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Finding Faith

March 2, 2013

Faith is a word. It is defined as a strong or unshakeable belief in something, especially when there is no proof. Some people have a great deal of faith, and some have little or none. One can have faith in other people, in a religious belief, in government, or in a principle. In many ways faith is a concept that is not so easily defined for it is something that resides within the heart.

Faith is also a person. In this case it is a remarkable young woman who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand. I have never met Faith, but she has been a revelation for me. She has helped me to regain some of my faith.

I encountered Faith early during the course of my latest obsession, Project 365. This is a website on which participants post a photograph each day for a year. These photos may be of anything, though most tend to reflect the ordinary stuff of the daily life of the person. As I browsed through them one day, I came across photographs that transfixed me. They carried me back four decades into my own past.

They were photographs of a world I had once inhabited, the world of the Peace Corps Volunteer. This is a world like no other, an invigorating, frustrating, magical, frightful, and absolutely incomparable procession of experiences and adventures that alter your life and your view of the world, and she brought it all back to me.

Faith’s photos of her life in Thailand remind me so much of mine in the Philippines all those years ago. The ones of the rice paddies and the colorfully decorated three-wheeled motorbikes. The ones of the once-unfamiliar foods that become a normal part of your being. The ones of the old women waiting by the side of the road and the long narrow boats plying their way down the rivers. The ones of the school activities both familiar and new, and most of all the smiling faces of the children.

But even more impressive than the images are Faith’s words. The caption to one photo entitled “good morning world” read: “What silence looks like. Sometimes in the early morning, you can walk down the stairs that lead to the Mekong River and stand and not hear anything. Slowly the village starts to come to life, the monks start drumming at the nearby Temple, the birds start singing, the kids are getting ready for school, and the ‘yais’ (elderly women) are making their way, slowly, to the Temple to feed the monks. There are a few moments, though, when the silence is all you can hear.”

These words mesmerized me and transported me to that riverside in the silence of that morning, and to the riverside of another day when I once listened to the silence in a far-away land. I looked back spellbound through Faith’s first year in Thailand, and it stirred my soul.

Faith shared something she wrote in her blog. It is a brilliant and beautiful piece called “It’s like waking up.” In it she speaks to those back home, those friends and family to whom she wants so badly to communicate the heart of her experience, not just the highlights and the moments captured in a picture, but something deeper, something far more meaningful. I remember this well, too, in the letters I mailed, numerous at first, then dwindling under the weight of the impossibility of sharing what Faith so perfectly describes as “what is boiling below,” failing to say what I really wanted and needed to say.

Faith found these words, though, words that I could never quite arrive at. She said, “We struggle to share the confusion, anger, perplexing loneliness that comes and goes and the peculiar struggle that comes with it all. We find out early on the handful of people back home who actually want to know about those things. For everyone else, we talk about the baffling school system, the sweet kids, the gentle grandmothers, and the quaint villages. We talk about the things that are easy to describe and easy to relate to. We talk about the uncomplicated things. Not that those things are not real, it’s just not all there is.”

She spoke too of how those of us who go through this, no matter where or when, no matter what age or gender or background, all understand, all have  a bond that unites us in this understanding of what it is below. We get it. But Faith is not discouraged in spite of her struggle to communicate the essence of this most singular experience to others. Anything but. She ended her piece with the following:

“Whatever is happening, it is good. It feels like I’m waking up from a long, restless sleep. I’m reading more, listening more, observing more, running more, eating right, taking care of my body, as well as my mind and soul. It only took 24 years, but I’m finally awake. My understandings are shifting, my perspectives are sharpening and I’m seeing what is around me with a clarity I’ve never felt before. Clarity doesn’t mean knowing something or anything completely or thoroughly. There’s no way that can be. It means knowing that despite how much I do or learn, there is always something else waiting underneath that for me to absorb. Through this lens, the following is clear to me: this life is precious. So let it take you, let the days surround you and let the minutes define you as you recognize that those minutes and those days, they are all you really have. They will fly by you, so don’t waste them. Work to understand, and learn to accept. Laugh and love those around you. Try today — try right now — to be the person you always said you would be. Make no excuses. Practice patience. Don’t wait, there’s really no time for that…”

And it is exactly this that restores my faith. Though I do not know this young woman, I have come to believe in her. In spite of her own doubts and fears, she has retained a faith in her life — indeed in life itself with all its possibilities along the unknown path that lies before her, before us all. Reading her words and seeing the images of her time in the Peace Corps, I feel a goodness in my heart replacing some of the pessimism that has crept in as I’ve grown older. Someone I’ve never even met has rekindled some of my lost hope for the prospects of real self-reflection and altruism in a time of seemingly rampant and superficial egocentrism. In this modern world where we are bombarded by stories of the Snookis and Lyndsay Lohans of this society, where so many seem so lost so much of the time, I am reassured, for I found Faith.

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2 comments

  1. Magnificent writing, Don, both yours and Faith’s. It’s great to see wisdom, to see Life being addressed. I enjoyed this essay very much. Valuable spiritual wealth and beauty in style.


  2. She seems wiser beyond her years and wiser than most of us will ever be!



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