“This too shall pass” – Tanya Gipson-Nahman
Timshel. Thou Mayest. – East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Óga Ita, Alto Verá, Itapúa
In the training center in Guarambaré, there is a piece of paper with a big wavy line on it. It starts out with small, more shallow, up and down waves that get bigger as the line continues. At certain points on the line, at peaks and valleys, there are markings referring to time periods in service and a list of descriptive words. This is the emotional roller coaster of Peace Corps Service. It marks the emotional highs and lows and elaborates on how we can potentially be feeling at certain points in our service. No two volunteers follow the exact same roller coaster of emotions, but it gives a general sense of how we process our service and develop personally.
May was a low. A pretty deep one.
I have no idea how to describe why May was so terrible. It could have been the 100% humidity and low temperatures that left everything with a black/blue fuzz. It could have been that the rain just completely destroyed my garden. It could have been that when I made detergent with my women’s committee, the biggest event I had planned, my host mother referred to it as “un disastre”. It could have been that when I replaced my computer screen, which had broken in April when a hammer fell on it, it broke again one week later, and when I replaced that screen, not four days ago, my computer fell out of its case and the screen broke again. It could have been that when I needed to go to an important training on project development, none of my community contacts could go because there was a soccer game that week. It could have been any of those things that made May so terrible.
However, there is hope for June. Toward the end of training, our Director of Programming and Training, Tanya, an absolutely wonderful woman, told us one simple line to keep in mind: “This too shall pass”. There are highs, but there are lows to follow. And although we may be tumbling down the side of a mountain into a deep valley, there’s always the other side to climb back up. This simple saying has been my mantra throughout every item on my “Why May Was So Terrible” list. It is not only applicable to Peace Corps service, but to life in general. This too shall pass. And the fact that a moldy May can lead into a more productive and positive June gives me a little faith in myself.
The 29th of May happened to be the one-quarter milestone of my service. When reviewing what I’ve done in the last six months, I couldn’t really come up with anything big. Everyone tells me that I’m doing a great job and that they’re so proud of what I’m doing, but I just feel as though I haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile (you can deny my self-deprecation, but it won’t change anything). My lack of accountable activity has basically dropped me down the well that appeared to already be located at the bottom of a very large valley. But to escape this too, I have found my mantra; this time from literature. Hannah has long tried to persuade me that John Steinbeck was one of america’s greatest writers, but my experience with Grapes of Wrath in high school left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a long-standing hatred for Steinbeck. I actually believe that my existence has been sustained by this deep-rooted dislike for Steinbeck’s literature. Hannah, however, practically forced upon me East of Eden and told me to read it. I finished all 602 pages in a week. I devoured that book. I felt more engaged by East of Eden than I have felt in a long time. My mantra comes from the most powerful phrase in the book and the very heart of its story: Timshel. Thou Mayest.
That word carried a man’s greatness if he wanted to take advantage of it … it set him free, it gave him the right to be a man, separate from every other man … that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he still has the great choice. He can choose his course and fight through and win.
Never have I been so affected by one word of literature. In my weakness this month, this word jumped out at me. My lack of accountable activity had me in such a deep low at this point of my service. But with Timshel, with this word, I know that I can choose my own course. I can take control. I have that power. I can do great things. And I will. This is my service and I can choose to be a great volunteer in the eyes of my community. I’m in a slump, but I have the power to get out of it, and that’s why June is going to be so much better than May.
To prove my point, it’s June 8th and this evening I asked my main contact, Lalo, if he’d like to start a tree nursery. Not only did he say yes, but we immediately began planning and even went out to the citrus field to find a specific lime tree, which will provide good root stock for citrus grafting that we can do next year if everything goes according to plan. Tomorrow I’m going to my neighbor’s house to get yerba mate seeds to plant and I’m going to start the paperwork to request native tree seeds from the National Forestry Institute of Paraguay. TIMSHEL. I got this!
So here I am, in June, and already headed up the other side of the valley. It feels good. I am in control and I’ve taken charge. So raise a glass for me, and maybe for my good friend John Steinbeck too, who’s made his mark and empowered me beyond any other author ever could have.