Megan McNelis, 131 TESS
I’m sitting in a hotel in Korat. It has a rain shower, air conditioning, and no geckos, and I feel well and truly alone (until one of my neighbors calls to check on me, anyway), and my brain isn’t sure how to handle the sensation. It’s been three months since I got to my site. That’s a quarter of a year. That’s one eighth of my two year service period. I imagine what this chunk of time has felt like, then I take that chunk, and multiply it by seven…and I’m done. Seven more times. Just this 3 months, 7 more times, and it’s already over.
My brain has gone all sideways. I just blinked a few times, and here I am. Between the blinks, everything was in soft focus, yet each day has been a summer storm of activity. It’s as if time has been passing quickly…but for a very long time.
Blink. It’s two weeks until “Reconnect” conference. Blink. One month until a trip to Koh Samet, organized by the volunteer group from the year ahead of us (they have nine more months). Blink. Then, it’s just two months until Bpiit Term (this would be Fall Break, if we had Fall here. Let’s call it Semester Break) and my mom’s visit. At that point, I will have been at my site for about 6 months. Half a year. A quarter of my service. The next semester break will be in April. Then it’s already mid-service.
I wonder why I am counting. I’m far from unhappy here. I am busy. I have friends. I’m living out my new version of my normal life. Why should I be counting? I was starting to worry that it’s unhealthy. That it means something is wrong. That it means I’m not living in the moment. But as I was sitting here, I reminded myself that I’m someone who has always liked to count. I count down from 10 when the plane lands, seeing if I can guess the exact moment the wheel bumps the runway, signaling the start of a new adventure. As a kid, I used to take the heavy change jar off the counter and set it carefully onto the rug in front of the television. I’d count the coins, putting them in neat little stacks–four stacks of quarters, ten dimes, twenty nickels, and little mountains of pennies. I had no plans to spend these coins, but I was delighted by the fact that each of these units, when added up taken as a whole, had the same value.
Fast forward to my life in the last 2 years. Even when I was doing my favorite things, I counted the moments as they passed. On mountain, all alone, stripped down to my naked thoughts and barest version of myself, I would count the miles. When I ran out of things to think about, I would count my steps. When I took my mini road trips, and was on I-10 back to Tucson (just a little too fast), I’d look out my windshield at the black silhouettes of the saguaros in between those phosphorescent exit signs. I counted those too. Cortaro. Sunset. Ina (did they ever finish the construction?) I counted the exits ‘til I got back to my job, my routine, my real life after a weekend of Northern Arizona fantasies. Not because I wanted to be home, but because every sign, every mile, every step marks what feels like progress.
It didn’t mean I wasn’t happy in the moment. It never meant that. I used to count the pages until the next chapter in my book, no matter how entertaining the current one was. That’s all I’m doing now. I’m not in a hurry. It’s okay to count the days, just as long as I remember to count my blessings.