Monday, June 11, 2012

On Faith

I can't help but think that if you've read my posts here for any period of time, you will pick up on one overarching theme: I'm stressed out.  That's true and it does seem to come up here a lot.  Overwhelming feelings and the urge to write just go hand in hand. 

There's a lot that scares me right now - just way too much change and a general lack of planning and control conflicting with my adorable need to know and control everything.  I don't like it.  It makes me uncomfortable and anxious and sometimes that is all I can feel.  But that is not all of the time, it's not even most of the time.  At the bottom of all this topsy-turviness is a foundation of peace and a deep-seated knowledge that everything is going to be okay.  It's not right now maybe, but it will be.  There is a reason for this experience.   

This is how I know:

When my grandpa died on September 30, 2005 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer, I was just beginning my senior year of college.  I was in New York City, 900 miles away from my grandparents' home in Mableton, Georgia when he passed.  I spoke to him often during that battle and kept myself informed of what was happening through my family, but I wasn't there for most of it.  I missed it and I missed him. 

To my grandpa, education was everything.  He was very impressed by smart people and deeply offended by people who, as he called it, just didn't have any sense.  So I know it was okay with him that I was off at college.  I know how proud of me he was.  But I hope he knew how much it broke my heart to be so far away. 

Months before he died, I was coming close to finishing my junior year.  It had been a long and difficult year for me, filled with drama and broken relationships and taking long hard looks in the mirror.  I was drained and not proud of myself and looking for an escape and some way to restore my self-confidence and my self-worth.  I remember one night sitting on the couch in my dorm room watching a news special about HIV/AIDS orphans in Lesotho, Africa.  It wasn't long before I had tears streaming down my face and I knew that I needed to go there.  That I was supposed to go there. 

I did some research and found an organization that sends small groups of Americans to various locations in Africa for 6-7 week assignments during the summer.  One of their destinations was Lesotho.  I called and was told by the director of the program, Mr. Logan, that the application deadline had been weeks before.  I don't know what made him tell me what he said next, but the next words out of his mouth were that if I could get my complete application to him by Monday, he would look it over and see if there was anything he could do.  It was Thursday.  I spent the next three whirlwind days writing essays, gathering recommendations, and getting a physical.  On Monday evening, I took the train from the Bronx to Harlem and went to Mr. Logan's home to hand-deliver my application.  A few days later he called me to tell me he was letting me go and he was sending me with the group going to Lesotho.

I expected the trip to be life-changing.  This was going to be a trip that answered all my questions.  It would solidify for me what I wanted to do with my life.  It would open my eyes and my path would become clear.  I was supposed to go to Lesotho.  It had to be for a reason.  Some spectacular reason. 

The trip was amazing.  But when I got back, I was disappointed that life still felt like life.  I still felt like me.  I still had questions with no answers.

Then I got a letter. 

Before I had left for Africa, I had applied for an internship with President Clinton's Foundation.  I didn't think there was a chance in hell I would get it, but that organization does some amazing work and I wanted to be a part of it.  I sent the application off just after adding the experience I was about to have in Africa to my resume.  The letter I got upon my return was an acceptance of my internship application and an assignment to the Clinton Foundation's HIV/AIDS Initiative.  No way I would have gotten that internship or that assignment without my Lesotho experience.  Just no way.

My internship lasted four months and I have never been around people who work so hard or believe in something so much.  World-changers in action.  It's a pretty incredible place to be and just what I needed at that time.

A few months later, I was facing my impending graduation from college and all I wanted was to be so lucky as to feel like I was contributing to something that made a difference every day.  The Clinton Foundation wasn't hiring in any entry-level positions at the time, and so I applied for another internship, this time with The Carter Center in Atlanta.  Another non-profit run by another president.  Another bunch of committed people doing magnificent work.  I got the internship.  Would I have gotten that opportunity without my Clinton Foundation background and experience?  Doubtful.  So, so doubtful.

This internship also meant I would be moving to Georgia, home to my mom's side of the family.  I probably wouldn't have done so if it hadn't been for the internship.  I probably would have gone to Texas, where I grew up and where my parents live, or stayed in New York.  The internship was unpaid and so with no income, I moved in with my grandma.  She lived in a small two-bedroom house in Mableton, and since my aunt had long-claimed the second bedroom, I shared my grandma's king-size bed. 

I stayed for six months.  For the first three, I went to my internship.  When it was over, I took a job at a law firm so I could determine for myself if I really wanted to go to law school or not.  After starting that job, I stayed with my grandma for another three months until I had saved enough to get my own place.

So for six months, I slept next to her every night.  I cooked with her and learned her recipes, I got to lay with my head in her lap as often as possible while she stroked my hair, I listened to her stories and laughed at her jokes.  I saw her every morning before I left for the day and I saw her every night when I came home.  I got to see her as a real person.  We ran errands together and visited family together with ever-present twin cups of homemade sweet tea in the car cup holders and I soaked up every precious second that I got to be in the presence of that precious face.  I didn't grow up near her, so even though we'd always been close, I had never spent that much continuous time with her. 

I moved out in the beginning of November.  By the end of that month, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  By New Year's she was in hospice and by the following June she was gone. 

I was there with my family for all of it, lucky to be one of the people holding her hand and loving her as hard as we could.  I got to face the most difficult experience I've ever encountered buoyed by those six months. 

Six months.  They are the greatest blessing, the greatest gift, I have ever been given. 

And I had them because more than a year earlier I saw a news special about AIDS orphans in Lesotho, Africa and I knew I had to go there.

Somebody knows what He is doing. 


chickster said...

or SHE!

SG said...

Oh Christy, I miss you so much!

Christina said...

Or she. My bad, Sher.

Sara, you have no idea. Come Saturday we'll only be a quick Metro North ride apart!