Sunday, August 1, 2010

VOLUNTEERING :: Be Ready...Unexpected Gifts of Beauty + Connection

A couple weeks ago, on a Monday evening, we met up with some friends in Minneapolis to serve a cook-out dinner at the Clare Housing’s Clare Apartments, a place where fellow travelers living with HIV and AIDS are able to belong in community, live in affordable housing and receive supportive services.

Jason and I have a sort of mantra to keep ourselves focused in life and in our work. It is simply this: Be Authentic. Be Available. Be Audacious. (Or Be Real. Be Ready. Be Brave.) In the spirit of being available and ready to share our gifts - though we were at Clare Housing to volunteer - this was not a gig and we did not plan to take photos or share song - we were ready with the guitar, our small PA and camera.

When we were having conversation during our volunteer orientation, I inquired about the life of music and arts at the Clare Housing. I was curious since music and art are so enriching and healing - both to the body and the soul. A staff person shared that these are very much valued but not easily accessed there. So it seemed appropriate to ask a staff person if sharing song would be a welcome and helpful thing that evening. They were excited to have us bring out the guitar and set up alongside the large gas grill on the cement patio outside.

It was a beautiful evening. Residents and our other volunteering friends gathered on the patio and the lawn. We learned each others names, talked about about music and family and life. Grandchildren of one resident were there, so youth and children were playing games on the lawn. I went ahead and sang some songs.

Following Invitation to the Unlikely, a kind and gentle man, dressed in the robes of a Buddhist monk, turned his face and his wheelchair toward me. He ever-so-sweetly asked if I had written that song and shared that it was deeply moving to him. He had "never heard anything like it". We shared a deep sense of human and spiritual connection in that moment that I will never forget. His gentle presence came from more than his soft voice, which he is losing as he lives with failing health. He shared that he would eventually be completely paralyzed and that broke my heart. He told me he became a Buddhist monk after seeing so much trauma and terror in the world, he wanted to relate to every single person in a spiritual way. It is profound to me that this Buddhist man found such deep comfort and resonance with the words of Invitation to the Unlikely - which are directly inspired by a story that Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke, chap. 14 - a story of many various unlikely guests ("hungry, wounded...") gathered around a table and sharing a meal - really a story that came to life that evening as children played, as we ate together there, as we enjoyed the gift of music ...together.

In being present and listening, we received the simplest and more beautiful gift of genuine connection. These moments can be so easily overlooked. I hope we will all be unafraid to learn from others, from friends, from strangers, from strange friends ;-) ...and I know healing both personally and communally will happen more often as we simply, deeply and compassionately listen, sit together, truly BE together.

Many living with AIDS and HIV lose their support system and frequently face other challenges in terms of a housing crisis and need help with their medications. If you live in the Twin Cities area, do check out the Clare Housing website and consider volunteering – Or just visit their home-on-the-web to learn and listen to how you may respond wherever you are.