As I go down my final checklist to attend the 16th Heartsong Retreat, I am thinking about Janet.

Janet went to Heartsong last year.  I remember her love of singing, her quick sense of humor, her self-awareness, and her love of dancing.  She was a 50 something year old African American woman who made friends quickly with other participants.

I noticed how Janet looked for persons who were holding back.  She used her slow Southern drawl and warm personality to make them feel at ease and to reassure them there is nothing to fear here.

One of those persons who came for the first time last year was “Jerry.” He was a quiet young man in his early 20’s who wasn’t so sure on the first night if he had made a good decision to come to Heartsong with all the laughter surrounding him.  I watched Janet introduce him to others, sit beside him in large group time so that he wouldn’t be alone, and even encouraged  him to dance with her in the talent show on Wednesday night.  Together, they brought the house down with their dancing and had everyone on their feet shouting encouragement and clapping their hands by the time the music stopped.

A few weeks after Heartsong ended last year, we got the shocking news that Jerry was shot and killed on the streets of Birmingham.  We were all numbed and grieved by the news.

In the last year, Janet hasn’t been doing so well. She has had a very difficult life since being diagnosed with HIV 21 years ago.  She has been in the hospital a half dozen times in the past year.  Her health has declined significantly.  And her attendance at this year’s Heartsong was in doubt as late as Friday, before we leave on this Monday.

I sat with Janet in Kathy Gaddis’ office, her social worker at the clinic.   “Janet,” I began, “I don’t know if you are healthy enough to attend this year’s retreat.  What do you think?”

She sat up straight in the chair, smiled and said resolutely,  “Malcolm, I am well enough to go to Heartsong.  I can do it.”   I looked at Kathy, and she nodded in agreement.

And so this year, if Janet can get to the clinic to catch the van tomorrow afternoon, she will attend another Heartsong.

Except this year, I hope some of the other participants will look out for Janet, like she has done for others before.

The tender grace will be passed along once again.  This is what Heartsong is all about.

Note:  You can see and hear Janet on The 1917 Clinic video called “Positive” by clicking here.

Update: Janet made it to Heartsong 2009, and she got stronger each day she was there.  Many participants stepped up to make sure she had what she needed.  On August 29th, 2009, Janet died.  I will miss you Janet.  Peace to you.