When I was in high school my family went to a Twins game, like we did so many summers growing up that I referred to the Metrodome as my third home (behind my real home and Aberdeen, where both sets of my grandparents lived). During this particular game I was so excited for a pretzel that I planned out exactly what inning I would get it and eagerly counted down the outs to my giant, warm, salty pretzel.
Pretzel time came and my mother, youngest brother and I went to the concessions stand. At the time the Twins had a promotion with Northwest Airlines that when a member of the home team hit a home run they would award a fan a free roundtrip ticket to anywhere in the lower 48. Well, then Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz hit a home run and they picked a seat number. When I got back to my seat the couple behind us started to scream, “You won! You won!” My dad nodded his head. I was just given a plane ticket.
I love to tell that story and often use it as an explanations for never entering giveaways. I’ve already won once. My luck is used up. Nobody wins twice. Right?
I have the same belief towards stories. Everyone has one great story that they pick from their pocket at dinner parties, trying to pursue mates, when the conversation has lulled. The people on storytelling blogs and podcasts, such as This American Life and The Moth, I always assume, are telling the only story they have. It’s the one they have relayed over and over and now they are sharing it on a larger platform. Sure, there are exceptions to that rule, but most of us only have one story.
I was a storyteller before it became a marketing buzzword. I have a story for every situation but I don’t claim they are all good. I spend an embarrassing amount of time wondering what story I would tell if Ira Glass called me and said, “So, tell me the greatest adventure of your life.”
There is the time I almost died. The time I was kicked out of two countries in two weeks. There is also the time I fell out of a car and the first boy to break my heart. All of these are great stories, but I still believe that we all have just one and I’ve been searching for my one.
Peace Corps, although several stories rolled into one, seemed like it could be the story that defines me. Some people have starting businesses or families or that awful/spectacular thing that happened to them, but this is my thing. This is what I did and this is who I am. While applying, during the tedious moments of training and on the loneliest of days, I fell so hard for the belief that this was my story and I let it fuel me through to the next high. Everything I endured through – an evacuation, frustration, loneliness, loss of a death friend, fear, doubt – was the sweat and blood of getting this story. It would be so worth it because I would finally have the the thing that made me who I am.
But what if Peace Corps is not my story? What if it is just another anecdote that I tell over coffee or in passing? What if when Ira calls me I have to think for a second because my life is not defined by one story? Does that mean I’ve failed, or does it mean the exact opposite?
As I transition back into real life I am starting to understand that I am not a Peace Corps Volunteer anymore, just a woman who was in the Peace Corps. My life did not end when I returned and because this dream has made it’s final bows and closed the curtain, there is nothing to suggest another adventure and dream will come along.
All the small beautiful things make me who I am and it’s a disservice to them and to me to single them out. I am not me because of something I did or something that happened to me. I am me because I am me.