Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Last Day: In-love

Well, I did it: two years.

I didn't realize until Lauren mentioned it; I kept thinking of the continuation, of the next step, forgetting completely what I'd accomplished - the fulfillment of two years. What an awesome thing to suddenly realize; what a wonderful thing to celebrate! And then, there I was ... eating my last meal with Mary, spending my last morning at Travelers Inn, and leaving the Upper East as a resident for the last time. Just like that; two years.

I feel like I'll live in Africa for the rest of my life; I'll always be in the Peace Corps and I'll always be an O'broni. It's written forever in my sky - the people I met, the things I did, the simple fact that I was here. I can't name all of the things I learned about myself, but I do know that I fell in-love here; with life and potential and, dare I say, myself.

Any love is a good thing, an amazing thing, but the kind of love I found in Africa is different; it's hard to explain. It's a love of complete vulnerability - the honest kind; the kind of love that looks like a halo; the kind of love that feels like a furnace; the kind of love that's contagious because there's just too much of it.

I've never known a light like this - directed not only at the world around me, but inward as well. It's close kin with gratefulness, it finds inspiration in adventure and calls empathy a friend. It paints the world in dazzling frescoes, makes music of the simple things and the poetry - oh, the poetry ... I walk taller; I smile wider; I laugh all the time. I'm so happy that I can't explain it and the only thing I could do to express myself was to apply for an extension.

Maybe my insecurities will come back sometimes, maybe they'll always exist because I gave birth to them, but most days they grow quiet and I can finally think. I don't pretend to know anything about the world - three years here and I will still be its student. I can venture only to say that now I know myself. I love deeply and endlessly, unapologetically. I have finally accepted a lot of things, learned to be calm about them, learned to let go and let my heart breathe a little.

I know more about the atrocities of life - things I should never accept because the world is worth so much more. I learned when to find balance, when to pick my battles; that tugging on the rope around someone's neck - the shackles on their wrists - will sometimes make them cling tighter, struggle against you harder. I learned what it means to invest in people, to protect and nourish something as precious as their potential.

My heart must have grown three sizes, my tear ducts have sprung a permanent leak. I got lucky; I realized I'm not hot shit. I fell over, but I found people who helped me get back up - some of them complete strangers, some of them close friends. I've experienced a lifetime - a separate life, completely - that seems more real to me than the one I'd already led. I wouldn't say I'm different, but I'm changed. Everything is still in order - I've been the same person since the day I was born (just ask my mother) - but my perspective is new, and the distance between lives impassable.

I love people in a way I never loved them before; I've forgiven people, taken the time to understand and let go. Having so much free time managed to do that - allowed me to think, threw everything into sharp relief; a photograph made of words and actions and emotions scratched into the surface. Ugly things were there. And I had to be honest with myself about the fact that some of them belonged to me.

I think that's what's made the most difference - taking responsibility for my part in my life. I stripped myself of pity and talismans and began to define myself anew. I reinvented myself, not to run away, but simply because it was time. Meanwhile, I became an inspiration to others; I was emboldened, validated. And, once, I needed these things; I needed the Peace Corps. I don't anymore. My decision to stay is purely my own.

My third year is what I want; the first two were what I needed to kick me in the ass (and show me some sugar). I mention love so much because it changes everything. I don't think many people take the time to appreciate themselves or their place in life. It's one thing to love and appreciate the life one leads, the luck one encounters; but to love one's place in that life is rare. And important. And it's something I finally found here, finally allowed myself, and for that reason I will never truly leave this place.

Nor do I ever want to.