Our stories are like a book unfolding, pages worn and marked, dog-eared to recall at a later time. Sometimes the page turns and we do not love what the next chapter holds. I thought my chapter of graduate school would go a certain way. I entered it with a grand naiveté and glamour around the experience. I was so pulled together- what could possibly go wrong?
Well, don’t ever ask that. With my notebook perfectly tabbed and articles annotated, I dove into every assignment and essay. Everything was turned in promptly and neatly. Then there came a day when that was not the case. The disruption of tragedy entered my life as I recently lost a loved one to suicide. As hectic as graduate school could be, this was and still is a far greater disorientation that I ever could be ready for. I have discovered that the death that is chosen is hardest to grieve. This loss is still new to me.
As the days and weeks pass on, I find it hard to focus in class. I slip through the day facing waves of sadness; showing up for class is sometimes a chore. Yet here, amidst my messiness, I found a place of solace and reprieve. Enter SFD: 601.
I am currently in Prayer, Presence, and Practice (SFD 601) led by Dr. Pat Loughery, one of our phenomenal adjunct professors. Here, we explore various forms of prayer, examine our own spiritual practices in our stories, and wonder what it might look like to encounter the Sacred in new, different, and intentional ways and equip others to do likewise. Sounds great, right? It is but it felt like the thing I least wanted to do amidst tragedy. Everything in life became messy, confusing, and difficult.
I met over coffee with Pat (because that happens regularly here) and we spoke about death, depression, spiritual direction, church, photography and more. More helpful than what he said, was his willingness to be present. A willingness to walk into murky waters and hold hope that as I navigated what it meant to experience this loss, Pat and many others surrounded me with grace and care. Our prayer class leaned into what we are learning: we prayed together. I received gifts of words and wisdom that are still too near and intimate to share but that have helped hold hope for me amidst sadness. I was in a place of having no words to express my feelings (and some days I still find myself there) and this group of people, this class, became community. They sheltered, held, and hoped for me when I did not feel capable of it. This school holds you as a person bearing a story worth telling.
These are the things we cannot plan for. There are people who give us gifts that we can never match. I struggle to write this, aware that words seem to fail. But, in a posture of gratitude to professors who hold hope for you, to peers who look you in the face and let you push through the moments that are harder to write, I give my thanks. Tragedy happens and we are blessed to engage it and invite others to meet us face to face in those moments. It can be in those places of brokenness that the greatest image of Christ is found.