This life in the city at St. Anna’s

An evening in the city. It is about six in the evening in this old city. I step out of my office on the second floor of a very old home, now a parish house “Gordon Maginnis House”, and take a moment to enjoy the perfect weather, the warmth, there is a trumpet playing on the streets somewhere. It is as clear as a bell. It’s back up music are some kids playing in a school just a block from us. It is the old “35” school. I have just come back from a Conference of the Academy for Professionalism in Health Care (APHC) with the theme “Social Justice & Professionalism.” Dr. Doukas is the President this year and I have the privilege of being a part of a newly developing Department of Ethics and Humanities at the Tulane School of Medicine where he is the Chair. The theme was addressed and is being addressed on so many levels and in so many ways. I am amazed. I also draw no small comfort in hearing language like “love” in the academy, “dignity”, “active listening”, all patient centered. There is a sensitivity to First Nation peoples, to the systemic challenges of racism, of how the profession responds to women both professionally and as patients. Take heart there is a strong moral compass in the Medical world and it is seeking justice and inclusion. The day was good and I was preparing to say our little evening mass on a Wednesday.

Just to set the tone, earlier just a short time before my gaze at our roof tops, I met with a remarkable young lady. She is an “alumnus” of Anna’s Place NOLA. The last time that I saw her was when she was 12 or 13 years old. She is now 19 years old. She is a remarkable human being. When we parted company it was not her doing. Her mother is an addict and now homeless. She was embarrassed to keep coming to Anna’s Place because her mother was always running a game on us. Her words not mine. Yet, Anna was the one place that she felt safe and cared about. Her words not mine. Eventually, her mother’s addictions would play out into homelessness including this young woman. At age 15 the streets seemed the only possibility and she basically parted company with her mother. There is much more to this tragic story but let it suffice to say that her life by age 15 was the hardest imaginable and filled with so much physical and spiritual trauma that it would break almost anyone regardless of age.

She put her bunny up for adoption. As she faced homelessness and life on the streets she wanted to find a home for her pet bunny. The wonderful punctuation in an otherwise hurtful life was that a family not only adopted the bunny but gave her shelter, care, a safe place (perhaps for the first time in her life) to live. What a grand segment in time. Now, enjoying a little stability and no longer fearing each sunrise she began to flourish. As of this writing she has come “home” to St. Anna’s and will be working with our kids this summer. She is on full scholarship to a State University. She has moved back in with her host family for now. She is one of the most self-aware people I have ever met and to that end she is seeking counselling and health care access which we are helping her out with. So, all of that with joy, began the time when the sun started to set on Wednesday May 15, 2019.  I spent a moment on the steps and looked at our city.

I spent a few quiet moments in the church before opening it up for mass. I like the quiet in our church and it is a lovely vista indeed. Sometimes, though I constantly see all that is there, my attention is drawn to one thing or another and in the evenings usually stained glass and the way light filters into our sanctuary. Being a small parish priest there is always multiple concerns, needs, and programs to be attended to. I am told that I don’t take enough “me time” to regenerate. That is likely very true. Equally, I was taught by an old Bishop to care and love “your people” and to put the church before yourself. Right or wrong that seems to be the way that I am wired. I am good with that and for the better part so is my wife Vicki. That said, I live for those quiet moments of reflection of being in the church, of listening to my foot falls on the wooden floors, alone and at peace with my God. This day was no different and because of all that preceded perhaps richer and fuller than some days: “Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God…”

As our little group gathered, not more than 5 or 6, there was the chatter of catching up, debriefing from the day, and joining us was Charlie. Charlie is a very faithful member of our church and his family (worthy of a blog post unto itself) is an example of devotion to each other and to the community. I recalled the St. Luke window high above the baptismal font glowing. I thought just for a moment, what a healer what a physician our little group has in Christ. The Propers for the evening were once again the Evangelist John and Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” So, through the filtered light of stained glass we prayed together, broke the bread, drank the blood of Christ and worshiped in simplicity with grace. If that is not enough Charlie and I sat, after mass, on the stoop in front of church. It was just that kind of evening. He with pride and joy told me about his son Sam and how amazing the lad is. He told me about his daughters. It is joyful when, despite challenges, one can share in the joy that Charlie so well expressed and his love of his family was so evident. It added balance to my earlier experience with our almost homeless alumnus.

That night was a quiet evening. Nothing special, just my wife, my dogs, and me. We ate some good salad for dinner. Watched some TV and talked a bit. As usual, dogs got fed, followed by bedtime snacks (they know and go nuts at about 9:00 p.m.) Then snuggling up with each other and our respective novels. Then sleep.

Over coffee, by myself, enjoying our somewhat rural backyard I started this day. As the sun began to come out I  read the news feed on my phone. Today, I was very upset to see that a woman was murdered near the Clover Grill in the Quarter. That part of the Quarter is a place that I enjoy. Several friends and some of our parish members are known there as well. Our community was violated with violence once again. I noted several FB posts offering prayers, and extending ears to listen for those traumatized by the event. In the midst of darkness there is light. Zak offering a kind ear to others and his presence of person (Zak is both a drag Queen and trauma trained nurse at UMC). The psychic violence that falls upon close knit communities is sometimes palpable. I was also immediately reminded of the four people shot in St. Charles Parish just the evening before. That also then connected me to an event intended to bring peace to our communities. The event was called Peace on the River and while it did not bring in a lot of folks for a variety of reasons it was a starting statement that at least some people in our community were prepared to play a long game for social justice and peace – over years if necessary – in collaboration with Faith Based community work and local businesses. There seems, always, to be nexus and connection in the world that we live in. We really need to connect the dots. To understand completely that the world is neither too bleak nor too buoyant. The world is both-and. In less than 48 hours I have been exposed to heroism in a young girl, hope in a medical community, prayerfulness in faith community. I have shared the joys and disasters of parents. I have soaked up the vesper light and I know that God is.

Such is the life in an urban inner city parish. A life well worth being a part of and a time where our interconnectedness matters. Peter stepped out of the boat on a rough sea. He walked, he sank as his faith wavered, Jesus reached down and lifted him up. “I am the vine. You are the branches” we are interconnected and need to be interdependent. One bread one body, one cup for all.