Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Monday, June 28, 2004

Questions and Answers Re: My Departure for Kyrgyzstan

June 27, 2004: 1:04AM

When people who don’t know me too well hear that I am moving to Kyrgyzstan as a Peace Corps Volunteer, they often say, “Just think what you are giving up…” or “Just think what you are leaving behind.”

What am I giving up? What am I leaving behind? I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I suppose my attempt to put it to words is also an attempt to confront a reality I am about to face. That said, I don’t like the phrase, “just think what you’re giving up” or, “what you’re leaving behind?” I don’t like these phrases because of the negativity they connote. Giving up! Leaving behind! I’m not giving up and I’m not leaving behind. I am moving onward and bringing with me, not only the memories of a life lived elsewhere, but, the experiences, knowledge, love and morals that have made me who I am.

I am not abandoning those I love nor am I escaping from a life I don’t enjoy. I am blessed—I’ll be the first to admit that. I am not a religious man, but I’ve found no other term (lucky, serendipitous, fortunate) that embodies the blessed life I’ve lived. I have three wonderful parents whose unconditional support and love for me has never wavered. I have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—who, despite my spotty record of correspondence, love and care for me—as I do them. I have friends whose trustworthiness, devotion, self-awareness, intelligence, humility, imagination, wit, patience and forgiveness—challenge me, daily, to become a better human being. I have surrogate mothers and fathers who’ve taken me in, shared their food, their families and their friendship. These surrogate families have allowed me to become an extra sibling or son, break bread at their table and drink beer from their fridge. To all of you who read this: Please know, I have not taken your generosity and love for granted. Please know, You All shaped me into who I am. Please know, whatever good you see in me is simply a reflection of that which I learned from all of you. And finally, Please know how grateful I am.

So, I am not “giving up” and I am not “leaving behind”—then what am I doing? Why, after three years of law school and mountains of debt, am I volunteering for the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan? This is a good question. Part of my answer to this question can be attributed to my parents. From an early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of civic contribution. Through both words and deeds, they repeated the theme of “Giving Back”. My father “gave back” through his work as both a counselor and then administrator at a Pennsylvania state-run rehabilitation center and as an officer in the United States Army. My stepmother “gave back” through her work as both a social-worker, an occupational therapist, and as volunteer with various non-profit organizations and support groups. And, my mother “gave back” through her work in helping to bring safe pharmaceuticals to the market, as an organizer and peaceful protestor, and as an active and concerned member of her Unitarian/Universalist Church. Although they never said, “Son, look how much I’ve given back to society”, it didn’t take me long to realize how much their contributions meant to others. When you repeatedly hear from strangers how hardworking, smart, witty, caring and helpful your parents are, you can not help but be awe-inspired and prideful of your origin.

Throughout my life, my parents stressed the importance and value of contributing good to society. Although they never defined it for me, I define the giving of good to society as any action taken with the intent and purpose of achieving an end that places people or their environment in a better position than before the action was taken. This contribution, need not be purely self-less. Anyone who has volunteered their time, services or skills to assist another human being make a better life for themselves, knows the feel-good value of emotional cash that is redeemed when such a transaction takes place.

While some may argue that an action undertaken with the hope of redeeming such a reward is ultimately selfish, the fact that such action entails an intent and purpose that is “good”, preserves the value of that which was contributed. Simply put, helping others because it makes you feel good, does not reduce the value of any good you bestowed. In fact, I would argue that one of the most important parts of “giving back” is what you “take away”.

In the dog-eat-dog world of getting ahead, it appears to me that many have forgotten what one can “take away” from the experience of helping others. I know this is something I need to be reminded of and that is one of my reasons for volunteering in Kyrgyzstan. Other reasons will follow...


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