Monday, September 23, 2013

Final footsteps

The walk seemed different this time.  Each step reminded me that it all is coming to an end.  Soon, I will say goodbye.

The house is empty.  Everything inside was given away.  My only possessions are books, music, art and clothing. My car has been sold.  Only my footsteps and public transportation can get me there.
One step at a time, I’m searching for friends to say goodbye.

The urge to cry hit me again as I approached Ninth Street. Memories of conversations with friends came to me as my steps brought me closer to the coffeehouse known as my office.  I looked inside in search of Sydney before opening the door.  My urge to hug my friend quickened my steps.
She wasn’t there.

The list in my mind exposed a roll call: Owen, Laura, Sarah, Tony, Dave, Lillie, Hillary, Hannah, Charlotte, Pam, Allison.  Names kept coming like graduation day.  More tears.
Will I be able to say goodbye to all my friends?

I paused to catalogue the list by location.  A list of friends at the Beyu Caffe, a list of members of my Saturday Breakfast Club that meets at Parker & Otis, and another list of friends from the Blue Coffee Café. A list of friends I met in Church, and a group of activist friends.  I formed another list of friends who are musicians, poets and visual artist.
Too many friends to count.  Will I be able to say goodbye to all my friends?

I considered days of sadness made better by the hugs of friends.  Each friend holds a place made special by a keen awareness that something was needed in those moments.  Each friend offered a place for me to expose the bitter pain of brokenness.
Glenda, Janice and Betty – they were there the day I wept too hard to preach.  Compassion Ministries of Durham – they prayed with me, affirmed me and allowed me to cry when I could no longer pretend to be strong.

I felt my body quiver as the list expanded. Each name evoked the memory of a weak moment followed by laughter.  I closed my eyes as faces began to replace the names of those with love deep enough to keep me moving.
I will say goodbye to Durham on October 5. I moved to Durham in 1988 to attend divinity school at Duke University.  Since then, I have served two churches, written for numerous local publications and used the pen and pulpit to fight for justice and peace.

I arrived as a champion of the black faith tradition.  I saw all things colored as black and white. I found no need to promote interfaith and interracial dialogue.  I framed God and the work of the Church in ways that limited interchange.
My friends changed me.  They continue to mold me by exposing the hypocrisy of my thinking.  They help me grow by revealing the face of God in things beyond the activity of the black church.

My sadness in leaving Durham isn’t because of the numerous fine places to eat.  It’s not the blooming downtown district surrounded by other pockets of prosperity.  It’s not the emerging jazz scene and other cultural activity like the Art of Cool Project and the Bull Durham Blues Festival that makes it hard to leave.
It’s the people. It’s the diversity. It’s a community willing to grow.

I’ll take a few more steps before my column comes to an end.  Until then, I’m looking for friends to hug one last time.
I’m headed to Columbia, MO to take care of my parents. A big chunk of me will remain in Durham.

A love like this never goes away.


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