Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Years; One Fear

These last few days have been important anniversaries for me. Two years ago on June 10, after retiring from my job, selling my house (and motorcycle), and giving my car to my daughter, I left West Virginia to overnight near the Pittsburgh airport. On June 11, 2015, I boarded a plane early that morning to join others in my group at our staging point in Miami. Two years ago today, on June 12, 2015, a total of 32 new Peace Corps recruits left a Miami hotel, boarded an international flight, and headed to the Caribbean. It was truly a leap into the unknown—the first steps on an incredible journey!
Fast forward two years to today, and I know I am a changed man. I've learned so many things about people, life, and myself. I've made lots of new friends (both Dominicans and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers). I have a comfortable life in a loving village that cares about me. I'm truly blessed to have been given this opportunity (that is my shirt shown below).
Serving in President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps is quite an honor. This is the centennial of JFK's birth in 1917 (it's virtually impossible to imagine him as 100 years old, since the assassin's bullet essentially froze him at age 46 in our memories), and many special events are being held to commemorate this centennial. I recently saw a video of Congressman Joe Kennedy III speaking about his great uncle and the Peace Corps. If you have the time and interest, it's worth watching by clicking here.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of the start of our Peace Corps careers, my colleagues and I went sailing on Saturday. The five of us from my class were joined by four of the other Peace Corps Volunteers. This was my third time on this boat (see my previous accounts here and here), but the first time for all the others. Everyone had a great time, as shown in these pictures! Plus, this time we got to see a huge sea turtle surface near the boat. It was a great way to celebrate this major milestone, and spend time together before we start heading our separate ways later this summer.
I have mixed emotions about my Peace Corps service coming to an end. I love the place where I was assigned. It will not be easy to leave the friends I have made here. The only thing that makes it palatable is knowing that I have already made arrangements to come back next winter for a vacation here, just to check up on everyone (and escape the cold weather). I will forever be connected to Dominica.

However, I need to go back to my West Virginia home. That point was hammered home to me once I got back to my house after the sailing trip on Saturday. My sister—my only sibling—who was one year behind me all through school, sent me a message that popped up on the small screen of my phone. All I could see was the first line: “Have some bad news to tell you.”

I immediately assumed she was referring to the death of Adam West, star of the “Batman” television show we both loved as children in the 1960s. My Facebook newsfeed was already full of this news from my contemporaries who had also been fans, so I thought I knew what she was going to tell me.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the bad news. She shared with me that she had been diagnosed with cancer on Friday. This shocking news hit me like a ton of bricks! Hopefully they caught it early enough and she will be able to beat it. She asked me to bring her back a Dominica souvenir bandana that she can wear to cover her head when her hair falls out from the chemo treatments. I purchased two bandanas today—one for her and one for me to wear in solidarity with her (shown in the photo at the top of this story).

This unexpected development shows why I need to get home in August. It also emphasized to me the fragility of life. You just never know when your life can be turned upside down. Thus, you should make the most of each and every day. I will leave you with one of my favorite photos of the two of us, in front of our 1970 Volkswagen when we were leaving home to head to the University of Charleston about 40 years ago.

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