The Longest Night (Part 1)

22 Dec

The holiday season offers us all a variety of emotions. You can feel a part of the excitement and holiday spirit. You might look forward to some time off or hope for some time on. You may dread the family drama or look forward to seeing everyone together… or both. This may be your first holiday away from family or just one of many. You could be celebrating a holiday bonus or stressing over your holiday budget. At times, your thoughts may turn to those far away or no longer here.

On Christmas, I remember the loved ones who are no longer with me. On New Year’s Eve, the news media remembers the famous lives lost and recaps the horrors of the past year. This two-part blog post is about two other days this December on which I’ve taken time to remember.

December 8, 2011: Peter’s Retreat Annual Memorial Service

Peter’s Retreat is a supportive housing program for people living with HIV/AIDS who would otherwise be homeless. During my last AmeriCorps term with Hands On Hartford, I was fortunate enough to spend time and develop friendships with the residents of this home. Each December, around World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), Peter’s Retreat holds a memorial service to remember the friends who passed away and to honor the lives of friends lost in previous years.

Just four days before this year’s memorial service, a longtime resident of Peter’s Retreat and much-loved member of the community passed away. She remembered the names of our entire AmeriCorps team from the first time we were introduced. She smiled at and greeted everyone who entered Peter’s Retreat and she never missed an opportunity to get her nails and hair done. Together, we remembered her on December 8th at a wonderful service organized by another Public Ally, Emily Kaas.

In fact, the service was so wonderful that I wished many times to take pictures of the beautiful scenes or to film the heart-wrenching rendition of Amazing Grace performed by one of the residents. The problem wasn’t that I had forgotten my camera… it was fully charged and in my pocket. The reason I didn’t take pictures or video is that Peter’s Retreat is devoted to protecting the anonymity of its residents. After the room cleared, I took a picture of the candles that were each lit by a different member of the Peter’s Retreat community.

As each candle was lit, a name was recited and a life was remembered. To me, the candles began to symbolize lives that, in some way, society kept anonymous.

Continued in Part 2…

Philip Drew – Hartford, CT

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