It’s amazing how where I am now is completely different from where I thought I’d be a year ago. I’m not saying it’s “waaaayyyyy” better than what I’d had in mind (although certainly it is in some aspects), but wholly different than what I previously had in my little life plan for sure. And being forced to relinquish my ideas of how life was going to turn out does in fact require me to put on a brave face as I step into the unpredictable.
As a kid, I took pride when the dentists told me that I was “such a brave little girl” during the aftermath of having my baby teeth pulled out (sitting in that dentist’s chair was literally 25% of my childhood). And I daily exercise small bits of bravery whether I decide to run that extra fourth mile when my legs feel like giving out, or if I choose to confront the barista about a drink order gone wrong (I’d generally rather not make the person handling my food annoyed). And when it comes to crowded rooms (which I hate, unless I’m at a concert or something), I’d rather run that extra fourth mile in the opposite direction.
I suppose now is a good time as any to reveal how, within the past two months my life was changed by two emails – emails containing information about what’s about to come up for me that will require much more than a little chutzpah to handle. Instead of writing about both right now, I may choose to write a Part II, which might come up when the occasion comes closer.
Email #1: In late November, I applied to join one of my school’s summer 2013 action teams. I was ready to make a change in my life by helping to bring change to other people’s lives. I knew where I wanted to go – Thailand, to help teach English there for a few weeks – but it was up to the office in charge to place me on one of the many action teams available. For all I knew, I could end up on a plane headed for Machu Picchu, Peru or somewhere in the middle of the African continent.
After some supplemental paperwork and an interview, I received this email the first week of February:
“Congratulations you have been accepted to Team THAILAND!!!”
Basically…I’m going to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand this summer for five-ish weeks. I’ll be on a team with six other girls teaching English at Santisuk English School in Bangkok for the first four weeks, and then visiting a girls’ home in Chiang Mai the final week.
I was – and still am – in disbelief, but the good kind. But as the weeks started to pass as I attended each team meeting, some doubts started to take shape in my mind.
For one thing, I’m slowly learning the customs and some basic Thai that I’ll need to know before setting foot in Bangkok. For example, setting your feet on the coffee table or using your foot to point to something are both big no-no’s in Thai culture. There are also five tones in the Thai language, all indicating different semantic meanings when spoken, yet they all sound the same to me. What if I offend an entire nation of Thai people when I’m asking for the location of the nearest latrine?
Probably one of my biggest fears is the openness and shall we say, very honest nature of the culture. For example, if you are rotund or slightly unattractive, these things might be pointed out to you by the people you encounter in a friendly manner, who don’t realize that American culture isn’t always as straightforward. I don’t know if my body weight is above average in Asian culture, but I’d rather not have that pointed out to me (especially when I make sticking to a strict dietary and fitness routine one of my top priorities), but I know that that might happen, and I’ll have to be nice about it and laugh it off, even if I feel like throwing something across the room.
Which brings me to my other concern, the fact that I’ll be without gym facilities – my sanctuary – for five weeks. If you’re asking if I’m actually fearful of becoming fat or losing muscle while overseas, the answer is yes.
Then there’s the whole what-if-I-don’t-get-all-the-vaccines-I-need-and-have-to-go-home early-on-account-of-nearly-dying question. Surprisingly, that’s the lesser one of my concerns.
…And there’s the hypothetical but perfectly plausible situation in which I get separated from the rest of my team in a foreign country. At the moment, I only know enough Thai to ask “How are you?” and how much a cup of Thai tea is.
But there is a quote by Ambrose Redmoon that I’ve identified as my philosophy; everything that I strive to adhere to that encompasses the core of what I believe in:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
I can have all my travel documents in order, my suitcase filled to the brim, and get all the vaccinations I need, but I’ll never be “ready” for this adventure. You might as well be pushing me out of the airplane door with no parachute. Perhaps the mental unpreparedness indicates all the more reason to take that step onward, because there’s no time like the unexpected to drop everything and just go.
If you’ve ever seen the Princess Diaries movie, the words “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all” are attached to the rest of Redmoon’s quote.
I am ready to live, though it may not be for much longer, for all I know. What I do know is that one day spent facing the unknown is worth a thousand spent in quiet caution.