Sebastian gave me a copy of Stones Into Schools for Christmas. It's the sequel to Three Cups of Tea, and both are fantastic books about getting schools into places so remote that even other aid organizations ignore them, and the transformations that occur when education comes into those places. With an entire book full of those stories, I was surprised that these two sections were the ones that hit me hardest. This is from page 182-183: the 2005 earthquake has just devastated Pakistan, and Greg Mortenson's nonprofit is desperately trying to help rebuild schools. While his team is on the ground in Pakistan, Greg himself is at home in America with his wife and young children.
As I huddled in my basement office listening to [my teammate] Sarfraz report [from Pakistan] on the confusion and the despair, the madrassas, and all the other things he was witnessing, the most powerful reaction I experienced was a deep sense of guilt over my absence from the front lines... It was finally [my wife] Tara, who understands me more than any other human being, who decided to act.
"Let's go out to dinner tonight," she said. "We need to talk."
When we got to the restaurant, she got straight to the point.
"Sweetie, if you just stay here you are going to drive yourself and the rest of us crazy. So when we get home, I'm going to pull out your duffel bags, and I want you to start packing. It's time for you to go and do what you do best. This is your calling. And when you get home, we will be here waiting for you."
The timing was terrible - the holidays were just around the corner, and as Tara and I both knew, if I left now there was no way I could be back home for Christmas. This was a very difficult decision, and in the end, the person who made it on my behalf was my wife and best friend. She knew that although I was home, I was not really home - and in order to return home with full heart and mind, I needed to leave now.
On Thanksgiving morning, I was on my way.
Who's going to do that for me? I thought. Do I ever want anyone to do that for me? Do I ever want to have to write an Acknowledgements section like this?
Thanks to my amazing kids, Amira and Khyber, whom I love so much; I'm sorry I missed out on nearly half of your childhoods. That reality is the most painful part of my work and I deeply regret not seeing you first learn how to walk, tie your shoes, or ride a bicycle...
Tara, my wife - dear friend, companion, confidante, mother of our children, and the love of my life... I owe you immeasurable gratitude. During my frequent absences over the fourteen years of our marriage, your support and love has made it possible for me to follow my heart. Thank you for the sacrifices you have made...
I don't know. And it bothers me that I'm spending time thinking about this instead of doing Real Work (because... I have a bias that this sort of thinking is Less Valuable, whether I should hold that thought or not). Perhaps because these thoughts have only started popping into my mind in the past few years and I'm still not used to them and am actively trying to not get used to them.
Every time I pause for breath and look up at this again, I make sure my reasoning-paths for making the decisions I do make still stand. The decision has always been "not now." It's been that way because I know that saying that doesn't hinder my ability to make this choice again in the future. Someday it might, though; I was surprised at the rapidity at which things approached the tipping point for the grad school question once I stumbled upon that sense of fit - still working out the exploration process and the application process to see if this is the future I should and will be walking down, and when - but going from lackadaisical "mm, maybe another year?" to "WRITE THE APPLICATION ESSAYS! WRITE THEM NOW!" in the span of a few days - and then have that persist for weeks and then months - is unusual for someone whose planning horizon is decades.
All right. I think I've got that more or less out of my system for now - time to move forward and Do Stuff! Stuff stuff stuff!