When I was in the fifth grade, one of my teachers often talked about his travels and experiences in the Peace Corps. I was always mesmerized by his tales of visiting other countries and helping poverty-stricken people and rebuilding communities after disasters. While he spoke of his adventures, my mind would drift away and I would imagine myself beside him on those adventures.
As I walked home from school one day after yet another Peace Corps talk and daydream, I decided that’s what I wanted to do after I graduated: Join the Peace Corps. It felt like a great plan! I loved helping people, and it would enable me to escape my unhappy home and go far, far away from my abusive mother.
Soon after deciding to be a Peace Corps volunteer when I grew up, I attended a Sunday church service at which the topic was Mother Teresa and all the wonderful, selfless, kind acts she was doing in Third World countries. I was mesmerized by the slide show of Mother Teresa shown that day. At the end of the service, it was announced that some of that day’s offerings would go toward a fund to be sent along with missionaries that were working with Mother Teresa. I was excited that our church was helping Mother Teresa’s good deeds in this small way.
As my mother, stepfather, brothers, and I walked to the parking lot after church that day, my mother said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s for lunch.” Going to McDonald’s after church was one of our few family traditions, and it was every bit as joyless as the others.
On the drive to McDonald’s, I announced, “My dream is to join the Peace Corps after I finish high school.” I told my family that my teacher had belonged to the Peace Corps and had been telling the class of his journeys and experiences helping people all over the world. “Now, after hearing about Mother Teresa, I’m sure that’s what I want to do.”
“Well, that’s about the stupidest thing you have ever said,” my mother said. “You live in filthy, dirt-poor areas of the world with people you can’t even communicate with. You’ll end up getting horrible diseases, and being raped by God-knows-who, and bearing bastard children in a desert or jungle somewhere.”
No, Mom, you’re the stupid one, I thought bitterly. Why would she ever say something like that? I wondered. But I dared not speak my thoughts.
Instead, I said, “Well, then, I will go to college and become an archeologist.”
“Becki, would you just shut up!” my mother barked. “Who do you think is going to pay for you to go to college? And for what — to be a ditch digger?”
“I’ll do it,” I said under my breath. “For me.”
The entire car got quiet, and a few minutes later we arrived at McDonald’s. As always, my stepfather went inside to buy the food, and then we ate in the car, right there in the parking lot. I never understood why we could not go into the restaurant. We were all dressed nicely in our church clothes, and we kids all behaved like little robots programmed to be seen and not heard, to mind our manners, to follow all the rules. But we always sat in the car, quietly munching our burgers and fries. As many times as we went to McDonald’s after church, we never once got to go inside to eat.
My dream of joining the Peace Corps never became a reality, either. To this day I really wish I had pursued that dream.
After I moved into my biological father’s house and he gained legal custody of me when I was 15, the only thing he encouraged me to do was “find someone who will take care of you” — meaning, marry a guy who could provide for me financially. That’s what my dad and stepmother thought a girl was supposed to do when she was 17 or 18.
But that didn’t stop me from wanting to help people. I always found ways to help other people, including strangers. Even during my most troubling years after I left my father’s and stepmother’s home, I always helped people — sometimes, literally, the shirt off my back. If someone wanted or needed something of mine, I always gave it to them.
Many people also have helped me over the years, too. None more than my helpmate and the love of my life — my husband, Ronnie. Ronnie and I are both very generous people, and because of that generosity, we have been taken advantage of at times. Still, we help as many people as we can, however we can, whenever we can. We genuinely enjoy helping other people.
During the almost 18 years Ronnie and I have been married, there have been a total of only 2 years when we did not have someone else living with us. We have opened our home with welcome arms to five different people and once to an entire family. In fact, we currently have a person living with us who came out of a bad situation and has been with us now for 3 years. We’ve helped many other people with housing, employment, a vehicle to drive, food , money, airfare, and comfort.
So, in some ways, I think I have had my own Peace Corps in my own home.
As soon as I heard about the destruction caused when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, my first thought was, Maybe we should move there and help those people. Maybe we could find Our Peaceful Place there. Maybe we could start building our new life by helping others rebuild theirs.
You just never know where the road of human kindness might lead.