For a few months now I’ve found it interesting to observe the variety of reactions I get when I mention to somebody that I am headed to the Peace Corps. Two of these seem to pop up most frequently. The first is one I’m particularly familiar with because it is the exact reaction that I’ve had each time someone else has mentioned their Peace Corps experience to me – a glimmer of jealousy and intrigue followed by a lot of excited exclamations like “Where?” and “When?” and “That’s so cool!”
I’m more interested in discussing the other frequent response, though. This one is usually offered up a bit more solemnly after processing some of what the job entails. It revolves around the questions “Won’t that be overwhelming?” and “Aren’t you scared?” Initially, I tried to shake this question off and play it cool but people weren’t buying it. Pretty soon I realized I wasn’t buying it myself. So to answer that question – Yes, it will be overwhelming. But I’m pretty sure that’s part of the point.
I am aware that this is going to be an overwhelming couple of years. I also acknowledge that there will be times when the emotional rollercoaster is banking so hard left and dropping down so fast that I will laugh at myself for having the nerve to believe I could be aware of how overwhelming it might get in advance. But I’ve reached the point where I’m welcoming that. For a while now I’ve done a good job of underwhelming myself on a day-to-day basis. When the toughest decision you make all day requires standing in Best Buy for twenty minutes debating whether or not to get season two of Fraggle Rock while it’s still on sale, then maybe it’s time for a change. When you find yourself emailing Dear Abby a slew of Rilo Kiley lyrics simply as a means to entertain yourself, then perhaps a new continent is worth looking into.
So, yes, I am beginning to feel anxious. But it’s the good kind of anxious.
And still, to my surprise, missing from nearly all of these reactions is the question, “Why?” The topic of my personal motivations for going to Paraguay and the numerous branches of inquiry that can stem from this line of thought are rarely approached. Aside from acknowledging that this can be a relatively intimate question to bring up in light conversation, I get the sense that it just doesn’t occur to most people to ask. I suppose when people hear that someone is going into the Peace Corps, it’s pretty easy to assume what’s motivating him. The transference of your own convictions onto another combined with the canned cliché of “trying to save the world” probably makes asking “Why?” an afterthought.
I had genuinely expected this to come up more often than it has and I am (somewhat embarrassed to admit) genuinely relieved that it is not often asked. I tend to fumble around my answer when discussing my reasons for wanting to work in the Peace Corps. This is certainly not to say that I am unaware of what motivates me or that I’m doing this on a whim. Nor is it to say that there isn’t some small, altruistic slice of me that would like to “try to save the world.” Who wouldn't? But that’s just a simple fraction of my motivation. I’ve had trouble expressing it to others because it’s a complex combination of so many things that has led me to this point and it’s difficult to neatly categorize and differentiate Reason #1 from Reason #2 and so on.
Compared to all that, it’s easier to just spend $15 and watch some Muppets run around in an underground cave for a few hours. But I’m kind of over that for now.