I stood within a tiny single room occupancy of a transitional housing unit for people with HIV/AIDS, thoroughly regretting that I had volunteered to serve at this San Francisco organization. I looked around the filthy room. Inches from my left leg, irregular patches of dried blood stained the white sheet that covered the double mattress. By my foot sat a bucket full of prescriptions, just below a bottle of gin and box of cocaine.
In the next few hours I would learn that the two men who had lived in this bedraggled room were deceased. One died after an extended battle with AIDS, and his lover, unable to cope with the loss took his own life in this very room. So there I stood, terrified and disgusted, wishing the volunteer coordinator would reconsider the task that he had delegated to me. The family of the latter deceased man was coming to pick up the belongings of their estranged loved one, and I was responsible for separating the items they would take and the items that would be discarded.
My mind began to race. How could I determine what was valuable in the lives of two strangers? How could I be the one to decide what things will define a man and his lover to a family that had not spoken to him in years? I should not be here, I thought to myself, because I am nothing like these other people. I felt a compelling desire to leave, but I knew I must stay for at least a short time.
I glanced around with a pale face. Where could I even begin? I decided to start with the refrigerator, the only thing that I knew would certainly be trash. I opened the silver door, and then slammed it shut when the pungent stench of rotten food hits my nose. “I cannot do this,” I said out loud. But as I stepped towards the door, something caught my eye and I stopped.
Hanging against the filthy, white, wall hung three dream catchers. I quickly thought of my own bedroom, where a similar dream catcher hangs beside my bed. My eye moved downward, to a bright poster tacked into the desk: a print by Andy Warhol, an artist I find enthralling. Next to the poster sat a Nalgene bottle, identical to the one I carry. I walked towards the desk, shaking from the realization that my discomfort has disappeared.
In those few seconds, I began to realize that I knew this person, although we never met. This room and the people who had lived there all became familiar when I looked with nonjudgmental eyes. The heaps of objects and the room itself led me to an intimate connection with these two men who had appeared radically unlike me.
I believe that the presence of something holy permeates everything that exists. This holiness causes an interconnectedness that transcends every boundary and eradicates the notion of other. When I recognize this sacredness, I am moved to act with compassion and reverence; I affirm not only that temporal beauty but also its mysterious source. When I ignore the holy, I attain the ability to be dishonest, cruel, greedy, or judgmental.
This I believe: Recognizing and revering the holy within everything and everyone in existence will bring unity, healing, and harmony to a hurting and fractured world.
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