Since returning from Thailand nearly four months ago, I have struggled to navigate just how I fit in amidst my ‘old life.’ The past year and all its life-changing lessons has brought me closer to my authentic self than any prior experience. The daily obstacles I had no choice but to confront and overcome throughout my service in Thailand aided in my self discovery and figuring out who I am at my core. I was forced to shed many layers I clung to as armor. Ultimately, however, I came to realize those layers were doing me a disservice more than anything. Each day, I had to work tirelessly to build and maintain walls to protect myself from the world. But relieving myself of that burdensome weight that I had falsely convinced myself was necessary was enlightening and has since allowed me to live more genuinely. I am a completely different person than I was before I left on my grand adventure. I was pretty certain that Peace Corps would change me. But I wasn’t aware of just in what ways and just how intensely. I was also naïve not to consider the difficulties that readjusting back to the states would present. I suppose had I not been evacuated a year early, I would have had time to mull over this glaring and inevitable challenge. Maybe. Still, maybe not.
For Lent this year, I chose to do rather than to give up. I have taken on the challenge of writing a letter to a different person for each of the 40 days. At first thought, this Lenten pledge didn’t strike me as much of a challenge. I love writing and I particularly love writing letters. The challenging aspect of this project didn’t hit me until I realized that most of the letters I have ever written reside in a box under my bed with no intention of ever reaching their intended recipients. While I cherish the lost art of letter writing, I fear the reaction that results from such honesty and openness. Will this person appreciate my thoughts spilled out on pages as they deserve? Will they think I am weird for writing them a letter? Who writes letters anymore anyway? Will they take my words the wrong way? Will they read too much into it? Am I reading too much into it?
Innately, to some degree, we all live in fear of what others think of us. I am guilty of all too often trying to pass off the impression that I don’t care what other people think of me because, well, it’s cooler to come across unconcerned and blasé. But this attitude is ultimately inauthentic and a facade to hide the ways in which I do care… deeply.
So the tough part of this 40 days, 40 letters project is not in intentionally taking the time to sit down and write each day, but rather in mustering the courage to address these letters, drop them by the post office, and wait upon their arrival to their destinations. Because the honesty and openness that I so fear sits at the very core of what it means to be authentically and unapologetically one’s self. Fear is merely a defense mechanism that our minds and bodies feel in an attempt to protect ourselves from pain. But too often, fear is misleading and beyond such fear lies incredible, eye-opening understanding and wisdom.