Holly Lovejoy: A Peace Corps Profile
"I'd say you're a mix of Artisan and Scholar," said the volunteer beside me, her eyes sizing me up and down as bobbed next to her in the rumbling jeepney. "But of course, underneath, you're a Priest. Just like me."
Her name--really, truly--is Holly Lovejoy (was baptised Holloway Lovejoy, but that's another story, and anyway she's always gone by Holly). We'd spent the morning helping another Peace Corps volunteer with a remedial reading class. Now Holly Lovejoy and I were rumbling home, ruminating over a shared passion: philosophy.
"Ever heard of the Michael System?" Holly asked, glancing at the darkening clouds. All April the weather had been mild, the usual searing sun punctuated by frequent drizzles. Volunteers who'd been in country the previous year grumbled that we newbies hadn't experienced the hot tropical hell-paradise that is summer in the Philippines.
I hadn't. Holly had studied the Michael System for years and years, back when she was in with a bunch of friends whose names were as bohemian as hers and whose ideas reminded me of Madam Blavatsky's Theosophical Society. Also known as The Overleaves, it was introduced around 1978, coming from books by Stephen Cocconi and others. I couldn't for the life of me figure out where the "Michael" part came from. According to the System, people incline toward one of seven roles: artisan, sage, warrior, king, server, priest, and scholar. It sounded like something someone had thought up after playing Dungeons and Dragons. But it made sense. Like the Myers-Briggs personality profile.
Which Holly was also familiar with. We conferred. Like me, she was Introverted, Intuitive, and Feeling (we differed on the last characteristic: I was Judging, she Perceiving).
We'd also both explored the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda; I promised to send her a recording I'd made of the "Door of My Heart" chant.
But her experiences in philosophy went further. She'd visited ashrams in India, studied Taoism, Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation, Ayurveda, the Enneagram, and Vedic Cosmology. "I do kill buggies, occasionally," Holly once told me, swatting a mosquito. "But I always apologize and ask them for forgiveness."
She did yoga every morning. She had a stamina that consistently wore out volunteers half her age. I'd tromped across beaches and boulevards with her, myself dehydrated and dog-tired and ready to crawl into the nearest tricycle or pedicab while Holly strolled along blissfully energetic.
And she was vegetarian (I resumed [m]eating shortly after arriving in the Philippines). A nonjudgmental vegetarian. When a group of volunteers decided to indulge in McDonald's, she accomodated. "My, my. Haven't been in 20 years. But why not?" She later explained her non-patronage was because of the ethics. But then she added: the food just isn't nearly as tasty as all the other great stuff you could eat.
It was thus no surprise that, one night, as a bunch of us sat around chatting about thing things Peace Corps volunteers always chat about--American food, and bowel movements--Holly Lovejoy was unanimously voted to be the most interesting person among our batch.
She'd grown up in Janesville, Wisconsin--a town notable for residents like Lavinia Goddell (first woman to practice law in the state) and Walter Lees (an early aviator) and for having a high per capita number of parks--but she'd later traveled the world (and still had a small place in the south of Turkey). She'd heard Dylan and Baez--live!-- she'd watched friends shipped off to Vietnam, and right about then she applied to Peace Corps for the first time. She hoped for a country where she could use her French. But no. Not in the cards. So she postponed her Peace Corps plans to teach French, lived her life, spent years as a university librarian and administrator, raised two kids, studied Latin, German, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish, and Ob-Language, taught yoga, meditation, swimming, tennis, aerobics, and reading, she moved to an ecological co-housing community in Tucson to model sustainable living in the desert, and then, finally, decided to apply for Peace Corps again. And once again, she was assigned far from any French speakers. But this time she took the assignment.
On that bumpy jeepney ride, I asked Holly when she had first wanted to join the Peace Corps.
"1961," she replied promptly. "When President Kennedy first asked us to join up."
I did some quick math. Holly was sixty-four. That would have made her...fourteen at the time. Fourteen! I tried to imagine hearing JFK summon the "best and brightest" to work together "for the freedom of Man". I had waited a few years to join Peace Corps. Holly Lovejoy had waited half a century.
Peace Corps Philippines Batch 269. 2010-2012. It hadn't been her original plan, to be there, or then, but as volunteers marched through the streets of Tacloban in a parade, marking the 50th Anniversary, Holly marched prouder than any of us.
And I wondered--thinking, of course, of the song--what I'd be doing when I was 64.