January 15, 2008

Coming Down From The Mountain

One of my favourite Gospel stories is the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). It’s not so much what happens to Jesus that I like – though that’s fine, too – but what happens afterwards. Peter urges the group to stay on top of the mountain where Elijah and Moses are. But Jesus and his hand-picked Apostles don’t. They come down from the mountain and return to the difficult work of ministry that ultimately leads to the crucifixion. The message I – and a gazillion preachers on Transfiguration Sunday – have seen in this story is that we can’t always stay where it is comfortable and pleasant. These high moments are only a respite from the true work that goes on below.

In some ways, I feel like that in my first few days back in Itipini after my trip to Uganda. Uganda was definitely a mountaintop moment and one I’ll cherish for a while. For one thing, I’ve had to re-adjust to a lot more alone time. One of the great blessings of Uganda was spending so much time with friends my own age, who are familiar with my context and culture and speak the same language (you learn not to take all those things for granted when you’re an ex-pat). While we occasionally got on our nerves, it was overall wonderful to see John and Matt every day.

Then there is my return to work. My first day back in Itipini was the hottest I’ve felt yet. I’d like to say that the heat doesn’t affect my productivity or attitude but it’s clearly not the case. For another thing, it was a quiet day so there wasn’t a lot to do. I was immediately confronted with that whole doing/being thing I think about all the time but had skillfully evaded in Uganda.

Reality really set in when I caught up on the goings-on over our two-week break. Actually, I shouldn’t say goings-on; I should say deaths. There were at least four while we were closed, including the HIV-positive woman my age I’d invested a lot of emotion in and a 15-month old baby I’d taken to the hospital a few times. The condition of another of our HIV/TB patients deteriorated markedly over the break and he is now skin and bones. Part of me is becoming resigned to this part of this job – people with HIV are going to die and nothing I do will prevent that – but it is still sobering to think that while I was on vacation in Uganda, the suffering in Itipini did not take a holiday.

I know there are very good reasons for taking breaks – I know the 4th commandment – and I don’t for a moment think it is wrong for the clinic to close for the holidays or for me to go to Uganda. Still, that mountaintop experience is over and it is back to work.


Matthew Kellen said...

My condolences chief. While my experience has not been as extreme as people dying, the same frustrations of working in such a chaotic environment have returned, and all my visions of impacting change while on break are hitting the wall of reality pretty hard...... ahhhh such is life.

Matt Kellen

susancopley said...

Jesse, I am a priest in Tarrytown Ny. My husband is David Copley- I recently was reading your blog- and read your entry about the Transfiguraion- would it be ok to share it with my parish this Sunday- It's mission Sunday- and I would like to share some 'real life story'. (Ha... mission Sunday?- like every Sunday isn't mission Sunday.) Blessings, susan