Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in a fit of tears and heaving deep sighs as I have thought about my friends graduating and leaving the Seminary. For them, this experience may have been a simple stop on life's journey. For me, my time in Cleveland has been life-affirming. I would dare say that it has been an 'adventure', but that waxes far too childish, and fails to capture the soulful sentiment. My experience in Tennessee has been what it truly means to live. Yes, I am so confident as to say that I have finally begun to live. I have branched out to many places. I have traveled to quite a few places in Alabama, Georgia, mid-Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan. For you, this may seem like nothing. For me, it has meant meeting and connecting with a wealth of people that I would never have met otherwise. I think of how much healing would have been lost if I had not come into fellowship with such beings. How many hearty laughs would have never escaped these lips! These people have been conduits of God's healing in my life.
I moved to Tennessee with my New York walls still up.
I have been deeply hurt many times in the past.
I have been made fun of in the most ugly ways and by people I thought were my friends and allies.
I have been used and then pushed to the side when I said, 'no'.
I have been rejected.
I have had many failed attempts at connecting with people. They never seemed to be interested in me, but only what I might be able to offer them. I remember walking alone at Lehman College, thinking: "Is this life?" I had recently driven a new car off the lot of a local Honda dealership. My grades were at their peak. I was graduating Magna Cum Laude. I had money in the bank. I had nice clothes. I had a good job. But I felt sorely disconnected. Even though the people at my church were nice, I still felt grossly misunderstood. I always felt the need to be über masculine in front of my Jamaican male peers. In order to protect myself, the walls went up. Only occasionally did I peek out from behind them in search of a meaningful connection.
I arrived at the Seminary, thinking that my time here would be 'in-and-out'. I even refused to buy things because I felt that I would soon be on my way back to New York. I spent the first few weeks of my time 'in character'--Mr. Businessman. The one who was looking about himself and did not have time for anyone. The one who was always impeccably dressed. The one who had the resources to get whatever he needed.
But then I met them, and my gilded everything came crashing down around me.
I'm talking about a casual invitation that I received from a classmate one afternoon. I was working at the library when he came in that day and invited me to go with to the movies with a friend of his after my shift. I was hesitant--I didn't know him. But I agreed. We saw The Maze Runner that night with another nice young lady that he knew. It was an epic film, somehow foreshadowing the risks and seeming labyrinth of emotions that would mark my journey.
We rode back in his chalky blue Hyundai. A joke was made, and I laughed. I laughed. The laugh was enshrouded with sadness. I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed since moving to Tennessee. It was at that point that I became aware that my heart was aching for community. The 'Mr. Businessman' character began to shrink away as they broke in on me. Yes, they broke in on me--with hugs, with questions, with quality time. They have helped to walk me through forgiveness of past hurts. The day before my birthday, I talked with one brother-in-Christ for six hours--STRAIGHT!
The new places I mentioned going to before, it's been with my friends. It feels like I have seen the world with them. I was recently pondering on the genre of literature, the Bildungsroman Novel. In this type of work, we often have a young inexperienced protagonist, who develops and experiences the world. At a definitive point in the novel, you can reflect and think about how different and enriched the character has become. I have realized that the reason the Bildungsroman reflects so poignantly with me is that I see myself in such characters. In Tennessee, I have developed. I have experienced. I have finally lived.
All of this brings me to my central focus. In a few months, a number of my friends will be graduating and a few moving away. It's inevitable. As much as I have expressed my love to them, God has glorious plans for us all, and we 'needs must go'. In fact, we would do the world a disservice to remain locked together in a little bubble. Yes, I am the one who, way before anyone else, will realize that the ride may soon be over and begins telling people how much I love them and the blessing that they have been to me. And this is how I feel right now. It's hard to say, but it feels something like chewing a bitter herb. Like singing with your friends in a musical, and the show is not quite over yet, but you can count on a few fingers the number of songs left. If you're 'lucky', you may get an encore--but you still must part.
Because of my inability to say goodbye, I have often thought of myself as, perhaps, too clingy. This is also a part of the reason I had the walls up. I did not want to bond deeply with someone, only to have them leave.
I'm afraid of being forgotten.
The least-expected person that I mentioned at the outset of this post, is just like me. God used her as mirror for me to see my own giftedness. I cannot forget you, like the Prodigal Son was not forgotten by his father. We might meet 10 years from now and I will remember you and what you did for me. I cannot forget you because God does not allow me to. I remember names, faces, details, scents. I remember you. As I sat and talked with my friend, I began to weep--I have a gift! I have a gift!
How much is this needed in the Body of Christ? For the timid loner to be drawn in from the margins and known and remembered? For the rejected and those who feel left out, to be hugged and loved and given laughter?
A part of my fear in my friends' leaving is that I might go back to being 'alone in Cleveland' again. But more room is made in my heart as I bond with new people. Soul-connections aren't just seasonal. They become a part of who you are.
Yes, I am very much praying for an encore! to our time together. Only our loving Father knows where the road will lead us. But even if it leads us apart:
"Yes, I remember you."