On Not Being Special


Barbara Allen, 129 TESS

I am a 62-year-old woman serving in the Peace Corps. Every day I wake up and work like hell to do my assigned job: teach English. This means the regular duties: grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. But it also means instilling a love of learning, working with Thai teachers, participating in community events. I am committed and determined and frustrated and energetic and hopeful and sometimes sad. In this way, I am like every other Peace Corps volunteer I know. It is staggering the amount of commitment, energy, and knowledge that is possessed by my colleagues. It goes without saying they are mostly younger than me. Though I am so lucky to have like-minded comrades (shout out to Laura and Valerie) and it has made the difference.

What I am not is special. “Special” according to Goggle means “apart from the usual”
My Thai sucks. No one is dying to have me serve on a committee. My phone is not chiming because folks just need to reach out to me. Realizing I am an ordinary person and not at all special has been one of the greatest gifts I have received from being in the Peace Corps. Because I have realized how much ordinary people accomplish, quietly and unobtrusively.

I have spent my life trying to be special. The one employee who can offer something unique. The mom who is doing an amazing job. The friend who can solve your problem. I am sure you can imagine how that went. Not well. I was a pretty regular employee, I got some promotions, didn’t get others. In terms of mom-dom, there are stories my children could tell, but please don’t ask them. My friends, it turns out, have no interest in my advice, what they appreciate is my listening (a usual skill with introverts).

What I can do is show up. Or as my friend, Celete, whom I met while serving in the Peace Corps, says, be of use. (As an aside: Celete is someone special!). But more challenging is showing up with intention. That is, if I can lead a vocabulary game with curiosity and kindness— those are the amazing days—days of learning for all of us. My goal has shifted significantly from wanting to be special to wanting to be a useful, curious person who has access to compassion. Thank you Peace Corps. Thank you Thailand.

Read Barbara’s previous contributions and articles.

1 reply »

  1. I admire your stamina…while traveling with my daughter in Thailand, I found that it could be hard on a 60 something body. You are my hero…


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