The boxes are packed, the office is almost empty. It is amazing how much stuff one can gather after a decade and a half in one office.
Other small tasks are to be completed in the next few hours. I am thankful for a reception this afternoon for us to say goodbye to one another one more time.
Barbara Crafton is an Episcopal priest who recently wrote the words below about what it is like to leave a place you love. Her words fit what I am feeling today about leaving the staff I love at The 1917 Clinic after 15 and 1/2 years as chaplain.
“We had felt so secure with one another, so anchored in this small world, small enough to be manageable, yet productive of more than enough drama to keep us occupied. There was always some new outrage at which to gasp, some funny human frailty exposed. My weaning from it all took a little while.
You love the place where you are, and you don’t want to leave. You don’t ever want to leave. But you do leave, and peeling yourself away from familiar people and things hurts. It hurts every time you do it, no matter how many times there are. “
One of the things I have learned in this place is to lean into change, rather than to fight it.
Leaning into change means to trust even when you don’t know how it is all going to work out. It is a trust that all will be well.
And so today, I trust to take all that my colleagues and patients have taught me to a new playing field at the hospital as Director of Pastoral Care. And I will lean into this change, even though I don’t know the answers of how my new path will go.
When I first began at the clinic in 1994, we had patients dying every single day of the year. It was a very difficult time. The AIDS quilt became a symbol of the lives lost and has become the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. Each panel is roughly the size of a coffin symbolizing a life lost with a personal message inscribed.
And the quilt metaphor continues to mean something to me today as well.
My threads of my experience in the clinic are symbolized in a quilt panel, if you will, and this panel can be used in a larger quilt that represents my life as I go to a new place. Nothing is wasted.
In fact, I believe that this is true for all of us if we are open to it. God is like a Master Quilter weaving the threads and panels of our life experience, and stitching them together to form a beautiful quilt of various colors and textures.
My most recent quilt panel took over 15 years to stitch together and now represents the personalities, color, languages, diversity and love that I have experienced in this place. It is a beautiful mosaic.
This HIV/AIDS clinic has shown me what community and connection to the human family, and God, is all about. If we can meet one another as we are, we can learn the lessons we so desperately need.
I want to say to each person I have spoken with, listened to, touched and hugged, thank you for sharing yourself with me and teaching me that every human being is a member of the same family.
Hello to you my brother, and hello to you my sister.
It helps me to remember my purpose for being in this world as I understand it:
“My purpose is to create community and connection for persons with one another and with God, especially during critical, crisis-filled times.” For it is within these times we are most open to God’s presence in our lives and learning what is most important.
I have learned firsthand here that we are all children of God–every single one of us including Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, and every other ethnic group. Every straight, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered person is a child of God. Every Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, and every other person of faith and persons of no faith, is a child of God.
And so I close with the words that I have said to our staff at the close of our weekly meeting together: “Thank you for who you are, and for what you do, to make this place such a healing and caring place for so many.”
Peace be with you, and don’t forget to lean into the change when it comes in your life. Be not afraid. God is with you. You are not alone.
Note: The AIDS Quilt panel shown above has the names of three persons I knew who died in my first year at the clinic: Adrian Daniels, Billy Cox, and Bob Axelton. Adrian’s funeral was the first of many funerals I had a month after I began, and Billy Cox’s life continues to impact me to this day.