of a marriage” – try throwing yourselves into a new country, language, culture, and job, - - and combine that with moving into a 440 sq. ft apartment.   Oh – and start all this on the first “official” day of your retirement.   And – yet – as I look back at it, there were never any real problems.  Yes, there were lots of adventures, mini-adventures, challenges, and setbacks.  But as you move forward further into this “Peace  Corps Experience”, you seem to forget all the bad times, and celebrate (and remember) only the good times - - and there are lots of them! 
So - - what really is this  Peace Corps experience?   I have been trying to explain it (and write it down) for almost a year.  I know I am closer to understanding it, but I also know I don’t have it completely figured out yet.   One of the things I do know about the Peace Corps experience is that you  must painfully drive yourself through a very small  keyhole. When you pop out the other side, many volunteers begin to blossom and change.  But it is hard to really understand the experience until after you have been home for some time.   You need to put it into perspective, and that is hard (almost impossible) to do with out returning to your home in America.  We have not done that, and we can only guess at some of the things that will happen based on what other returned volunteers have told us.  Things like just standing in a grocery store isle paralyzed at the full isle of cereal choices.   It is kind of like the scene from the movie Cast Away when Tom Hanks has returned and they have thrown him a party.   He is left alone in the room, and walks around the table loaded with food, fish, ice, a lighter,  and ends up sleeping on the floor because the bed is just so different.  Although I doubt our re-integration into the US will be as dramatic,  both Lynn and I are expecting some interesting experiences.  
In the meantime, we have wonderful memories of experiences here.  Many of them are not what we expected.  Things like:
To love another country.  To make so many friends.  To learn more about the differences between Americans and others.   To be so accepted by the younger volunteers.   To stay up so late so often.  To love walking to the bazar.  To love walking four miles home through the beautiful boulevards and parks in Plovdiv.  To love looking at the mountains 30 minutes from us.  To get fresh vegetables from the stands every day.  To become more in sync with the cycles of the season based on foods at the bazar.  To make as much of an impact .  To experience “minimalism”, - -and like it.  To be so frustrated with Americans - - and to appreciate America so much more. 
On my final formal report to the Peace Corps,  the last question asks me to describe a successful experience during my service.  I don’t think I gave them what they wanted. Instead,  I asked  How do you measure success?  What are the criteria for having a "successful" Peace Corps Service? 
Are you successful if you have worked on (or helped obtain) a major project?   Or are you successful if you have made many host country friends - - and done nothing more? 
Are you successful if you have learned a new culture?  Or are you successful if you have learned to "love" the new culture - maybe even more than the one you left in the US?
Are you successful if you have grown personally - have gained different perspectives, and are able to live with much less than ever before?
Are you successful if you have gone through the Peace Corps Experience - and come out of it changed - but you are not sure in what way?
Are you successful if you have made an impact on your neighbors, friends and colleagues? And they have made an impact on you!
Or - - are you successful if you have just done LOTS of work, projects, and completed many things. 
I don't have a good answer to any of these questions.  But I believe I have been very blessed with my Peace Corps service because I believe I have done almost all of these things – and more.   But it is important to remember they are just that - things and nothing more.  The really significant parts of my Peace Corps Service can not be quantified - - and those are the most important parts of the experience.  How I have changed, and how I have changed others.    However, even having done all these things,  I know there were more ways I could have done more, - - or learned more.  But it is too late now.  But it has been enough - - and it has been good - very good!  And Now - - It Is Time To Say Goodbye! 
Thanks for reading.

I have found myself listening & watching these youtube clips at least once a day for the last 4 weeks.