Oh birthdays! Let me just say that I got to spend this birthday right, surrounded by incredible volunteers with an 80's dance party, and students who threw me a huge party at school and gave me flowers and... yes, mango!
If someone had told me, last year, on my birthday, that I would be spending my 23rd here in Thailand, performing a ridiculous homage to the 80's, I would tell them that they were crazy. Just absolutely crazy.
Well, it can't be helped to look back in retrospect, and to think about how so many things in my life has changed within the span of one year. Big life things, I mean. I graduated from college. I finished a thesis. I packed up my life in a suitcase and a half and moved oceans away from home, to live in a Thai village and teach English to elementary school kids. For the past four months, I've learned an incredible amount of things that I wanted to share:
1. Wealth is defined by the amazing things that have come to occupy your heart, not your pocket. By our American standards I'm probably close to destitute. But in that case, I'm a very happy pauper. As I've witnessed through this American recession, money is just so transient. I've learned that one should pursue and hold on to fortunes that are more sustaining. A great example of emotional riches is your students haranguing you to play "Hey Jude" by The Beatles, because the song, whose meaning they can't yet decipher, has obviously struck an inner chord that keeps resonating. Another, is the family you can rapidly build, and whose support you cannot, absolutely, live without. (this is a shout out of my fellow volunteers).
2. Laughter is the best anodyne.
Freud speculates that laughter is symptomatic of anxiety. I agree, but to expand on that, it's the best way I've learned how to deal with the absence of the Western world luxuries. No running water? No functioning toilet? No proper plumbing? Near death experiences with my gas stove? Ubiquitous insect bites? No problem. Have a beer, and laugh at life.
3. There is no need, no rush, to live a conventional life.
And by conventional, I mean a life that most adults expect you to have. Go to college. Graduate. Work, or go to more schooling, graduate, and then work. Make lots of money. However, living here, and thinking about the things that I appreciate, I've learned that there is nothing wrong with a little bit of improvization with your life. It's like cooking--experimentation can lead to some amazing results. Traveling and volunteering has helped me expand my worldview, expand my horizon, and expand my heart, to capacities I'm only beginning to discover.
4. Happiness is working in service of others, and having fun while doing it.
More than ever, I want to have a career that lets me sleep at night knowing that I've done good things that day. My respect for the teaching profession has exponentially increased. What they do, or at least, what they are capable of doing for students, is absolutely incredible.
5. Home. Its definition is explosive.
Home, is where you can sit down and have a good meal. Home, is where you can have a good cup of coffee in the morning, hot off the press. Increasingly, through my experiences, home is location independent. Home is everywhere and nowhere. I want to keep it that way.
And now, after this long post, I've gotten prescriptive. But that is okay, because along the road I will read this again and think about whether the 23 yr old me got it right...
Much love from Nakhon Phanom.
ps, here's a very happy 23 year old, celebrating with birthday cake: