The Peculiar Person

By Troy Headrick

One springtime, when I was a much younger guy, I found myself suddenly unemployed after a series of very unexpected events.  I then filed paperwork and went on the public dole for the very first time in my life. 

I spent the next several months pounding the proverbial pavement, wearing my shoe soles thin in the process.  I looked high and low; I distributed resumes galore but could find no gainful employment.  It was a time of stress, frustration, and anger.

One afternoon, by pure happenstance, I saw an advertisement for the Peace Corps, a program run by the American government that sends professionals overseas to work in nation-building projects of one kind or another.  It was like a lightbulb went off in my head.  I immediately decided to apply.  After months of jumping through all manner of application hoops, I was accepted and sent to do teacher training and educational consulting work in Poland. 

After two and a half years in Eastern Europe, I knew that the expat life was for me, so I moved on to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and then Egypt.

My years abroad were amazing.  Because I worked in education, I had the summers off which allowed me to return to the United States for long periods of time to reconnect with family and friends.

Here’s the thing:  I was changing a lot during that time because I was seeing the whole world, learning new languages, and becoming less ethnocentric.  I was growing as a person and expanding my horizons.

That was a very ironic time in my life.  As I was connecting with people in all sorts of places, I began to see myself as a member of a large, global family, as a citizen of the world.  It must be remembered that many Americans were simultaneously becoming more insular during those years, especially after what had taken place on September 11, 2001.  So, as I was opening up, many Americans were “closing down” and thus becoming increasingly distrustful of people in other parts of the world, especially in those places I’d decided to reside in.  Far too many also despised and feared ideas that seemed foreign and non-Christian.

I come from rural and small-town people whose roots were and are deeply planted in the dark soil of Texas.  Of my immediate family, my father is the only person to have spent significant time outside the United States.  (He traveled when he was in the United States Air Force during his years as an enlisted man.)  Though some in my family are politically progressive, they are, as could be expected, deeply “American” in the way they see themselves, their home country, and all the other places “out there.”

I suppose my story is just a version of what many experience as they grow up.  We are born and shaped by values that come to us from those who’ve given us existence.  There comes a moment, though, if a person is a willing sort, when he steps out into the world (or is pushed out into it as I was) and comes under the sway of new acquaintances and ideas. 

Not all are willing to step out this way.  Many in my family are perfectly happy to stay at home, to be around familiar faces and places, to think safe thoughts.  There is a kind of comfort in all this.  I understand the attraction to such a life.  I lived such a life for a long time.  It felt perfectly natural at the time I was that person.    

Like I said, I would regularly visit family during my leaves away from Europe, Asia, and Africa.  I’ll never forget one remarkably interesting conversation I had many years ago now.  The person I was talking with had been someone I’d long been deeply attached to and had grown up idolizing.  Our talk eventually turned to my life abroad.  I began to tell him what it was like, out there, in the big world, and he listened intently.  Finally, when it was his turn to speak, he cleared his throat and said something I’ll never forget, “Troy, you are a mighty peculiar person.” 

I didn’t disagree with him then, and I can’t do so now.

From that point forward, I felt a kind of separation from someone I’d long loved.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still enjoyed spending time with him, but I was unable to forget what he’d said that day.  It wasn’t that he’d hurt me.  He hadn’t, but he’d spoken words from his heart.  Words that meant we’d come to a crossroads in our relationship and were headed in different directions.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

61 thoughts on “The Peculiar Person

  1. It appears you have experienced things that many have only dreamed of. I enjoyed your post and would love to read more about your life abroad experiences.

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words. I guess what looks to be a catastrophe can turn out to be an opportunity for growth. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to spend many years abroad, in lots of interesting places. I’m actually writing a book about some of my expat experiences. Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to read more? I cetainly hope so.

  2. Very interesting. I think all of us, when we think about it, have had moments in our lives when someone whose opinion we valued said something that stuck with us forever and changed how we thought of them and our relationship with them.

  3. Troy, I hate platitudes in replies, but dammit, what a powerful piece! Peace Corps is one of a few things on my list of undones. I often wonder, “Why didn’t I?” I’ve followed lots of other impulses. My American-abroad experience waited until I was 65. Through a unique opportunity, I spent three months in West Bank, Palestine. Living in a downstairs unit of a Christian Palestinian family in Bethlehem (Bayt Laim), I was “sponsored” by a friend and his Muslim family in Hebron. Every Friday I joined the extended family for gathering and shared meal. Damn, I have to write about it. Thank you for your inspiring words and for your prodding. Ric d. Stark

    1. Your experience sounds like an amazing one. I spent seven years right next door in Cairo, Egypt. I taught at the American University in Cairo from 2008 to 2015. That was a wonderful time in my life. Please do write about that experience. Once you do, come back and leave a link so we can all read what you’ve written. Thanks so much for your comment. I always enjoy reading your thoughts. Take care…

  4. Oh, the peculiar person part? Mine was my maternal grandfather. My childhood idol and role model, we diverged when at age 27, I came out and divorced. He never knew the gay part. Divorce was enough to make me “uninherited”. But no matter, I still love him dearly. I mean, he’s 1/4 of who I am lol. Ric d. Stark

    1. There comes a time when we have to be the people we are, and in a public way. How can we be anyone other than ourselves? Of course, this is going sit well with some and not so much with others. So be it. Living a lie is one of the worst, most unhealthy things a person can do. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  5. I relate so much to your story. I left my country eight years ago, and despite the love I feel for my friends and family there, I can’t help but to notice that we are growing apart. I know that it’s inevitable and I am learning to accept it, but sometimes it still hurts.

    1. The fact that you’re growing apart from them is a good sign for you. It means you’re becoming a bigger a person while they’re stuck in place. A person can’t stay small just because others have made the decision to do so. Yes, it does hurt, but it would hurt more to limit yourself just to be connected with others. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      1. You know what, Troy? You totally understood my situation. I recently realised how hard I was trying to stay small so that I wouldn’t lose that connection, but as you said, it was even more painful. I got to a point where I wasn’t even sure who I was anymore. Then I decided to accept my growth, and I’ve started to heal. It still hurts at times, because it’s like I’m leaving the people I love behind and that makes me feel guilty… But there’s nothing else I can do. Thank you so much for your words. They were so much needed.

      2. You sound very upbeat. I think you know you’re doing the right thing. You are very welcome, and thank you for sharing your story.

  6. This was very heartfelt piece. I can relate to the young man looking for work. In the midst of trying times like these…its been over a year for me. Oh boy, and my clothes don’t fit anymore. Haha. However, your story gives me hope beyond measure… thank you for sharing.

    1. During the time I wrote about, I was unemployed for about that long. It changed for me and it will for you too. Have you ever thought about doing something different, like leaving your home country? When I finally did, I found I had many more opportunities abroad than I did in the US. Just out of curiosity, are your clothes too big or too small now? Thanks for sharing your story.

      1. I have. I am open to the idea of leaving my home country and working abroad. I’m just not sure how to go about doing that. I know it’s possible, but I run into dead ends with that, because everything I find requires large amounts of money which I don’t have.

        Oh…my clothes..☺️. Yes, they are too small now. I have grown a bit over the past 2 years and believe that I’m officially done growing 😂. My shoulders became broader and I’ve picked up weight as well. Not that I’m fat or have been overeating… I’m just more at ease and have a better appetite now. Once I have work, I’ll look into buying clothing my own size.

      2. I might be able to advise you about leaving the US. Believe me, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Are you American? If so, what sort of work do you do. Know this will help me advise you.

      3. Hi Troy, sorry for my late reply. I am South African. Hopefully you are still able to advise me. I am currently unemployed, but I have over three years experience as an Administrative Assistant. I’ve also done youth development work for 2 years. What really cuts me short is that I don’t have any qualifications for these experiences.

  7. Oh wow, you captured me and I was very interested in reading. I found your life story inspirational and you have made me intrigued with your views. Thank you

  8. I have been having a kind of the same life experience. Interesting to know that there are not only peculiar but also very similar people all around the world.

    1. I think the experience I described in my blog is somewhat universai. In a sense, we are all in the same boat and have very similar challenges. Thanks so much for the comment.

    1. Actually I wear “peculiar” like a badge of honor. I’d be much more concerned if he’d called me “perfectly average” or “completely normal.” Thanks for the comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.

  9. Hi Troy – fellow RPCV here; I too found myself expanding my worldviews and reducing my ethnocentric perspective on life after living abroad. I found myself somewhat disconnected from my peers upon returning home – so much inside of me had changed. It’s hard to know the context this person meant, and their definition of peculiar, but I might interpret this as “different” or one that takes the less traveled road. It’s admirable, and brave, in my view, to leave a place of comfort and familiarity. We are changed when we step out of our comfort zone. Perhaps this person admired you in ways they were too frightened to step into themselves. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. It’s great to hear from you. I had a look at your blog and liked what I saw. In fact, I bookmarked it so I could return. It’s always good to meet a fellow RPCV. Where did you serve, if you don’t mind my asking.

  10. Lovely post which chimes a lot with me. First off, glad to hear the Peac4e Cirps appears still to exist. To an Englishman of my generation it was all about altertnatives to going off and shooting people in Vietnam and I hadn’t realised it was still around. For my own part, after spending all my life in the UK talking to and working with people who agreed with me and were from a similar background (lovely people, most of them) I’ve ended up running a homestay in Sri Lanka and as a result engag8ing with people from all over the world and varied cultural backgrounds; lots of people younger than our own kids; and intelligent people who don’t necessarily see eye to eye with me politicfally. It has been, and continues to be, tremendous and the complete opposite of the way the world seems to be heading, towards only associating with one’s co-religionists, co-ideologues etc. and ignoring (or trying to cancel) all the rest. All the best, Jerry Smith.

    1. Hi. The Peace Corps is still around. Trump screwed around with it during his tenure. He actually expressed his desire to turn it into some kind of spying agency if you can believe that. England has its own version. It’s called Volunteers in Service Overseas. When I was in Poland, I was good friends with a VSO guy. Yes, we are in a terrible spot right now. America is a terribly divided country. Some pundits have said that we are in a “cold” civil war. I do hope we can learn to listen and talk to one another. I’m a pessimist in the short term. In the long term, the US is headed in the right direction. How’s the UK these day post-Brexit? Thanks for your comment.

  11. Troy, although I’ve lived outside the US, my experience is minimal, especially when compared to your gallivanting. Nevertheless, it did give me a perception of life as a whole that people without the experience will probably never understand. For me, it diminished the grandiose importance of my existence and opened up the door to so many other things in life. I’d like to leave the US again for a time, but I rather doubt it will happen now in my senior years.

    1. My big takeaway from living abroad is that America has a very grandiose image of itself. It’s convinced that it’s the greatest, the coolest, the smartest, the most powerful. (Being a “superpower” screws with the collective psychology.) People in other places have their own claims to greatness for one reason or another. Many have figured out life better than America and Americans have. We need to listen more, show a litte more humility, learn to play nicely with others. Thanks so much for your comment. By the way, why not look around to see if there are opportunities to go elsewhere? You might find it’s more doable that you think.

    1. Hi, Cheryl. I have to admit that I’ve had a great number of opportunities to do some interesting things. Well, this summer, I’ll be traveling to Egypt with my wife for a couple of weeks. That’s our short-term plan. In the long term, let’s say in the next couple of years, we’ll be leaving the US to live elsewhere. Do you have any travel plans?

  12. This was a perfect post for Sunday afternoon reading. I could relate to pounding the pavement looking for a job as well as leaving the country to experience and expand. I have never liked the idea that America is very much its own island. When I was young, I believed like many that the world revolved around the USA. Luckily, I found a job as a camera assistant and it allowed me to travel, see the world and develop other perspectives. Like you I found the expat life intriguing and full of adventure. Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed reading it. Are you still an expat?

    1. Hi. Thanks for the kind words. I am currently living in San Antonio, Texas. My wife, though, is an Egyptian who has recently received her American citizenship. Our plan, in the not-so-distant future, is to leave the US and live outside America permanently. We have several countries in mind but are still thinking about our various choices. How about you? You’re an American, right? If so, where do you live now? Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      1. Hi Troy,
        I am American and I left the USA for good almost four years ago. I currently live with my partner in Amsterdam. I love Holland and I imagine I will always keep a place here but eventually I would like to live in Portugal. It would also be nice to spend some time in Berlin. I would love to visit Eygpt and the UAE. I can’t wait for travel restrictions to lift. Congradulations to your wife!

  13. I remember 9/11. A lot of us got demonised and the aftereffects still prevail. I wish the world would become a peaceful place for everyone.

    1. 9/ll gave America and Americans the opportunity to look inward, to think about the world and themselves in a way that would encourage growth. Unfortunately, we lashed out, we demonized, as you rightly pointed out. At that time, I was living in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, and was treated with great distrust each time I came to the UAE only because I was living in the Persian/Arabian Gulf region at that time. In fact, I always had my passport scrutinized more than usual and was given extra security screening.

  14. When you had mentioned before about your experiences, I was wondering how did you get so far? And now I could understand a little bit more. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

    1. I was pushed out of the nest, so to speak. Sometimes a little nudge is the perfect thing. Just out of curiosity, where have you traveled to before? I recall that we have interacted before, but I don’t think we talked about where you’ve been. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  15. Looks like peace corps was your purpose! Wonderful article! You know, I’m a progressive, travel-crazed Indian, who happened to spend 2 years in a very ethnocentric community of Peoria, IL. While I fielded questions about spiders, crocodiles and tigers in India, I realized the reason why these communities are ethnocentric. Life is good for affluent communities in a first world country. Life is comfortable, rhythmic, and predictable. That sure looks like an aspirational goal for many simple, uncomplicated folks. 🙂

    1. You might say that life is good in affluent countries. There’s lots of sadness, depression, and anger in the US, though. I was amazed, during my travel years, how many Americans would talk about other countries being dangerous, never realizing that murder and violence are rampant in America because so many people are armed. Here’s something I didn’t include in my piece. I made almost no money when I was in the Peace Corps, but I’ve never felt richer than I did during that time. Thanks for sharing your story.

  16. When you say, there is a moment where one “steps out into the world (or is pushed out into it as I was) and comes under the sway of new acquaintances and ideas,” that sounds like a life lived to the fullest! I wonder if everyone’s definition of peculiar is different based on our value systems. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi! How’s it going? Yes, I feel like I’ve been a lucky guy. I’m craving more adventure, though. Life currently feels just a bit mundane. Thanks and take care.

      1. It’s been going all sorts of directions! I’m trying out new things that excite me. How are you? Haha, awesome, luck also takes hard work to sustain. Take care as well. 🙂

  17. Troy – you are singing the song of my people here. Or rather, you’re singing my song. My people are sometimes confused by the lyrics. 😉

    I can relate to this post, almost to the letter. Native Texan, years spent overseas, strained relationships – it all sounds so utterly familiar. But I’ll say this – while I enjoyed getting to not just visit but live in other countries and really experience life outside of the U.S., I missed my “community” back home and since I’ve returned, I’ve experienced a different kind of soul awakening.

    Having said that, someone very near and dear to me called me “odd” recently. At first, I was taken aback and then, thrilled. In a lot of ways it’s a high compliment. Many thanks for sharing yet another slice of your life!

    1. Hi. It is good to meet a fellow Texan who’s lived abroad. Where did you live, if I may ask? After Poland, I spent years in the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt. I’m married to an Egyptian so I have permanent ties to that country in northeast Africa. “Odd” is another way to say “unique.” I’d wear that as a badge of honor as I wore my “peculiar” designation. Take care and thanks for sharing your story.

  18. This part stands out the most to me:
    Not all are willing to step out this way. Many in my family are perfectly happy to stay at home, to be around familiar faces and places, to think safe thoughts. There is a kind of comfort in all this. I understand the attraction to such a life. I lived such a life for a long time. It felt perfectly natural at the time I was that person.

    Especially I like the concept (and formulation) of “Thinking safe thoughts”. These are often not only safe, but always the same… that makes them safe I guess. Another intriguing thing is that I met people that are thinking safe, familiar, known thoughts and expecting something new, interesting, revolutionary to happen… I could not help them…new things are a result of new thinking. Extraordinary things are a result of extraordinary thinking. This thinking does not have to be revolutionary on the global scale; it has to be revolutionary for you.
    Anyhow, I like peculiar, weird and different. I always take it as a compliment. When a person says something like that to you, they are not talking about you, they are talking about themselves. That makes the compliment even more heavy and lasting.
    Congratulations Troy! Peculiar is a great trait to posses and develop further

    1. I’m in total agreement with the following statements: “new things are a result of new thinking. Extraordinary things are a result of extraordinary thinking. This thinking does not have to be revolutionary on the global scale; it has to be revolutionary for you.” There’s so much good stuff in those sentences! I believe all action begins with thinking. Every new step begins as a thought of a new step to be taken. That’s why I put so much stock in developing critical and creative thinking. The human mind can be the most powerful force in the world. But that human mind needs to be training. Good thinking can be learned. If a person is stuck in a certain pattern of thinking, no behavior changes are possible. That’s why the mind has to be the starting point. Yes, I wear my “peculiar” designation as a badge of honor. Thanks. I always enjoy talking about life, thinking, etc with you.

  19. This post resonates with me on so many levels, Troy. Life can take us to different places, and people, and ideas: it’s gloriously beautiful in that way. But alas, it seems that with this growth we inevitably have to shed our skin. Keep on being ‘peculiar’, my friend. It’s the only way to truly live. 🕊

    1. Thanks, Snapdragon. i don’t how to be anything other than “peculiar.” Peculiar is what I am. It’s who I am. I like the “shedding our skin” metaphor. That’s exactly what happened to me. It’s always a delight to hear from you!

  20. Being different or “other” has been seen as undesirable all too often. I’ve never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere, like the way I think and solutions I see are completely out of the ordinary. My mum has even said to me in more than one occasion that in see the world in a unique way. I was never sure exactly how it was meant or what information was trying to be imparted.

    For me, I’ve found one place I truly feel like I’m home. Well, really, when I spend time with one person it feels like home.

    Finding the peculiar person to be peculiar with, that’s what it feels life life can be sometimes. Not the only journey to embark on, but a very worthwhile one.

    Thank you for this thought provoking piece, Troy.

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