As the days rush past me on the blinking faces of smart phones and another month rips away from my desk calendar I begin to wonder what separates my days from one another? What about my life gives me cause for pause?
I recently returned to my elementary school in Virginia Beach (Red Mill) to deliver a presentation about the time I spent as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali to the school's third-graders.* Throughout the presentation the students posed thoughtful questions about my life and work in Mali. Wasn't I scared? they asked when I said I left home for two years. Wasn't it hard? they asked when I told them I learned a new language. Did you ever get lonely? they asked when I said I lived by myself. As I answered their questions I was reminded of why even though the answers to all those questions are 'yes' – which would normally be cause to turn away and run back to my comfort zone – why lately I don't feel more alive than when I share bits of my life in Mali with interested people who show they care.
I shared with the students stories about traveling by ferry boat on the Niger river on the same route taken by ancient salt traders and Arab scholars on their way to Timbuktu. I told the students how I rode my bike fifteen miles to market each week to get my groceries and sometimes hopped in a horse drawn cart to hitch a ride with my host family. And as I shared these simple moments from my life and fielded engaging questions from the students (who all recently studied ancient Mali), I was struck by the effortless beauty of our interaction. It simply didn't suffice it to say I had a good time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. I needed, for myself and the students, to make my experience come alive through stories about the little things that happened in my day-to-day that made my time in Mali so special.
ferry-boat cruise with the lovely and talented Cassie
On my way out of Red Mill I stopped to wash my hands in the teacher's restroom. Perched atop a toiletry shelf in the corner of the lavatory was a block of wood no larger than a chalkboard eraser inscribed with the following inspirational quote:
Friendship isn't a big thing. It's a million little things.
Leaving the school I smiled to myself as I considered what separates one of my days from the other. It's not the generalized question-and-answer routine I go through so often when I ask how someone is doing without really waiting to hear the answer. It's moments like the one shared in the Red Mill library when I share special moments, however small, from my life and I feel like what I'm saying is being valued as much as the responses I'm listening to. It's when the glow in my eye is more captivating than the glow of a smartphone screen. Because when I appreciate the little things in my life and in those of the people around me– that what gives me cause for pause.
i love all the little and big things about kate's and my friendship
see some pictures of our time in Houston together here
*I still am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali but my life has changed quite a bit since moving to the capital in September where I will live until October of 2011