||The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
||Life After the Peace Corps
I havent 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? Youre spending too much time alone; youre 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 Gallants 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.