I visited my parents for two weeks over the holidays in Colorado. It was cold yet sunny. It snowed once, but only a few inches and we swept up the powder in the driveway and sidewalk the next morning with a broom. My brother and his family came as well. We haven’t spent Christmas together since 2008 when we met at my other brother’s house in Jackson. There was much more snow that year!
I played with my 7 year old nephew and my 15 year old niece. My niece is almost as tall as me! We went birdwatching in my parents’ neighborhood, attempted sledding at the local playground, and even made snow angles on our bellies! What fun. I watched more movies (at the theater) in 2 weeks than I have in the past 6 months. I made Christmas cookies with my mom, taught my husband how to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch, wrote a few Christmas cards, and helped my niece turn sugar cookies into works of art.
We only missed my brother who fell sick and couldn’t make it, but we’re sure to see him soon. My parents are getting older but they’re hanging in there. I admire them and love them both. My husband flew back early to return to work and spend Christmas with his family. Next year, we’ll be together.
Happy New Year!
Peace Corps Dominican Republic: A Quixotic Way of Life in a Mas o Menos World.
Un cargo para la vida, una busqueda por sentido, un trabajo de voluntad.
A charge for life, a search for meaning, a work of will.
Since my current memoir manuscript is in the hands of my editor until late January, I’ve decided to start working on my next memoir. I discovered my old T-shirt in the back of our guest room closet and took a few pictures. While I was still living in the Dominican Republic (DR), one of the Peace Corps volunteers (I think) drew the artwork and we voted on what we wanted to have printed on the shirts. We didn’t like “Been There, Done That” because it was so cliche at the time and it seemed to trivialize our unique experiences as Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic. After a second round of voting, we settled on the current picture and title of my new memoir: “A Quixotic Way of Life in a Mas o Menos World.”
Life in the DR was truly quixotic. Quixotic means literally “idealistic; hopeful or romantic in a way that is not practical.” As Peace Corps volunteers living in a tropical, third-world country, we naturally had the desire to help the Dominicans we lived with. Over the two year term of service that most of us served, we often learned more about ourselves and the Dominican people than they learned about what we had to teach. We discovered that helping people living in poverty without running water or electricity was much, much harder than we had ever imagined. We started out hopeful and idealistic, with the determination that we actually could change the world, just by volunteering as a Peace Corps volunteer. What we left with was a much greater understanding of ourselves and our own way of life.
Ask any Dominican how he/she is doing on any day of the week at any time of the day, and he/she will inevitably respond, “Oh, aqui. Mas o menos.” This is a favorite Dominican expression that translates literally as, “Oh, I’m here doing so so,” as if there was never too much going on in their lives that was out of the ordinary, exciting or unusual. For Dominicans, their world can simply be described as “mas o menos,” at least in casual conversation.
The lines along the right side of the t-shirt read: “Un cargo para la vida, una busqueda por sentido, un trabajo de voluntad.” The English translation is as follows, “A charge for life, a search for meaning, a work of will.” The phrase seems to have more meaning in Spanish than it does in English, but nevertheless it aptly describes my Peace Corps experience which has influenced my life, my thoughts, my beliefs and perceptions long after the two years I spent living overseas. I am anxious to get started!
A Linked In writing group member, Afshain Afzal, posed a question regarding my latest blog post. Last week I wrote a blog titled: What is the Greatest Tragedy in Life, and how we should live with meaning and purpose rather than mechanically or even destructively. Afshain’s question had to do with self-sacrifice and helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves. He writes:
“There are lucky people who have options and choices in their lives. Many people are overburdened with their own responsibilities and obligations. Such people are left with hardly any time to think on such lines [about helping others]. We are lucky and not included in this category. One wonders how such people can play their part and contribute to the larger cause of humanity? What is your opinion? Will it suffice for [these people] to perform their duties and obligations properly or can they contribute more?”
