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An Unexpected Kinship

butterflyFiona Soltes is a freelance journalist writing in the Nashville, TN, area. She recently shared the following on her FaceBook page and has given BuddyHollywood permission to repost it.

Back in 2008, as I prepared for my first African missions trip, I knew I’d be headed to areas of extreme poverty and high numbers of people with HIV/AIDS. As a leader with dozens of teens under my charge for the month, I wanted to have my facts straight—and I wanted to better understand the virus and its effects.

My first step was to sign on as a volunteer with Nashville Cares. (Missions work doesn’t always involve flying overseas; as amazing as that can be, we have so many opportunities to serve right here!) So I went through some basic education, and was given an assignment: the opportunity to regularly visit, encourage and work puzzles with one of the organization’s HIV-positive clients. (The puzzles, a favorite activity, helped calm her nerves; she was mostly homebound.)

For privacy’s sake, I can’t share much about her. But I can tell you that continuing to visit her over these more than six years has enriched my life in more ways than I could have imagined. Sometimes I’d see her once a month, sometimes two. Sometimes, as she worked through her multiple health problems, I’d visit her several times a week—especially when she was in the hospital. We celebrated birthdays, Christmas and Easter. I learned about public housing, drug use, life on the street, government checks, public transportation, chronic illness and race. But I also learned about simplicity, and what it means to persevere with faith.

When I took her to the grocery or helped her run errands, she’d always proudly introduce me as her sister—quickly adding that God simply left her in the oven a little longer when folks raised an eyebrow at my lighter skin. And even if we started a visit with her—or me!—in a stubborn, ornery mood, we always got around to a good laugh sooner or later.

Well, I got the call yesterday that she had passed, and it left me with such a mix of emotions: grief and loss, yes, but also feelings of gratitude and relief that she no longer had to experience her body’s deterioration. She wasn’t yet 60 years old. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she knew and loved her Jesus, and was ready to be with him.

Today, I’ll be spending some time with her longtime significant other, helping him sort through final details. Life will be different for him now, no longer responsible for her care. Since her last stroke a year and a half ago, it’s been a lot.

But I dare say that life will be different for me without her, too. I have been moved, challenged, stretched, loved and humbled by this soul—one whose path I might never have crossed without that step out so many years back. She mattered—just not in a way that society typically measures value, through career success or education or possessions. And I just wanted to publicly give her the honor she was due.

So, thank you for the gift of your time in reading this, allowing me to do so. She was my sister, every bit as much as I was hers, and she will truly, truly be missed.