by Martin Echtler, Precious Blood Volunteer 2017
Before I left my home in Munich to move to Kansas City I had a lot of different feelings and expectations regarding the Precious Blood Volunteer program and the United States in general. There were a lot of questions in my mind like “How it will be to work as a volunteer?” “Which people will I meet?” or “How will I deal with cultural borders or language limitations?” Besides these “big questions” there was another aspect, more ordinary, which was not really on my agenda in the run up to my journey – the question “How will I get around in Kansas City?” I was not worried about it, because I thought it would be like in Munich where a wide variety of different public transportation options makes it not too complicated to get from point A to point B.
My view would change after a few days in the city, when I realized that most of the people drive their own car to get around. After realizing this I thought “Well, I don’t think it’s a big deal, because I’ve heard Kansas City has a new street car and a really good bus system.” After using the street car the first time my view changed a little bit. And after a few (long) times waiting at the bus stop my view changed a little bit more. My first conclusion was “Oh boy, it would be so much easier to have a car to get around.” But during the next months my point of view would change again.
The more time I spent in Kansas City with different people at work, at home or somewhere else dealing with lots of different situations, the more I realized that indeed I don’t have a physical car, but I already sit in and drive another, special kind of “car.” At this point you might think “This weird German guy must be crazy, because he can see invisible cars.” But let me explain this within a poem I wrote. It deals with my time here as a volunteer in the Midwest of the United States and that it feels like a car ride – an inner car ride. I started at one point to “drive” and since then I’m “on the road”.
Always forward – straight ahead or taking curves, uphill or downhill, slow or fast.
Look to the rearview mirror from time to time. Look to the exterior mirror from time to time.
Watch the lane, watch the vehicles in front and behind, watch the oncoming traffic, watch the signs, watch planned destinations.
Pay attention to passengers, watch out for other vehicles.
Don’t exceed the speed limit.
Don’t lose sight of the goals – don’t miss exits.
The fastest ways are not necessarily the most beautiful. Beautiful ways lead also to destinations.
Don’t forget to watch the gas gauge. Don’t drive too long distances in a row – take brakes and recharge batteries for the onward journey.
Pass cars sometimes – let cars pass you sometimes.
Rev the engine sometimes, crash sometimes, repair or get repaired sometimes.
Stop sometimes and ask for directions – drive away sometimes and ask for a stop.
Focus your view on the horizon sometimes – focus your view on the steering wheel sometimes.
Escape to the front sometimes – let your gaze stay on the rearview mirror sometimes.
Take curves from time to time – and avoid it from time to time.
Sometimes it’s necessary to select one lane and sometimes it’s necessary to take the other – it is necessary to ignore obvious signs that wants to lead sometimes – it is necessary to consider hidden signs sometimes.
Let the engine howl sometimes – drive quietly sometimes.
Talk to your passengers sometimes – just listen to them sometimes.
Follow their advice sometimes – ignore them and follow your instinct sometimes.
Once in a while take a deep breath of air.
Once in a while dim your lights.
Wait sometimes and sometimes let wait.
Drive in circles sometimes – take exits sometimes.
Pick someone up sometimes – leave someone behind sometimes.
Face the sun, face the clouds, face the wind.
Sometimes being driven – sometimes drifting.
Now and then do not know further – now and then knowing with new knowledge again.
Switch gears now and then – brake now and then.
Laugh sometimes, cry sometimes, sing sometimes, whisper sometimes, keep silent sometimes.
Drive aware – drive by yourself.
The few metaphors show that there are a lot of things you have to deal with when you’re “on the road” – even if you don’t own a physical car. Besides all the aspects I’ve named I’ve learned one very important lesson during my journey, which I want to emphasize at this point. Of course it’s important to look back and to plan next steps, but keep your main focus on the current street you’re driving through and the environment you’re passing right now. And also pay attention to the people who are driving with you just in this moment. Be aware about the current time, because the past is gone and the future is unwritten. A deep focus on the street you pass right now helps you to enjoy your ride more, it keeps you awake and prevents you from accidents.
This consciousness let me “drive” through Kansas City without having a car. All the love, friendship, beauty, hospitality, open doors and smiling faces I’ve already passed on this journey make me grateful and happy!
You can learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer by going to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
You can learn more about our placement at the Bishop Sullivan Center by going to www.preciousbloodkc.org/bishop-sullivan-center/.