I am of the mind that human beings are deeply anxious about death, but are often ignorant of the ongoing process of dying. My life in New Haven, CT, and at Yale has been, in reality, many lives, marked by times of decline and ascension, death and rebirth. I have only been able to live freely and authentically in this physical and temporal space because I have learned to accept the necessity of dying, to embrace the turning over of soil that both buries my former ways and breaks ground for my new beginnings.
I was born into this space as an undergraduate student of molecular and cellular biology, imagining a life as a surgeon. I think it is safe to say that dream was laid to rest some time ago. I found new life as a master’s student in education, a biology instructor, a pastor, a poet, and so many other frames of existence and action. But it was at the confluence of those identities, in the fall of 2008, that the life I had been constructing died yet again, and not by my own hand. In that year, I lost my father to multiple sclerosis in his 48th year, and my 24th. I also experienced the painful death of a romantic relationship. In so many ways, my supposed future and my confirmed past faded away so that only the moment was visible.
In that visible moment, I decided to leave behind the relative security of a teaching position, and the pastoral labor of the parish, and apply to Yale Divinity School. I decided that if my days were numbered, they ought to be spent in devotion to those things I had long considered, but neglected. I had felt a calling to ministry for some time, and believed that thorough training and reflection should accompany my call. Once again, the death knell sounded on a life I had known so well.
Reborn as a Yale student for a third time, I found myself awakened to a new academic and spiritual community. Marquand Chapel became the heartbeat of my liturgical immersion, so much so that I became a chapel minister in my second year. My theological life stretched upward and outward through growing pains and healing conversations. At the end of my first year, in my last class of the second semester, I experienced a crystallizing moment in which my calling to academia as a ministry became real for me. Now, I find myself in preparation for Ph.D. work in the study of religion at Vanderbilt University, focusing on Homiletics and Liturgics.
I have heard it said that the light one approaches at death is one entering another world as a newborn. I believe this metaphor has been an apt one for my experiences thus far. When confronted with the specter of endings and dramatic changes, it is easy to imagine the most negatively apocalyptic ending. On many occasions, I have found myself wondering how God was at work when it seemed that the goals I conceived would crumble like so many castles of sand. On the contrary, what I truly endured was the necessary death of low expectations and limited imaginations. There were possibilities that could only be known when I relinquished my grip on a comfortable, safe, predictable life.
I’m no longer afraid of the cycle of death and rebirth. I do not harbor those old anxieties about my future. The call to walk out on the water does not fill me with the dread of drowning beneath the waves. Rather, I am confident that the work God has begun will not be ended until it is complete. Even now, as I mourn the passing of my time at YDS, I embrace the light on the other side. This death has no sting, and the grave of past shortcomings has no victory. I leave the life I built at Yale with a light heart and a joyful spirit. I have more lives to live.