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At the end of July, I spent one morning in a Hasidic-neighborhood Brooklyn doctor’s office getting my H1N1 vaccination (as required for Peace Corps service). In the waiting room I watched two women recite their morning prayers, their fingers gliding over the Hebrew prayer books in their laps. Every few minutes one of them would rise from her seat, arms raised in supplication. Their devotion was a little mezmerizing. I realized that, for these women, their entire lives had been lived in the small community of Hasidism, every day wearing their conservative black, every morning beginning with these devotions.

picture of Tagalog notecards

I’ll be honest: part of me I felt an indefinite and unplaceable envy. And feeling this, I turned my attention back to the Tagalog notecards in my lap, immersed in my own kind of devotion. I considered rising in supplication as well. I didn’t, but it got me thinking.

You see, the previous day, I’d received a Peace Corps email about my upcoming orientation and subsequent departure for the Philippines. The one-day staging for Volunteer Batch 269 was to be held in Philadelphia and the itinerary was an all too short 8-hour program of paperwork and Q’s & A’s about what to expect, what not to expect, what would be expected, what wouldn’t be expected–you get the point. Then, at 5:30 the following morning we would board a bus headed for JFK, pfollowed by a 20-hour flight to Manila, followed by 3 months training then 2 years working in the Philippines.

In the hours after this email, my inbox recorded a sizable flurry of posts to a recently created Facebook discussion group called “PC Philippines Training Batch 269″. Most of the posters (myself included) were expressing the spectrum of excitement, as in:

“Philadelphia, eh? That was not where I was expecting to be going for staging at all. Interesting…Either way, I’m happy to finally have some info on staging. We’ll be on a plane to the Philippines one month from today, people! Woot!”

But some voiced a kind of paranoiac anxiety:

“woa woa woa…. I didn’t get any info yet! Did you get it via email? This makes me one grumpy panda….”

Something like 30 responses. All within a couple hours of the orientation email.

But here’s where it gets interesting: the next item in my inbox, arriving only hours after the orientation email, was a followup from the Peace Corps regional office. It explained why some volunteers hadn’t received staging information. At 145 members, our Batch 269 was so big that we were being divided into two orientation groups, one to be located in Philadelphia, one in Detroit. The director assured us that our flights to Manila would nevertheless arrive within minutes of each other.

The fascinating part, to me, is how it all happened. Heck, the director alluded to this in his followup: “Because of the strength of social networking and communications these days, I’ve had a few calls about this already, so I wanted to let you know.”

I went back to the Facebook group. Membership had been growing daily. We were already up to 111 members, meaning that a majority of the batch had already found this ad-hoc discussion board.

Also: I had already friended or been friended by a dozen fellow volunteers.

Also: I’d been tracking the blogs and had already hyperlinked 23. A solid month before orientation, one out of seven of us (myself included) had started documenting.

What did this mean? For one, it clearly meant that I was not alone in my daily anticipation, a feeling that can’t really be put into words, only hinted at through comparable moments: your freshman dorm move-in day car ride with the parents; the night before your first day of employ at your first real job; those electric moments before the prom-night limo pulled up.

A month before departure we were feeling it, really feeling it, and it occurred to me that social networking had contributed to this. Because a few nights before, while lying in bed dozing away the morning hours curled next to a girl whose legs tangled with mine in something on the order of a paraplegic love knot, I awoke, quite suddenly, viscerally feeling the reality of my impending departure, and it was all the more real precisely because of the virtual faces and names I’d been getting to know in the previous days.

It was a kind of anticipatory camaraderie that couldn’t have existed before social networking.

I realized that in a few days I would be leaving New York, leaving an underground artso-boho scene which I had embraced and had embraced me, leaving old friends, new friends, leaving a girl I had met a only month previous with whom I’d dozed mornings away in epiphytic sunrise bliss.

I realized that each of the 145 volunteers in Batch 269 would be leaving behind comparable things.

I realized that I would be alone but I also wouldn’t be alone.