I find it a challenge to define my experience with Good Shepherd Volunteers in Thailand. As I have proceeded through life, I have found myself creating stories; simplified narratives placing time periods in quarantine. Necessary to help remember, interpret, understand, derive meaning from an era: Often dishonest, muddy, confused, favorable - lacking in complexity.
I like to think of my time in Thailand as life-altering. It challenged my character. Growing according to the 4 tenets became a gauge to understand myself and to measure past living. They helped me find perspective on my life, while being abroad gave me perspective on myself and my culture. This all seemed to happen at what appears to be a pivotal time in American history: social unrest, anger, sadness, unnecessary death, and division in the United States.
I progress back into a fear of not knowing what is to come. Another restart, with many firsts on the horizon. Beginnings along a path hardened by the tenets that I have formed into my life. A path firmed and eased by the knowledge that my wife and I have developed equal footing with understanding and common goals, that we work in tandem. That when one of us seems to be straying into the brambles we can pause and ask the other "is there a reason we want to go this way?" Do our values support this?
As I progress forward, I am strengthened by the beautiful humanity I was blessed to witness. Living alongside people who have experienced poverty or marginalization created questions, revealed inaccuracies, and challenged assumptions and definitions: kindness, generosity, wealth, need, love. People chose to live without things I had thought they could not afford. Privilege and culture reflected back at me; elusive clues about the essence of humanity revealed in glimpses. Community living, unveiling the rewards of sacrificing a little of what is ‘mine.’
Embracing complexity in myself and the world has been a defining theme. Life, the world, and I are not simple. Strangely, living a life of simplicity freed me from distractions that made life feel overwhelming. Less things, less options, less decisions to make about things that rarely matter freed my mental and emotional capacity to accept the complexity of the world. To witness and hold the world's injustices even though they will never make sense to me. To be present with the people I am with. To try to understand how to help them. How to love them. How to love myself. How to put my ego aside. And much, much more.
Today, I feel engaged in my life and the world that I have rarely felt. In the last year I have shut off the television and phone: stopped spending loads of time distracted or escaping. I have thought a lot about life and the world and continued to try to make sense of it. I have listened to the wisdom of people whose voices I would not have heard in my past. I have listened to find understanding of who I am and how I am perceived in the world. It is challenging to see myself through others eyes, but if I have never listened to the voice of an "other" than there is no way to understand how I am perceived.
“Do more but expect less. Control less. Live more and escape less. Buy less and connect more. Honor yourself, but remain humble. Take care of yourself, but take care of others. There is so much work to be done. We move forward, we move back. We drag those who hate the idea of progress forward, because it is right and supports justice. Will they thank us for it? Probably not. Thanks is not necessary. Patience, Calm, Quiet. Maximize the good you can do. Build a life that supports the identity we have cultivated,” is what my positive commentary sounds like now.
And, today I struggle with the death of a wonderful young woman who I helped care for. I struggle with the injustice of her death, and the many injustices of her life that she could often carry with a grace worthy of envy. And I struggle with the negative internal commentary that goes with this and more.
Programs like GSV must continue to exist. Passing down wisdom to young individuals in formation. Encouraging volunteers to explore and develop a personal, spiritual underpinning to guide life's decisions. Demonstrating the great pleasure a simple, engaged life still holds when we press pause on unfettered consumerism. Revealing the joy, education, growth, and frustrations of actively living in community. Teaching us to listen and then amplify the diminished voices of the marginalized through exposure to and engagement with injustice and inequality.
This has been just a passing glimpse of how, today, I believe my time with GSV has affected me: this experience has much yet to reveal. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention GSV's most enduring words. Two words I aspire to espouse in my daily interactions whether it be eye contact with a stranger as I walk down the street or with someone I feel specifically aggrieved by. Two words drenched in simplicity and soggy with complexity. Just Love.
Written by John Freund
Thailand Community, ’16-‘17