Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What Peace Corps Taught Me About Friendship

I'm not really sure how to begin. I want to talk about friendship - the special kind we seem to find in the Peace Corps; about the bounds and limits of the human heart; about loss and the kind of grief that accompanies only the greatest of love, but where do I begin?

I write this in the context of April 28, 2013. It's the day we lost one of our shining stars and the day I lost a very dear friend. The shock I feel, the grief of such sudden absence, is something I struggle to explain. I imagine my sadness will fade in time, but for now I hold it close because it reminds me of her. She was one of the best people I've ever met and our friendship was genuine. I feel lucky to have known her. She strengthened and lifted and brightened me; she made me a better person. 

She was rare, too, because anyone who knew and met her, however briefly, felt the same as I did. She always gave her undivided attention, reminded people of their importance. We felt loved in her presence and we danced in her light. And while her passing is mired in absolute sorrow, she reminded us - once again - of our strength; that the family we've found in the Peace Corps is a special one. 

Friendship in the Peace Corps is a funny thing; we depend on each other in a way that isn't easy to explain. Our bonds are immediate and stronger than steel; the stress of sudden culture shock, of loneliness and homesickness, of the happiness and satisfaction that comes with living an adventure and fulfilling a purpose makes relationships (and the appreciation of them) necessary. The distance we feel - from our families and our homes and our norms - fortifies our love; everything is that much more important, time moves that much slower, milestones are that much greater because every second of every day calls into question our motivations. It has to be worth it, we have to make the best of it, and somewhere along the way we realize that the pettiness of every day life is just the white noise to a beautiful symphony.

Of course, we forget sometimes; we're human, after all. And as the forest grows - ever expanding into a canopy that seems too high to reach - we lose sight of our tree. Yet we continue to motivate each other. We spend two years striking a balance between being a safety net and needing one; we see the absolute best and worst in each other, the absolute best and worst in ourselves; and at the close, we realize that what we've shared is truly unique. It's an experience that will, at times, put us at odds with the world; an experience that will put life into perspective; and the only people who will truly understand, who will see exactly what we see, are the volunteers we've met. They speak the same secret language, stand on the same deserted island, stare out at the same wide ocean with the same wide eyes. And they understand because they watched us grow. 

If we'd forgotten, Danni helped us remember. And as hard as it was, I'm grateful. I don't know what I would do without my Peace Corps family; just knowing that I wasn't alone - that I'm not alone - is enough to strengthen me. We hold each other and guide each other and we do it all with Danni's strength. Her memory, her love, her motivation reflected in us; living there in the space she made in our hearts, in the place we made for her.

The only way I can explain the immensity of my grief is to explain the fierceness forged in just two years of service: a family you can't choose, but want to; an intimate understanding of the soul and its capabilities; an immense pride for rarity and imperfection; an embrace that carries with it a hello and a goodbye, love and recognition, and the acknowledgement of brother, sister, and self.

With yet another group closing their service, yet another round of goodbyes to be said (mine included), it's hard for me to express the pride I feel in the friendships I've gained here, in the family I've made for myself. It's precious and it's rare and I'm lucky to have it. And if I make and keep one promise it's that I will never, ever forget.

We miss you, baby girl.
Thank you.