The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer (page 4)
The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
Life After the Peace Corps
I haven’t seen Gary or Jim since 1967. After Peace Corps I went to seminary and became an Episcopal priest, owned and ran a retreat center, lived in an AIDS hospice, became an AIDS caseworker, a manager of a homeless shelter, and finally, after twenty-five years, I managed a divorce. A few years later I remarried, moved to San Francisco then back to the coast of North Carolina.
     Most mornings I sit in my chair at dawn and observe Bird Island, Shackleford Banks and beyond, the Atlantic Ocean moving out to a point of invisibility. The fear of a boundless future occurs infrequently now. The horizon of blue in front of me is an invitation to explore, to dream, to sail.

Solitude and Loneliness
Would I do it again? Choose Peace Corps over the Navy? In a time of crisis, get married as some kind of protection, hope? You bet I would. What I learned in that wilderness time on the Altiplano was the necessity of solitude. Even with the fullness of a day: working with a hundred orphans, hanging out with José and Javier, going home for dinner with my wife, solitude could still call, urging me to go for a walk or a long bike ride. But it has taken me twenty-five years to understand the difference between solitude and loneliness.
     This morning, a gale force wind brought a hard rain, sweeping west to east. As I write, the old forlornness grabs me with the same old tired question: “Where is your life going? You’re spending too much time alone; you’re not being productive!” “ Better check the want ads, get a ‘real job,’ stop writing, quit the part-time maintenance position.”
     Gary and Jim taught me that in being vulnerable, often a horizon opens up or a new threshold appears. For many years I have sat in hospital rooms, attended the dying, dug the cold earth for a burial, brought hot food to worn out bodies. There are many ways to be in the wilderness. I am Gary, I am Jim, I am the one sitting next to me in the clinic, waiting for a “t-cell” count. Fear of being alone, fear not being good enough, fear of an uncertain future can still has sway over me.
     “Maybe I better go for a walk or go for a ride on my bike, ” I say to myself. I see a few seagulls and a solitary pelican gliding sidewise, tacking into the wind. I put down my pen and let the anxiety ooze in and through my body. I stay in my chair. The pelican makes her way up to Gallant’s Channel, turning right to the Newport River and flies on until I can no longer see her. Eventually the fear leaves and I am alone. I pick up my pen and write the next word.

Bill Coolidge has recently moved from his sailboat on the San Francisco Bay to an apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Beaufort North Carolina. There he writes essays and poems, sails and crabs, and keeps track of dolphins, black skimmers and the quality of the water in the Pamilico River Basin.     
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