I always thought self-sacrifice, charity, and helping others was primarily for those members of society who could “afford” to part with a little extra change or a portion of their salary to help those less fortunate. After all, if the poor could afford to help others, they wouldn’t be poor. This may be true to a certain extent. Certainly the wealthier among us has some obligation to help out those in need. This assumes, however, that helping others or contributing to the “larger cause of humanity” consists primarily of financial assistance. Fortunately, it does not.
Especially in Buddhism, where we help and support each other spiritually and emotionally, rather than financially. If we offer a few kind words of encouragement or praise to a friend, we will find ourselves encouraged. When we help others, we also help ourselves – in more ways than one. I’ve always liked the expression, “think globally, act locally.” Even small acts of kindness go a long way – a cheerful smile for the cashier, a prayer for our neighbor, a $10 bag of groceries for the hungry – every little bit helps. There is no sense getting overwhelmed by the multitude of sufferings in this world, but making time to help others also helps get our mind off our own problems and puts them into perspective. As Nichiren Daishonin states: “If you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit.”
– Daisaku Ikeda
I feel as if the voices are receding farther and farther away – from me, from my own life, from my family and from my husband. I still hear them here and there, in bits and pieces, their whispering floats in and out of my head and my mind. There is very little screaming and yelling anymore. Occasionally I’ll hear a siren or two out on the street behind our house in Sunnyvale, but for the most part, the evil, intrusive insidiousness of the voices is gone. I still have myself to work on, but I believe in 2014 I will experience a newfound freedom I haven’t felt for many years. My life will never be the same.
I believe what Buddhism teaches: that death is a part of life. The above quote about dying is very true. Although many people die tragically before their time from accident or illness, isn’t it much worse to live life without purpose or meaning? To live as if dead? To me, this is what the terrible voices represent – people who lived, but were not alive. The voices started out in life as people (I always thought of them as people, at least initially) – yet somehow, somewhere along the way, for who knows what reason – their lives deteriorated and degenerated into something less than human. The voices were people who lived as if dead.
Needless to say, I never felt much compassion or pity for the voices, even when I thought of them as real people. There was nothing I had ever said or done that warranted the type of persecution I experienced. It is only by looking at my experiences from a Buddhist [faith] perspective, that I have found meaning and value in something that was so horrific. By sharing my experience in the form of a memoir, I aim to encourage other people with their own challenges and weaknesses.
If we take the time to think about why we are here, why were we born, what is the meaning of life, or other similar thought-provoking questions, what answer(s) do we come up with? Is it based on our religion or personal beliefs? Have we yet to arrive at a satisfying or meaningful conclusion? Do people care about why they are alive at this time on this planet? This is an age-old question that philosophers have spent entire lifetimes attempting to answer. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought’s response to “the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” is a mere “42.” While Douglas Adams’ computer generated answer to an eternal question is meant to be humorous, few people seldom discover this answer for themselves and live their lives in pursuit of nothing more than an ephemeral dream.
I found the following quote intriguing in this regard as it emphatically states that we do have a unique role or mission in life that no other person can fulfill. I believe this about myself, and I believe this is true for every person alive. The key is for each person to discover for themselves what their own unique mission is in life.
Everyone born in this world has a unique role that only he or she can fulfill. Were this not the case, we would not be here. The universe never acts without cause; everything invariably has a reason for being. Even the weeds people love to loathe serve a purpose.
– Daisaku Ikeda from “Wisdom for Modern Life: November 21, 2013“
“Mission” or “role” in this sense does not mean a person’s job or career, although many people fulfill their mission in life through their work. The mission of a doctor or teacher might seem obvious. A doctor is meant to heal people, while a teacher’s role is to educate others. But what about those whose mission in life might seem less clear or even nonexistent? It is not only up to the individual to discover what his/her unique role in life might be, but also the individual’s family, community and support system.
Everything invariably has a reason for being. This is true in nature as well. Every plant and animal has its role in the ecosystem in which it belongs. As people, we too have a reason for being. Sometimes it isn’t so obvious and we need to work at discovering our mission in life – whatever it may be. Ultimately, we all have a mission to become happy in this lifetime, but we must also help others become happy as well.