Going Away to Come Back
I’m in Illinois on a site visit. I spent the first two nights in Springfield, and now I’ve got two nights in Chicago. I was so sick on Monday–diverticulitis again–when I traveled out here. I was in so much pain that I seriously contemplated calling my team leader (who was with me for the first day of the visit) to ask what would happen if I couldn’t go. But I had some antibiotics, and my team leader had already arranged his schedule to fly out to meet me, and the good people in IL had gone to a fair bit of trouble to accommodate my visit, and it just seemed like it would be a shame to cancel or try to reschedule. So I came. By Tuesday morning I felt considerably better. Thank goodness.
Anyway, it has been a rough week between being sick, and only getting trained for this visit last week, and not really knowing how to set things up ahead of time so that I’d have the right amount of time to do all the things that are required of me while I’m out here. You know how I feel about winging it. Plus there is a high level of extroversion required for a visit like this, so it takes a lot of energy for me. But it has been good so far, and tomorrow is the last day. Today was great because I got to meet some volunteers. There were four of them, and they all talked about how their year of service has given them new confidence and skills and the satisfaction of making a difference. They are helping people in their inner city neighborhood learn to read and get their GEDs.
It was a funny thing to sit down with them, in my role as DC bureaucrat. I began by telling them about myself, starting with my own terms of service. I watched them react when I said that. They smiled and looked surprised and immediately seemed less nervous. One of them told me that this year he learned that he’d like to be a teacher. Another said that she had always been very shy, but this year she had learned to speak up because you have to speak up if you are going to help anyone.
Amazing stories. Amazing. I thanked them for their service and told them they could be proud to have served their country this year. They smiled when I said that.
My favorite book, The House on Mango Street, is set here in Chicago. In fact, the site I visited today is on one of the streets (not Mango) mentioned in the book. Even though I grew up in rural Maine, I always strongly identified with the protagonist of that story, who writes about going away to come back “for the ones I have left behind, for the ones who cannot out.” I have always felt that service is my way of going away to come back. I thought of that today as I sat with the volunteers. I bet they know about going away to come back, too.