I haven’t traveled out of the Americas in over 25 years. Even my New Testament Greek is rusty. Yet, in less than three weeks I am leaving, with my daughters, for six weeks in Greece. The anxiety is starting to kick in.
The trip is the first part of my sabbatical – a precious and generous gift from my congregation and profession. This sabbatical is about walking with courage into the blessing of being with those we do not know and who speak another language. That is the challenge of the community engagement Faith Presbyterian Church is moving toward. We know the trepidation of stepping out into unknown and unfamiliar places with people who don’t share our language. We are longing for the blessing that comes when we walk forth with courage and love.
My nicely constructed plans for moving carefully into my sabbatical – including this journey to Greece – were scuttled by my husband’s health. In January, Gene was evaluated with an extraordinarily high risk of pancreatic cancer. Figuring out where to stay in Corinth or relearning my zetas from my thetas didn’t fit into the schedules of doctor appointments and worry. I’m not sure I even know where my luggage is.
Instead, we were plunged into another foreign country. It has an entirely different language of mucilaginous cysts and gastroenterological psychologists. We had to figure out the geography of an organ we wouldn’t have been able to locate on a map of the body, prior to this excursion.
Gene had surgery, on Monday, to remove the suspiciously changing organ.
I am beginning to understand this time is a different kind of preparation for walking into the blessing of being with those who were unknown and know another language and yet are on the journey with us.
My husband is uniquely suited for this open-hearted sojourn. Gene presumes that everyone he meets in a long lost relative. He can usually establish a seven-degrees-of separation connection in a series of almost overly personal questions.
Everyone and everything and every procedure was unfamiliar and unexpected to us, yet, Gene made certain to meet our companions on the way.
Gene got the background of his surgeon – not so much “where is your degree from” as “why did you pick this specialty?” Gene elicited the aspirations of the resident (a frat brother), the attending, the night nurses, the day nurses, the aides, the housecleaner and the guy who took the order for his so-called meals.
Because of Gene’s persistent, genuine interest, he knows more about someone’s pregnancy than he wanted. But, along the way, he encouraged one person after another in their dreams for education, marital happiness, professional attainment, financial stability, or a retirement home in their country of origin.
Annie – an inspired and dedicated aide – declared that Gene was her long-lost father. She announced that he had gone to Liberia long ago and had a relationship with her mother. With a impish smile, Annie said, “I am so glad to finally meet all my little sisters.” With an equally impish quirk of the eyebrow, our youngest daughter said, “Well, welcome to the family, Annie.” We have the number of one of Annie’s daughter, who needs a connection for work in community health and we grieved together at the sudden death of a dear co-worker.
Gene and Annie are onto something. We are family. We are all connected. We all have stories.
We have languages and geography that appear to separate us.
Yet, if we keep walking, if we keep talking, if we keep listening, our stories mingle. We realize we know one another. We discover once again that we are deeply connected. We are a blessing to each other.
I haven’t packed my bags. Greek is still Greek to me. I’m not sure where we will be staying on the third day.
Still, I feel as if my sabbatical has begun. We are walking into blessing everyday.