Alex Keyes End of Year Reflection
Welcome is a word that can be an automatic response to an expression of thanks, a casual greeting, or even something more meaningful. At the start of the year, we had a list of rules for community life posted on our fridge, one of which went as follows: Welcome others here and presume that you are welcomed. I have taken this phrase to heart and it has been an integral part to my year as a part of the Road. During our second night at the apartment, Laura asked us to share our "life maps" with one another, visual representations of our journeys to that point. With each unique piece of art, my housemates opened up in a way that I have rarely seen complete strangers do. We welcomed each other into our pasts and allowed ourselves to launch into the future. We allowed one another to hear parts of our life stories, even though we had only known each other for twenty-four hours. Starting with that evening, I became very comfortable around the fellows and, for the first time in quite awhile, felt as though I could be myself, in all of my exuberance, sonorousness and positivity, a part of myself that had been stifled by the strong, overbearing personalities in my college fraternity. While I loved that environment dearly, this particular community has allowed my extraverted side to flourish, a fact that has allowed me to not only personally thrive this year, but also lift the spirits of those around me. I have my housemates to thank for this, as well as our foundation of intentional living, and the atmosphere of openness, welcome and vulnerability that pervaded our space from the outset.
This idea of welcome has also been noticeable at my work site, the Frazer Center, which is, in part, a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, ranging from moderate autism all the way to severe cerebral palsy. During my first day of work, back in early September, I walked into the cafeteria for lunchtime and was taken aback by the noontime spectacle. There were smells that weren’t quite pleasing to the nostrils, and sounds that I didn’t think I’ve ever heard before. The whole scene made me pretty uncomfortable, as it seemed in the moment to be thinly veiled chaos, just waiting to burst. For the first couple of weeks at the Center, this slight discomfort remained, as I took some time to get used to the unique and distinct personalities of each of the adults, and what makes them all tick. After a while though, it all felt comfortable, second nature. Whatever preconceptions and barriers I had coming into the work melted away as I got to know the adults as the amazing individuals that they are, and not just as a population. Coming into the year, I thought that working with disabled adults would manifest itself as a caretaking postition, but it has become so much more than that. My main role at the Center is not to provide basic care needs, but to engage with the adults, to be present with them, and allow them to feel loved and welcomed. And this effect is reciprocal, as the adults allow me to feel loved when I walk through those doors at 7:00 everyday. When Justin’s face lights up when he hears the Day-O Banana Boat song, I feel at home. When Jonathan tells me that he’s having the “best day ever” (which is everyday), I feel at home. When Karina plays one of her favorite Michael Jackson songs for the thousandth time, I feel at home. When Erin asks me about the indoor water parks in Kentucky (again)… well you get the idea. As soon as I was able to learn about the adults on a deeper level, the mutual sense of welcome followed suit. These are now friends that I will miss dearly when I leave Atlanta and far more than just clients to serve or people to care for.
This sense of welcome has carried over from work and home, into my worship community. On October 11th, Addie, her father Derek, Ciara and I attended the 25th Annual Gay Pride Eucharist at All Saints Episcopal Church. The entire event was bursting at the seams with inclusivity, highlighted by a wonderful sermon given by the Rev'd Mary Douglas Glasspool about the life and service of Vida Dutton Scudder, and her role in the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strikes of 1912. I was blown away by the beauty of the choir and the sanctuary in general, and inspired by the service's messages of radical acceptance and togetherness. Especially in the context of Pride week, it seemed to be a place not just of tolerance, but of closeness and fellowship. In this initial encounter with All Saints, I was struck by how secure I felt in the space and how I wanted nothing more than to be back there. What struck me the most about this experience, however, was the closing hymn: All Are Welcome. The second-to-last verse goes as follows:
Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known. Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
What I will take away most from this year is the idea of ever-present welcome and the powerful positive effect that it can have on people's lives. I am so grateful for all of the people who have welcomed me into their communities, especially Rice City, the Frazer Center, and All Saints, because that is what has made this year so special. Going forward, I will do my best to welcome each and every person I meet into my life because you never know who might need it most. Thank you.