Leaving is Hard, Part One

And so my time in DC comes to a close.  I saw it coming from miles – well, months – away…not that it made it any easier.  I applied for grad school last fall and accepted an offer from Yale in March to do a two-year Masters of Music in Choral Conducting.  I’m super excited (though probably more nervous at this moment)!  Soon after I signed the dotted line with Yale, I set my final day of work at Luther Place for May 17.  Talk about an extended goodbye!!  Months before I left, people started telling me they were going to miss me.  A lot of work went into training people to take over aspects of my job in those last few months.  I had to get used to talking about my leaving and plans for what would follow.  It was not easy!  To make things more difficult, not only did I need to train people and wrap up my work, but I was also given two final projects to do before leaving.  In a beautiful way, those two projects became two big goodbyes.  So, I’ve decided to write a blog post for each.

The first big project I accomplished before leaving was a concert on May 7 with the N Street Village homeless women’s choir I founded – Bethany’s Women of Praise (BWOP).  We’ve been singing together since the fall of 2008, and word has slowly been getting around about this ministry.  Another DC choir, the DC Labor Chorus, heard about our group and approached me about doing a joint concert which would help raise money for N Street Village.  Knowing the concert would be just a week before the end of my time at Luther Place, and fearing the amount of work that would be involved, I brought the proposal to a staff meeting and asked for advice.  My coworkers felt that it would be a great final celebration with my choir and encouraged me to do it, so…the preparation began.

Meanwhile, during this time, Aljazeera English also found out about my choir (via an article that Chorus America asked me to write) and asked to do a two and a half minute piece about BWOP (see video below).  I suddenly felt like doors were opening right as I was about to walk in the other direction!

Energy and excitement were increasing on both sides of the street as Luther Place and N Street geared up for the concert.  My biggest stressor was whether or not any of my ladies would show up.  I knew that if enough came, we’d sound just fine…but with a homeless choir, it’s hard to get people to make commitments.  Sure enough, 9 women came, and we sang our hearts out!  The concert was 2 hours long, but the 200-people audience didn’t seem to care.  Every time BWOP sang a song, we received the greatest applause!   At one point, towards the end, people were standing and clapping, and I looked over at my choir and smiled, and one of the women gave me a thumbs up.  It was a proud moment for all of us.

During the last couple of songs, I started thinking, This is my final time singing with BWOP.  This is the end of so much work and delight!  I’m walking away from such an incredible opportunity.  Tears came to my eyes, but I talked myself out of the sadness.  Enjoy every second of this, I kept telling myself.  I was so proud of myself for making it through the concert without too much grief!  The two choruses took our final bow, and Pastor Karen came up to say a few words.  I assumed she was just going to say thank you for coming and please stay for the reception.  Boy was I wrong!  She had me come down to the front and she announced my leaving and said beautiful things about my time there.  She said that they’d been thinking about what they could give me as a gift, and while they wanted to give me a million dollars, they thought the best thing they could offer me was a song.  PK went on to say that young people are into flash mobs nowadays, so she’d like to lead one for me now.  I laughed and shook my head in almost-disbelief.  Then she began to sing Oh Happy Day, and the entire audience sang back up.  As she sang the lead, members from Luther Place slowly came up front and surrounded me, all singing and smiling.  I lost it.  I have been so blessed by my time there, and to be surrounded by literally hundreds of people that care about me was too much to take in.

After the beautiful song, BWOP had one more thing in store – a gift of a bright pink guitar they had all signed.  One of my ladies wanted to present it to me, but as she took the mic to speak, she began crying and just yelled out, “I love you.”  I said it back and we hugged as tears rolled down our faces.  The pink guitar was mysteriously donated to N Street a couple weeks back, and a few of the ladies saw it and decided I had to have it!  What an evening full of joy.

My friend Summer Amanda had just given me a book called Small Pleasures: Finding Grace in a Chaotic World.  In it, there happens to be a brief chapter called “Flash Mobs: The Joy of Organized Chaos.”  The writer describes that evening of May 7 better than I could:

Flash mobs are a testament to our capacity for communal joy.  Joy is good for the immune system and it keeps us in the game of working for the betterment of all life on this precious planet.  I don’t believe it is frivolous to burst out in celebration with others.  Indeed, it is an antidote to pain, despair, and disillusionment.  In short, celebration just might be the key to our survival.

The next chapter in the book is called “Celebrate Fiercely.”  And that’s exactly what we did for the next 10 days.


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