The first question that people always ask when I tell them about my project is: Why?
There are three main reasons why I started on this journey:
Healing: Finding the Path Through My Pain
I believe that 2009 was quite possibly the most challenging year of my life so far. During 2009, my father passed away after a long illness. My father was my hero. I was very close to him, and as he got sicker and sicker, I spent the year flying back and forth from Chicago to Atlanta, in exhausting round trips to try and spend as much time as I could with him, help with his care and emotionally support my mother and three sisters. He passed away in August of 2009. During this long goodbye, I also lost my only living grandmother, who passed away unexpectedly in April of 2009, in Lagos, Nigeria. So, in the middle of taking care of my father, I flew with my mother to Nigeria for my grandmother’s burial, feeling as if my mother should have someone with her as she said goodbye to her mother. In addition (as if there was not enough), I was experiencing the last death throes of a relationship that had been on and off for four years. Saying goodbye to someone I loved a great deal, in the middle of all this loss, just made the whole year that much worse. When 2010 came, I said good riddance to 2009 and welcomed the opportunity to heal from all the pain. I was open to finding a way to do that effectively.
Given that I was going through so much in 2009, one might imagine that I spent a lot of time in church, praying, and leaning on God. I did not. I was raised Christian, and started an earnest walk as an adult…but it was not, probably, the most committed or inspiring walk. I went to church, except when I did not. My prayers were more of the “Thank you God” kind before I drifted off to sleep, or the “Please God” kind followed by whatever I was hoping would happen in my life. I wasn’t winning any awards for devotion or commitment. Even knowing that about myself, it was surprising to me that in the most challenging year of my life, I found that I did not really spend that much time in church. In contemplating this, I decided to do something that would encourage me to seek God – to find Him wherever I could so that I could lean on Him as I navigated through my 2010. In this first year after a year full of loss and disappointment, I yearned to find out what the meaning of my life would be, going forward, after all of these changes. I figured that spirituality could be and should be a context within which I could process all the terrible things that happened to me, and which ideally, could provide me with some hope, some light, and quite frankly, a reason to live. This project did not let me down.
Connection: Recognizing The Kindness of Strangers
I believe in the kindness of strangers, and I wanted to soak in it as a means for healing. I have the best friends in the world – and I love them and mean that with all of my heart. But during a tragedy it is always difficult to figure out what kind of support to ask for, and how to accept it when it is offered. I knew my friends loved me, but when I was still struggling with missing my ex, or the loss of my father, I didn’t want to bother my friends or expect them to support me when I knew they were all doing the best they could to handle their own lives. More importantly, there was something wonderfully comforting in walking into a new place of worship, and knowing that, for the most part, everyone there was coming to that place, to stand before God, however they perceived Him or Her to be, to help them get through whatever life had thrown them that day, week, month, year. They were there to contribute their energy not only to fighting their own battles, but to encourage me to fight mine and keep the faith. And the love! In every service, there was a time that visitors are pointed out, welcomed, hugged, prayed for and loved. The kindness of strangers sustained me, especially during times that I was concerned that I was leaning on my friends too much, or that my grieving process was taking too long.
Remembrance: Honoring my Father, Dr. Ephraim N. Bassey
My father passed away on August 24, 2009. His funeral was on August 29, 2009. One of the hardest things that I have ever had to do is write a eulogy for my father. But, I thought, who else would do it? So, I prepared remarks and spoke at his funeral. As I thought about the things that made my father who he was, and the things that I appreciated about him, I included the following in the words I shared:
“Certainly he was a seeker of wisdom. He was a philosopher, and a healer. His parents were pillars of the Catholic Church in his village in Nigeria, which is where he began his spiritual journey. Throughout his life, he worshipped within a Christian context, but along the way he scoured the earth and studied all manners of faith, religion, and creed to find out the meaning of this life and his place in it. Many shared that they enjoyed having philosophical discussions with my father, and that they learned a great deal from him and how he viewed the world. My sisters can vouch that as we would close a phone conversation he would remind us—don’t forget to pray…make time to meditate. He once told me, “Ekpe, your life should be a prayer—all the choices you make should honor the Creator.” Those are words to live by—words that he lived by. His quest for truth and wisdom was never ending…up until his last day on this earth.”
So, with this project, I wanted to honor him –his search for truth, knowing that he would be with me every step of the way, and he was. Part of the joy and wonder of this project was the many times I was in a new worship space, and saw, heard or felt a sign from my dad, that he was with me in spirit and in my heart.