Saturday, May 24, 2008

Further musings.

So an interesting thing happened to me the other day. I found myself at a pub surrounded by newly graduated veterinarians. Now the reason this is interesting to me is because for as long as I can remember, my plan was to go to vet school. Somewhere along the way I got sick of school and decided I'd rather join the peace corps after college instead. I don't really know how it happened but it did. Meanwhile, my best friend went on to vet school and was one of these new doctors.

It was very strange to sit there and listen to people who were discussing all the trials and tribulations of vet school, and finding a job afterward, and paying student loans, etc. Basically they were exactly where I would be today (well okay a year from today) if I had stuck to the plan. It's kind of like life was giving me a glimpse of an alternate timeline where I had not joined the peace corps. You know what my conclusion was? No thanks.

I'm saying that the modern American lifestyle is bad per se (especially since these are all quite open minded world aware people) (well ok there are lots of problems with it but I'll bite my tongue for now), but it's not for me. I find myself thinking, as I listen to their stories, "where's the adventure, the excitement of the unknown?" There are no tales of harrowing public transportation, or bargaining for a half an hour over fifty cents on some trinket. There's no spontaneous trips to the next big city, let alone a spur of the moment border hopping (Canada doesn't count). It baffles me that people not only aren't curious about that left fork they never take, but actively try to pretend it's not even there.

The other baffling part is that I would think this lack of adventure signifies a desire for calm. And that's what people will tell you. They just want a moment to themselves. But here's the catch...give them a moment to themselves and see what happens. Now, I don't just mean a moment free of obligations. They weasel enough of those into the day as it is. I mean a moment where all they have is themselves. We westerners have gotten so good at always staying just busy enough that we never have to just stop and reflect. And even if we run out of little things we can think of that we have to do, we fill our leisure time with any number of activities that more or less passively occupy our brains.

I've found that it really takes a concerted effort for me to just reflect these days. For one thing, I've definitely gotten sucked into the "must occupy every moment" mentality a bit myself. For another, two years in Africa has left me with strong cravings for a large number of activities that I missed (video games, board games, tv, movies, restaurants). It's hard, but now I can at least see myself doing it.

Maybe that's one of the biggest changes I feel I've had since coming back. As a result of my peace corps time, I can now feel like an outside observer to most situations. While the things this reveals are interesting and useful to me, this can also be very lonely. As I found when sitting with the vet school graduates, I felt distinctly separate from them. The path my life is on has come in sight of all of my friends, but it's still a distinct road...