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Apr  2011 04
What Would You Like to Know?

The most difficult question to respond to after a major life event such as a birth, job change, experience of loss, move, wedding is “how are you?”  French philosopher and spiritual thinker Simone Weil writes about just how hard it is to give one’s attention to another person around the question: “What are you going through?”[1]   

When I returned from my two-year Peace Corps assignment, everyone wanted to know: “How was it?”  This habitual way of starting a conversation felt so burdensome, even when asked by friends and family who really wanted to know the details of my experiences.  Where do I even begin?  At the time, I would simply say, “It was amazing.  It’s true what they say that it’s much harder to come back to the U.S. than to leave.  Well… umm…  What would you like to know?” 

I’ve now been back from the Peace Corps for almost seven years.  During this time, I’ve returned to visit the village where I lived in Suriname, South America.  I’ve hosted several Surinamese friends who have been able to come to the U.S.  I’ve written about my experiences in my research on intercultural pastoral theology.  With some distance, it’s now a little easier to condense the experience down to a couple of sentences.  Or, maybe I’ve just gotten used to needing to do so. 

I have recently been reminded of the impossibility of condensing such a powerful life experience.  First, my spouse Tommy (who served with me in Peace Corps) gave me the gift of a bound copy of our Peace Corps journals – over 450 pages!

Then, the day after I called the Dallas regional office to say that I thought we were settled enough in Tulsa to help Peace Corps with recruiting again, a reporter from Tulsa People Magazine (Joy Jenkins, spouse of PTS student Hank Jenkins!) called to see if she could interview me for a story on the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. 

The process of preparing for the interview, having the interview and follow up conversations, selecting what to take to the photo shoot, reading the story in Tulsa People, and beginning to re-read two-years of journals has reawakened my Peace Corps experience for me.  How was it?  It was amazing.  It’s true what they say that coming back to the U.S. is much harder than leaving.  Well…umm… What would you like to know?

[1] From “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” in Waiting for God by Simone Weil (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951), pp. 114-115. 

Browse more posts by: Melinda McGarrah Sharp, Phillips Faculty
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