One Year Later: BOS>SLC
I have now been a resident of Salt Lake City Utah for a year. It does not seem possible, but 10 days ago was the anniversary of my arrival to Zion.
This has been an amazing year, one worthy of reflection.
Divesting myself of all the things I coveted for most of my life was a challenge and that came first. There are two primary dimensions of this command I feel came directly from the Lord, that have been important lessons - life changing lessons - that are worth sharing.
Value - much of my life the things in my life have offered a perceived value. A value that not only provided a sense of future security ('Well, if I get desperate I can sell___") but also as sense of self worth and worldly worth to others. Legends of the value of my things, handed down to me from predecessors, from sales people, worldly perspectives and some self generated, added weight to the perceived value of these things. What I have learned is that value (worth) is more a subjective perception than an objective reality. Not only did the things I owned not prove to be worth their legendary value, but they are no longer in great demand - tastes change. A few are still for sale in the corner of a consignment shop somewhere in rural Massachusetts. Divesting myself of the myth of all the valuable things in my life has been freeing in ways that are almost indescribable. When visitors come to my home in Salt Lake, there is no 'tour' of the items displayed to prove my worth. My home is comfortable and has good looking things but they have no perceived value beyond their cost, they have no story, no fascinating history, they are functional items that serve their intended purpose and look good enough while they do it. When visitors come, I am here, as I am. No stuff to define me, no legends of valuable things. I can finally just be me with no stuff to define me.
Memories - this was tougher as once I gained an eternal perspective material things were easier to detach from. As I went through old letters, and looked at things that had been in my life since before my birth I felt a sort of attachment that went beyond value. There was a fear of letting go that went beyond the item and touched on the memory of the events and people associated with the item. A picture my father liked, the spatula my grandmother made grilled cheese sandwich with (I couldn't let go of that, it works great), the blanket that my grandmother used as she died, my brother's collection of dice, my great grandmother's handmade bed spread, my grandfather's cuff links .. As I looked at each item there was a fear of letting go that was associated with many of them. A fear that was connected to the loss of the person or a fear that the memory would be gone if the item was gone. I kept a clock that is in a dresser waiting to be sold because it does not go with anything. A painting that I will be giving away in a few weeks, photos of travel, family and friends, a spatula, everyday dishes (all the dishes I own) and about 1/10th of my clothes. The memories? Most are still there, some are gone and I am just fine with both. I remember what I remember - I remember what is important, the love I shared with each person that I had something to remember them by. The things are gone and with them a great deal of reflective sadness and a connection to a past that is now in the past. The people and things are laid to rest. I have emptied my suitcases so they can be filled with new things - I was out of room anyway.
Leaving friends I had for close to 30 years was difficult. Letting go of those I love and moving on to welcome new people I am growing to love has been a process. What I know is that the people in my life, throughout my life, have reflected where I 'was" at that time. As a young boy my school mates were peers and they were right for that time and place. As I grew new people came along and they reflected where I was at that time and place. There are friends I partied with, people from when I worked in hospitality, when I was in the church in Naples, moved to Georgia, was in the monastery, lived in Cambridge, the North End, Chelsea, from NA meetings, and missionaries from Revere, Utah and now I have new friends that are friends for this time and place. Through each ‘phase’ of my life there have been one or two people that remained. These long time friends are a treasure not only because they are a constant in a world of flux, but because they are accepting in ways that most are not. No matter where I was, what I was doing, what I believed or how I expressed that belief, they loved me and stayed in touch in ways that are truly unconditional. These are true friends that love me, regardless of all else. They are also very rare treasures to hold dear. As we change our goals, aspersions, desires and sources of enjoyment change, and that is as it should be. As we change so do the people, places and things in our lives. I have many happy memories from the past, I still love many of the people I have known, I think of them, pray for them, but they are not 'in' my life as most traditionally understand as 'being in' someone's life. I have learned that the people in our lives are a reflection of ourselves and as we change so does our reflection.
Construction of a new place is stressful. When I closed on my condo I moved right in. I had a suit case of clothes and a blow up bed that got upgraded to a mattress on the floor after a few weeks. I found a contractor and we went to work. I did a great deal of the work, removed the popcorn ceiling, carpet, wallpaper, and some demolition. I had plans ~ but the building has quirks. Much of what I planned became complicated. I had a choice to make, stick with my plan which would require more time, planning and huge efforts or go with what the building offered without fighting to get my way. It was fascinating to watch myself as I made choices. Every choice was a conversation with myself that was along the lines of "why". Why do I want that wall down (it will make the place look bigger and people will be more impressed). Why do I want to buy that fixture (it is expensive and people will be impressed). Old ways die hard. I found that in many choices I defaulted to consider what others may think. It did not take long for me to get clued in to the fact that even though the stuff was gone, the mindset was not. I am happy to report that I learned and am so happy with my place! it works, looks good and was not a huge expensive project even though it was completely done over, top to bottom. It was built just for me, not to impress, not to do anything but function well and be comfortable.
I am just now beginning to see my purpose for being in Salt Lake. The needs here are tremendous. In all the years I sponsored others (almost 25) and all the people I sponsored (I lost count) I have never encountered so many people that need so much. The best way I can describe what is happening to me as I serve in my mission is to say, my heart is breaking. It is not breaking in a bad way - it is difficult for sure, painful for sure, but it is breaking so that it can bleed for others. As I work with the poor and needy I come to love them in a way that is deeply personal and connected, not in the way it was for me in the past - compassionate but removed. And I see God. I see Him in so many more people and places. I saw him in the hands of the man in front of Smith's yesterday that were dirty and covered in cuts and scares but felt warm and personally connected to me as our hands shook and we talked. In the deep blue smiling eyes of the man that needed skilled care but that was out of reach just five days before he was admitted to a place that can look after him for the rest of his life. In the breath of the man that is sober, working and starting to become self reliant for the first time in many years. In the dirty scared barefooted feet of the homeless woman standing in the cold long outdoor line as scrambled eggs were put on her paper plate. In the tears of the new missionary just out of MTC confused, wondering why he is not 'successful' and feeling lost because of the obstacles and other's agency, not understanding why he is successful as he always has been in his life, wondering why he is on mission, what success really is or how he must change. These images of Our Lord that I see constantly are breaking my heart so that His light can get in and so that my heart can genuinely bleed for them.
Lastly but far from least... I now know He lives. I no longer simply believe. Of all I have been given, of all I have given up - this is the true treasure and motivator for all I am, do and want to be. I stand as a witness.
Year one - done. I have been given so much through giving up so much. Yet, there is more of me to give to Him and His people. Surrender is not a 'one and done' thing. It is a life long process - bit by bit - and I have learned that the more I surrender, the more I AM.
Come on year two - I am ready