Wherein I Say Nothing About Any of the Things

I went to high school in East Africa. Nairobi in fact. Sometimes I forget this. Sometimes it’s like a dream. Because, in many ways, it was.

While in said high school, I had the opportunity to fly back to the US and attend a youth leadership conference in Washington, D.C. It was one of those programs made to look very prestigious, bringing young leaders from near and far. Eager to build college admittance resumes, we were attending our first overpriced conference, strategically and suggestively set in the nation’s capital. We dressed up in professional garb as though we were not sixteen years old, wore lanyards, and stayed in a college dorm. Not a parent in sight. I was very fortunate to go, with people sponsoring my trip and registration. The theme for the week? Medical Ethics.

Never once did I consider a medical profession, mind you. But nonetheless, that was the option that fit best with ticket fares and summer travels and so why not. There I was surrounded by high school students who had set their pubescent sights on med school, or at least their parents had. I was headed towards an English Department somewhere, glad to have finished my high school (and lifetime) science credits with Environmental Studies.

The Thai food in D.C. was incredible. But one other thing was especially impacting (…other than the Korean guys who were interested in me, yes me, the nerdy girl in the permanent friend zone back at home in Kenya…). We all watched a movie one night, as a part of this Medical Ethics Conference: Wit, starring Emma Thompson. I was moved deeply by the film, but very soon after couldn’t quite describe why. It was obscure and no one had seen it apparently, except that select group of lanyard-clad young leaders, that I knew of. Its title stayed with me all these years and I finally watched it again yesterday, a mere 15 years later.

wit_2001_film

Wit still touched my soul, the first taste nostalgia, the rest merited profundity about the human condition, life and death. I had forgotten the strong elements of poetry, language and academia which would have been intriguing that week, way back when. I had forgotten the nurse, who always cared and rubbed lotion on the hands of the lonely patient. I had forgotten the pretentious rigor of the researchers and attending doctor. I had forgotten the main character’s journey towards both death and kindness, by way of suffering.

Wit likely watered my love for writing and studying poetry and Donne. It probably loosened some fears of the hospital, 7 years before I would work in one for a summer, and it probably planted a seed about bedside manner that made rubbing lotion on a dying woman’s back when she asked not that strange, but rather, a privilege. It tickled my appetite for academics, words, and the deep respect for women who become experts. It still speaks today to the value and pain of suffering and the great equalizing force of health and illness and endings.

Endings, health, ethics, and maintaining people’s humanity are themes that weigh on my mind these days. Also, always the thoughts and feelings about identity, my work, my worth, my gender…how I am changing and how I am not. These mazes are human and however difficult they are, whatever conflicts they may rise, and cloudiness they waft…they show life. The awareness of my own fragility, mortality even, however upsetting, is also an indicator light that my heart is beating and compassion is still kicking.

And maybe 15 years later, something will make sense. Or maybe along the way there will be a connection that leads you to give thanks, or a theme you recognize as directive, definitive, and distinctively tender. A theme God’s been showing you, patiently, relentlessly. We are alive, and yes, we are struggling, but the long game is still afoot. Our kindness, our attention to people’s humanity, our memory—these are of utmost importance now and our hurt may be the best indicator that these things are indeed on the rise. I must remind myself: the illness isn’t the story. It is the filter. Refining. Focusing.

Continue, sister and brother: forward.

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A Spot

Today I said goodbye to a treehouse.

Not a treehouse as in the fantastic play place of a gleaming sepia childhood.  A place of work, actually. But we have joined a work that is life and a life that is work. No, not a treehouse exactly, but I would meet my friends there. I helped make it what it was in small ways with my own two hands. In the proverbial treehouse, there were club meetings and arguments and brainstorms and plans and snacks. Seasons passed but it continued to be a place to gather. Its walls are thick with time and experience and history. Of decades of team and tears and trying.

My memories are recent in comparison but valued nonetheless. Climbing the steps to the old office, a senior in college, I received a phone call from Fuller Seminary saying I was in and my program was paid in full. In the brightest room, Ryan and I had interviews for World Impact, then discussed how our first year had gone, then helped with others’  interviews, and throughout, could find an inviting leader and friend. Next door to the director’s office was the room in which most of the staff became acquainted with Ryan, who was the City Administrator for our first three years. Across the hall, he dumped the recycling box of paper on Isaac’s head in a lighthearted afternoon round of Office-guys Goofing Off. Then there was the very serious moment of realizing he had to clean human feces from the sidewalk entrance at 8am one morning. There in the old office, we would have informal gatherings, times of visiting, of recognizing footsteps up the stairs, times of listening prayer and reading the Bible aloud, times of teaching and reporting. Times of dedication, reconciliation, ah-ha moments, and check-ins.

Most people did not come to say goodbye to the treehouse this afternoon in the group time, and most of most of those people may have not understood the goodbye time anyway. That is for the most part okay. After all it is a building. An office at that. Just a finite space to a motley crew committed to apostolic movements and permanent dislocation. Lord knows I do not need to seek out one more thing to miss or be all nostalgic about. I found and find myself envying some of my friends’ and spouse’s not-un-caring, perfectly-understandable nonchalance.

If ever a word did not describe me, it is nonchalant. I am terrible at it. Case in point, I am blogging about an office.

The office has been consolidated with the national offices across the street. Not a big move. Not a shutdown. But yes, a break in routine, a shift, an end. We did our best to add our treehouse to the one over there, and ultimately we are less encumbered. I know. I know it is just an old building and it all makes sense in Excel. I know I am a strong Feeler and that my enneagram profile says I should lighten up and just have fun. I know-know.

I also know that to me, the Non-nonchalant, and to a few others, it is still something to stare at. It is a grief and it has implications and it is just a spot but was ours. And so I was thankful for a simple time today to, with others, say goodbye to it. And say thankyouGod for the treehouse. For the time we had with a redeemed space of both spontaneous and strategic shepherding, for the years of a work-home that housed those big and little moments that make up a community of wounded healers. I was thankful for the time to honor what was done in those walls, who had passed through our ranks and roles and how He had been there and seen to our needs there.

The office, of course, is not our north. But it was a base and an intersection. It is where the tours began and the departures finalized. It was a workplace and a parsonage. It was often where we could find help and found Him too.

There are very small things sometimes that still deserve a pause of thanks and goodbye. Those things that years later, someone will miss and someone else in the room will have no idea what they are even talking about because they happened later. A band. A local donut shop. A family tradition. An old car begging to die. An office space. A small goodbye could be silly, it could be overlooked at the time, with the pressure of the new. But even just the chance, the moment, to recognize and name the change, can be healing and later comforting. It could make something in the future seem less disorienting. At least, that is what I have found. I have found that naming and praying and grieving and pondering the ends, the overs, is one of the truest ways I can be present to the life I have been given. I have found that my vision and my gut are such that these things are important and can be of help to the community at a later time. That facing and investigating the losses make the gains more accessible.

So yes, I said goodbye to a treehouse today. An office-building-turned-treehouse. I will remember and carry that goodbye and be glad for it.