Sunday, May 18, 2008
Peace Corps Volunteer
From the time he was delivered by his father just past midnight in an elevator almost making it to the obstetrics floor, my son was ready to see the world. He didn't cry at first light. He just took it all in. We named him after Jonathan Livingston Seagull and he's managed to live up to his name always stretching himself, always learning, taking risks. I've told him I've got a head of grey hairs that he's managed to give me.
When he first told us that he wanted to join the Peace Corps I remembered him breaking his right arm when he was three years old and then his left arm falling from the kindergarten monkey bars. I remembered him falling and splitting his chin open at the zoo...the broken toe at soccer practice... I remembered him going back for operations to fix his right arm. I remembered ..... Oh.... I remembered.
I could picture all kinds of things happening to him in some remote corner of the world. However, as soon as he was done with college he was off to Mali, West Africa. Where in the world is Mali, West Africa? We had to look it up and research it. We discovered that Timbuctou is in Mali. Malaria was a worry. He went full of dreams and goals and ideals hoping to make a difference but discovered it wasn't very easy for one person alone in a village to change how things had been done for centuries.
Peace Corps has a school partnership program so I happily partnered my first grade classes with him. He wrote letters to them and answered all their questions. One wonderful year I even won an essay contest to have my class talk to him by speakerphone. The children never forgot this incredible experience and whenever they came to visit me in later years would always ask first where Jon was. From knowing Jon, the world opened up even more for my students. A Malian teacher who became Jon's fondest friend there came to my class to share his culture with us. Often times, American children think of Africa as a country instead of a continent with countries full of diverse cultures. My classes and their families and all the other first graders in the other classes became aware of the rest of the world. It was beautiful.
I think Jon, at times was discouraged about his accomplishments during his 27 months in Mali and I don't know if he fully understands the incredible impact he made on my class whose minds were enriched and awakened by a young fellow who went across the ocean and brought back the world for them.
Jon wrote this for somebody else once, "While in Africa, I read a reference in a Saramago book about immortality. He said that the impact you have on others, affects the choices they make and the impact they have on other people. This process is passed on and keeps going long after you. It is said that this is a kind of immortality."
I believe that this is true of Jonathan as well, and I'm very proud of him.