Living "out of the box"

Catherine Lawrence
By Catherine Lawrence
July 9, 2015

I have been living in a “box” for the past 47 years.

I realize that is a pretty bizarre statement, so let me explain. When I say “box,” I mean the feelings that the space represented in the offices I have worked in over the past almost half century. I have been lucky that my skills have allowed me to work in an administrative capacity in some fairly good jobs during those years. In addition, those jobs have provided lots of good things for me. However, the downside was working traditional 9-5 jobs in an artificial atmosphere under fluorescent lights, often without even a window. Depending on the time of the year I would go into the "box" when the sun was barely up. Often I'd leave once the sun had started to set. It is true that “you do what you have to do until you don’t have to do it anymore,” and that, my readers, is the beginning of my new story. Being here in Georgia as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can finally say that I am out of the “box!”

My days as a Peace Corps Volunteer have freed me in ways that I could hardly have anticipated when I arrived in country. I am working in a somewhat different atmosphere–as an educator, my schedule is not strictly 9-5. I am in a classroom, not an office, and that in itself makes such a difference. There are some days that my classes don’t start until 10:20 a.m. and sometimes my day ends at 12:30 p.m. I have other days that start much earlier and end much later, but the variety has allowed me to experience living in a totally different, non-9 to 5 way. My work continues; for example, I still have lots of schoolwork to do in preparation for classes, I have language classes, emails to write, and all the normal details that are required for living (as well as adjusting to another culture and my host family). However, I now live with an appreciation of what surrounds me instead of marching to a schedule that at times was frantic and crushing, not to mention confining.

I ask myself if the change I see in myself is a result of living in Georgia or the culmination of many aspects of my life changing at once. I think that life here in Georgia is more difficult and, as a result, I take things much slower. I walk more slowly on the rougher roads and paths, I pay more attention to what I am doing. I am not on auto-pilot, and I allow myself time to absorb everything happening around me. I now see the sun up in the sky rather than just when it is barely over the horizon.

My Georgian grandmother and I sit on the porch and watch the sun and clouds move across the sky. I often stand in the rain and feel the water wash over me. On the mountain where I live now there is nature all around me, and I can actually tell from day to day how much fuller a tree or a plant is, or how many more grape leaves there are on the vines. I walk and listen to the water rushing down from the mountain as the snows melt, and I try to block out the cacophony of car engine noises on the road so I can, instead, hear the birds. I sit along the road and watch people riding donkeys or horses and, when I walk, I make sure I step over whatever little gift the animals may have left on the road. I can listen to horses pull an entire tree down the road and know I will soon hear the chainsaw cutting it up for firewood. The noises and the things I see are all connected to the community in which I live.

At my home on the mountain I can sit on the porch and watch the breeze glide over the plants and flowers; I can feel the breeze glide over me. I used to be afraid of bees, but now I just observe them going from flower to flower. On the road near my home there is very little traffic so, at first, the quiet and stillness were a little unnerving for me, a city girl. But now I don’t miss hearing police and ambulance sirens, car horns, car alarms, helicopters or airplanes—noises associated with a metropolitan city. Here, sounds like that are an interruption and not at all welcomed.

In my life before coming here, I had many experiences with nature, but they were isolated and fleeting. There was always something to take me out the moment. After a whole year here, I finally really understand that my daily living has changed and, as a result, I know to appreciate having nothing to do other than be present in the moment and take in what is happening around me. I don’t have to remind myself as often to just enjoy it all.

My time here on the mountain is short. I am told that the second year of service goes really fast. I know I will miss this place when I leave. But in the meantime I plan to soak up every minute of the 13 months I still have left.

Catherine Lawrence