Notes From the Intersection: Chapter 1
I had a little anniversary yesterday. I have worked for two years now in HIV service provision, and in hindsight, loved every minute of it. Well, ninety percent, which isn't a poor figure. I know by some standards that two years is practically fresh out of the gate, but I think anyone who works in a high-stress, fast-paced field would understand how these last two years have felt much more ... involved.
I know it can be trite to use anniversaries as a chance to look back. But still, in our goal-oriented culture, you are more likely to be introspective at those periods when you suddenly realize the earth has been moving, and you've been traveling the same trajectory. We humans dearly love progress, and one of the sure methods for defining progress is revisiting one's journey. So, trite or not, I started thinking about all the things that have brought me here, to this office, in this town, with these coworkers and friends -- and what keeps me here? This is not the kind of question that anybody necessarily wants to ask. I don't mean it to be intimidating. It can be a good question, the kind that provokes you to take stock. Consequently, I decided to clarify all the reasons that I choose to stay here.
Somewhere in the middle of this random composition was my job. There is no other place I would rather be. I remember the first thought I had when I began my time at this little AIDS service organization. I thought, "I'll never have to volunteer again. My vocation will be my community service." Well. There's nothing like the defeat of expectation. I stumbled on a truth after I started here, and one that I'm sure I would have heard ifI had listened to the right sources. Giving of oneself and one's time increases the desire to give more of oneself. It is a delicate line to walk. I needn't say more than that I love my work -- a privilege that too few can claim. I get to take a part in the efforts of agencies like ours to improve the lives of people in the HIV positive community. I view this as a gift, and it is certainly part of what keeps me rooted and connected to my life.
I added to my list for most of the day. Having realized how blessed I am to work in a place with supportive coworkers and a passionate mission, having realized that there were a host of details about my little city that made it dear to my heart, and even more, that such gifts do not always come to the young and transient, I circled around to the original question. What keeps me here -- and what keeps me going?
I must look beyond myself for the restorative power necessary to make it through the years; perhaps most of us do. Spirituality, pastimes, partners, home and garden, the quiet center of solitude. They sound familiar because they are acknowledged avenues for finding something larger, perhaps separate, from oneself. Nobody could deny that tedious or painful times come to us all -- usually for longer than we would like. The dreaded 'burnout' we speak of is merely this -- depleting oneself, and finding no way to be restored. In that respect, burnout is far from being the bane of social service alone; it is merely the name that a specific vocation has found to describe the malaise of the weary.
Having said that, where can we turn for a reprieve? For a new reason to stay where we are, doing what we do? My personal list revealed that my friends and coworkers, books, music, solitude, and art all play a role in bringing me back to myself. This would undoubtedly be a very different list for someone else. The point is to find what you love -- and always to look for a better, deeper way to grasp it. More importantly, it is essential to keep oneself open to new possibilities. Take a look at any of the numerous studies that verify the direct line between quality of life and increased health; there's reason enough to explore and deepen your interests. This exploration is an examination of who you are, and answering that can clarify just exactly what keeps you here -- wherever that may be for you.
I'm always encouraging my clients to embrace something new; how can I do the same? What keeps me here? I want to study these questions, which is bound to take time -- maybe a lifetime. Questions that lie in the interrelation between you, your chosen family, your pursuits, decisions, loves, fears ... so many crossing paths. Part of what makes life so amazing is what happens when the different aspects of who we are combine, overlap, even repel, like a highway interchange. My current theory is that answers to why we remain faithful to life and its demands can lie in those spaces -- the spaces between, where all the things that make up you and your existence intersect. In what I hope will be a regular column, I want to encourage others, and myself, to look into all the ways that art and music, travel, relationships, and more can help you to grow and be renewed.
Those of us living and coping with HIV know that life offers us a thousand and one intersections. Perhaps we can find more strength to keep going by taking the time to investigate the intersections of life -- and maybe, find more reasons to stay here. Start your own list of what keeps you here. Let me know how it goes.
Lucas Walker is a domestic violence/sexual assault victim's advocate, freelance writer, and the Volunteer Resources & Program Assistant at the Northern Colorado AIDS Project. He may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was provided by PWA Coalition Colorado. It is a part of the publication Resolute!.