Last summer I was finishing out my final months in Peace Corps, acting a fool with my head 100% in the clouds.
A new group of volunteers had come in and were doing their initial training in Lima, part of which involved their site assignments and a visit to their regions to meet their new communities and fellow volunteers.
I attended a couple of meetings and trainings so I could meet the new trainees but if I’m honest, I wasn’t that interested. We’d only have a few months together before I left.
In that group was Shalin Shah, who I only spoke to a couple of times. He died last week.
I’m not going to pretend I knew Shalin, because I really didn’t, but I fiercely remember his story.
In Peace Corps, people go home for all sorts of reasons. When you hear about a fellow volunteer going home, you hope it’s because they weren’t happy, and that it’s not because a loved one died.
I remember hearing first that one of the trainees was really sick, then that he was sent home for tests, then that he wasn’t coming back. Not an uncommon occurrence, sometimes there is no scary diagnosis, the process is simply exhausting.
At a regional meeting a month later, another volunteer informed me of the larger story. He was sent home because they found a mass in his chest that, after many tests and surgeries, revealed inoperable tumors in his brain. He was given months to live. I heard a tiny part of this story about a guy I barely knew from thousands of miles away and my heart ached for him.
Having to go home early in service was not great, having to do it to deal with medical issues was scary, this was unimaginable. A couple of weeks ago I started hearing Shalin’s story in a different way, first with this article then this page.
All I could think was, we’re all such jerks.
Big, dumb jerks.
And Shalin got it. He understood everything in something as simple as a sunset. He called for a movement to live every moment, to recognize the gift that is life, to fulfill the deepest potential.
And that’s it. No big deal.
Shalin’s beautiful words blew up the internet and the Peace Corps community. His not new but definitely renewed ideas breathed life into a movement to create a better word. One man, one young, dying man who could have succumb so easily to tragedy, instead fulfilled his deepest potential and spoke beauty to the world.
I can’t say it any better than it’s been said, so I’ll end with this quote from an article Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet recently wrote:
He reminded us that even when the day draws to a close, we are blessed with one glorious burst of light.
He reminded us that the opposite of death is not life, it is purpose. Our stories only come to an end when the reasons to keep telling them fade away, and that is why I know that Shalin’s legacy of love and light will live on forever.
**All photos courtesy of Sunsets for Shalin facebook page