Fifty fifty

The first toast is to meeting, the second is to friendship, the third is to love.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, avers a Chinese proverb: through the doorway and into the meadow, across the threshold or down the stairs, up the jetway and up the mountains, across the Yangtze or the Ganges or the Amazon or the Rubicon. In whose shoes are you walking? And what are you carrying to sustain you? Hope and trepidation, love and faith, a journal and a camera, desire and curiosity and Chapstick.

Afoot in this mag are a couple of golden anniversaries: one very close to home and one traversing the planet. Striding onto the Mission Campus for the first time in the fall of ’61 were women enrolled as undergrads who came knowing that a degree—from the Jesuit university named for a female saint, Clare—could be theirs for the earning. It’s a singular moment in time and historic to say the least. And it’s only the beginning of the story: Tens of thousands of women have since walked the paths and corridors of this place and transformed it. And armed with what they learned, some of them (and some scores of Santa Clara men) have, over the past five decades, tried to change the world (or at least how they see it) by heading to points far-flung as Peace Corps volunteers.

Full disclosure: I, too, am a returned Peace Corps vol. It’s an idea and institution that I admire and respect, freighted as it is with the baggage of any big government bureaucracy. That’s both good and bad, as many a veteran vol will tell you. What drew me to the Peace Corps was the end of the Cold War and the transformation of the sundered Soviet Union; it seemed to me the big story of the end of the 20th century, and I wanted to understand firsthand what it meant for a society to be so utterly transformed, its economy and institutions crumbling. There was a chance to begin writing a new chapter in history—and, of course, rewriting the old ones, with voices able to speak, suppressed memories now told, and the lessons learned depending on where one stands in the slipstream of time: Was it really all meant to lead up to this? The narrative arc—that is, the stories we tell—is stuff that matters profoundly, for it answers the questions: Where are we coming from? And where are we going?

Among the third group of volunteers in Ukraine, as an assistant professor at Lesya Ukrainka Volyn State University, perhaps I could offer willing hands and heart to help rebuild in a better way, and I could convey to my students of literature and American studies that either they would write the stories of the years to come or someone would do it for them, with said someone’s own agenda at work. There in the city of Luts’k, I hosted a radio show, I founded a newspaper, and I learned a few things— some of which lightened the load. To wit: The first toast is to meeting, the second is to friendship, the third is to women—or to love—or both. Stand for that one. And drink to the bottom.

Keep the faith,

Steven Boyd Saum

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