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Ask the Next Question

Farewell Message from AIDS Survival Project Program Manager

October, 1999

It's much easier on my heart to write my last article for Survival News at the beach (let's face it; it's easier to do everything at the beach). We're spending the weekend with our circle of seminary friends. At least once a year since we graduated from Candler, a group of us have gathered together. Over the years, our group has been as many as ten and as few as five, but we are committed to maintaining these relationships. These women know me well. We have taken long walks and shared long (often difficult) conversations. They are valued teachers. Continually they teach me to trust that relationships endure. Our friendships were born because of a significant time we shared together at Emory; it has lasted because we have made a commitment to being the keepers of one another's stories.

A poem from A Traveling Jewish Theater speaks well to this group's purpose: "Stories move in circles. They don't go in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you are lost, you start to look around and to listen."

Another teacher for me as I write this, is our son, Brogan. Brogan is learning to say "bye-bye." Physically, he's figuring out that everybody seems to scrunch and unscrunch one hand, and then wave that same arm up and down. He's learning that this is a universal signal between folks. He seems to be getting this communication signal pretty well. Emotionally, saying good-bye is an entirely different story. It means that somebody he cares about is going away. Brogan is learning that, usually, that person comes back, maybe not on his timetable, but still s/he returns.

October 2nd is my last official day as Program Manger at AIDS Survival Project. An opportunity has presented itself with a United Church of Christ congregation and I am moving on to that position. It's become very clear to me that in the past four years, I've been privileged to sit at my desk at AIDS Survival Project. Working in the HIV community has been a genuine experience of personal meaning-making. During this time I have been learning about and internalizing the notion of empowerment that is the mantra here. This place has re-minded me of my passion and has re-connected me with my power to claim it.

AIDS Survival Project is an amazing, power-sharing environment. My everyday work peers here have embodied the best of the notion of team. My work with the peer counselors has gifted me. These men and women have touched, nudged, taught, puzzled, provoked, embraced, and all along the way, empowered me. It has been this place that has given me what I needed for journeying into formal ministry. It is here that I have come to understand better about grace and healing and transformation.

So I turn to these two teachers as I say good-bye to AIDS Survival Project. I have learned from my seminary teachers to trust that stories do move in circles. Relationships are not linear; they are interwoven. Our stories come back over and over again. Relationships grow richer and deeper over time. As we learn to trust one another, we also learn how greatly we value one another. And I have learned from Brogan that if I scrunch up my hand and wave my arm up and down, the folks I'm communicating with will most likely come back.

My friend Gay Baby helped me with naming this column, Ask the Next Question. This phrase has been a helpful teacher for me when working with the peer counselors. It seems as though there is always another question to ask; there is always more we can learn from one another. And in that spirit, it seems fitting to end with some thoughtful questions one of my friends brought to the beach. She found them on the website, Simple Living Network:

  • What do you love? Look at times in your life when you were most alive, excited, in love with life. What were you doing during those times?

  • What kind of people do you love being around? Answer this specifically, as in the specific people you love to be with, and in general, as in the types of people you enjoy.

  • If money, time, energy and talents were unlimited, what would you do with your life and who would you be?

  • Who do you greatly admire? They may be celebrities, people from history, family members, friends or fictitious characters. What is it about these people that you admire? Is it a way of being, or set of values, or what they are up to in life?

  • What values are most important to you? It's important to distinguish between the values that you think you should feel are important, and the ones you choose of your own free will.

It's been my honor to write for Survival News each month. I've really enjoyed it and it's companioned me well. My partner Linda says that if I were Carol Burnett, I'd be pulling on my ear right now and maybe even singing a little tune, "I'm so glad we've had this time together..." That seems just about right. May all matter of things be well with you and yours. Peace.

(We will miss you SO very much Leslie <big hug>. We hope the people at United Church Of Christ know how truly lucky they are. -- AIDS Survival Project Webmaster)

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This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.