A most cherished change in the last year has been my seeking and regular listening to voices I could not hear in my “regular” life. Extrication from the U.S. and arrival in Thailand stilled inherent distractions, sensitizing me to the turbulence and cacophony of social unrest.
I have always thought of myself as a fairly sensitive, empathetic person. My growth this year challenges that assumption: I often fit nicely into stereotyped characterizations of those resembling my appearance. Clichéd perspectives, reactions, or expectations of an old world shadow me. This, while well intentioned, can be problematic.
Sometimes, when my competitive nature warps into hyper-drive in an effort to boost my sense of self or protect a thinly-veiled ego I remember this story:
Someone I know competes in a community swimming competition. It is a competition to see who can swim the most laps over the course of about a month. Last year, this individual won first prize, but this year she took second. Without regret she pointed out a few events that she chose to attend instead of swimming.
Perhaps because it was the Olympic season or my desire to be Number One, I assumed disappointment prior to the end of her story. As she relayed her visit to a sick friend, I envied her - I wanted that second place trophy. The second place trophy that says, "I did the right thing," or "I am happy with how I set my priorities in this life.” Unnecessary yearning for the kind of second place, “first place” trophy to validate my own growth and remind me of the faces, love, and reasons that helped me do right.
I have talked of our visit home, but I want to share our shared struggle: holding conflicting truths in both of our heads. In honoring our “big” commitment to volunteering, we also acknowledge the limitations of its inherent altruism. In being excited by a new culture and a new language, while simultaneously facing anxieties and personal demons from afar – we understand this struggle becomes a new narrative which, at times, is easier than a continuing commitment to volunteering, social justice, and personal growth in whatever life lies beyond this time.
We may have unintentionally turned our backs on America in a time of need, but feel as though we are more cognizant of many of the issues plaguing our country and what is needed.