When I retire, I want to be just like Luella.
I met her when I was a junior in college earning extra money by doing the occasional free-lance story. She had spent her life as a small-town school teacher and was getting ready to join the Peace Corps. The editor I worked with at my local newspaper sent me out to interview her before she left for her assignment in Western Asia where she was going to teach an English as a second language course.
We met just that once, but her decision to become a Peace Corps in her mid-70s has stuck with me over the years. “When the Peace Corps first organized I filled out an application, but I never mailed it back because I got married soon after. At the time lots of people thought it would be a flop and it wouldn’t last long,” she told me.
She became interested in the Peace Corps a second time after she read a newspaper article that detailed the shortage of English teachers in underdeveloped countries.
When I neared graduation, I too considered applying to the Peace Corps. I specifically remember standing in Carnegie Building on Penn State’s campus and reviewing a Peace Corps application. I even went through the process of folding a piece of paper into halves and creating a lengthy pro-con list and possible budget.
I too started to fill out the Peace Corps application, but life soon got in the way. I had student loans that needed paid. I was deep in debt. I was itching to get started on my career, to actually start making money. In addition, the world looked to be falling apart and soon would see Iraq invade Kuwait. I still thought occasionally about applying my first year after graduation, but by that time I was buying a car and, as it turned out, I was spending every other weekend traveling to Washington D.C.
Luella ended up working two years as a peace corps volunteer in Yemen and passed away a couple of years ago. When I think about my retirement, I sometimes wonder about following Luella’s lead. The world is a different place now, certainly less safe for western foreigners than ever before, and I would want to be very choosey in where I volunteered — for example, Yemen has experienced a civil war and a number of other security worries and would certainly be off my list — but the desire to help and see the world still exists.
Kathy, what do you say? I have it all planned. We’ll sell our house. We’ll hike the Appalachian Trail for six months – like how I slipped that bucket list goal in there — and then once we’ve accomplished that, we’ll head to the Peace Corps, volunteering preferably somewhere sunny and warm. Yes, I know Key West, Florida and San Diego, California are not Peace Corps supported areas, but I’m sure we could find a place suitable to our needs. What do you think?
How many people get to help on important local work on climate change, pandemic disease, food security, and gender equality and empowerment? How many people get to teach and make a difference thousands of miles away? How many people get to change a life for the better?
Yes, we’ll need to get used to mosquitos, bugs, third world diseases and a million other concerns, but think of the change we’ll be making. Think of the lives we’ll be helping. Think too of the acts of kindness that we’ll be passing along to the next generation.
And oh yea, of course, we’ll have the rest of our life to live in the lap of retirement luxury. I wouldn’t miss out on that. What do you say?