Where I come from. Part Three: My friend Newell or Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone (1) - blog by BluePoppy


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Where I come from. Part Three: My friend Newell or Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone (1)
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Posted 04-Apr-2015 at 11:11 PM (23:11) by BluePoppy
Updated 08-Apr-2015 at 02:15 AM (02:15) by BluePoppy

In memoriam W. Newell Hendricks (1943-2015)

Where I come from has many aspects. Family, social and racial background, beliefs of all sorts, education, thoughts and books I have been exposed to, travel and last but not least the people I have met along the way. I have no particular order in which I write about those influences. I’d rather like to follow my daily inspirations, wherever they will take me.

I worked my way through college by working in hospice care. While some of my friends worked as part-time waiters I couldn’t see myself spending time in bars and restaurants to earn a living. Hospice care on the other hand offered a calm, sometimes sober, work environment where time no longer mattered. Not in a sense that you would hang out all day doing nothing, but everything was done with great care and a purpose in mind. Nothing was ever rushed, the team was tight-knit and when somebody new joined the group of caretakers, time was put aside to get to know one another first, before heading out and working with clients. It was an education in many ways. The seemingly simple act of sitting by someone’s bedside during the night for many nights made me realize fairly early on in my adult life what mattered most to me.

Even though it has been years since I worked in hospice, death has been a part of my life ever since. I have worked in conflict zones and “specialized” in war, genocide and trauma. It’s maybe an eerie specialization, yet, looking at the pain of others, acknowledging that the situation they are in is caused by fellow humans, and witnessing the trauma is something at least some of us journalists do.

By the same token, I have been a seeker for most of my life. In my early years in journalism I thought maybe this was the wrong path for me and started a second education at divinity school. At one point I needed to find my field education placement. I was living in Boston and had just recently joined a Presbyterian/UCC congregation where I felt both welcomed and at home.[1] I had never felt that way before about a religious community let alone a congregation. Asking if they would consider taking me as a field ed student for a year seemed the natural next step. I was thrilled when I got a yes.

While the entire year was one big moment of learning, I quickly became part of the pastoral team that included two female pastors (one of whom was gay), an administrator, another field student (who was also gay) and a Director of Music. The congregation was (and is) open and affirming and included many gay and adoptive families from various backgrounds. One of the reasons I immediately felt at home probably had to do with the fact that I found my personal beliefs being very much alive here.

Aside from weekly staff meetings, church services and gatherings, I had my supervisor (one of the pastors) as well as my academic advisor to work with. The one person with whom I least interacted with was the Music Director – Newell. A quiet, gentle and soft-spoken man with a great love of music who played the organ, the piano and the guitar; who sang and directed the choir. Quite unexpectedly church music became a new source of spiritual happiness for me.

From what I gathered Newell had been a member of the church for the longest time. Yet, I felt awkward in his presence. Looking a bit like a hippie from the sixties (or my stereotype thereof), there was something about him that I couldn’t put into words at the time, something that made me feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, aside from the weekly staff meetings I had no reason to interact with him much and so in the beginning I didn’t.

The first time I got to know Newell a bit better was when we were preparing the visit of a delegation from the church's sister community Dulce Nombre de Jesus [which would translate into 'Sweet Name of Jesus'] in Nicaragua. While I had visited this Central American country before, I had no idea what the relationship between a rural Christian Base community and a North American open and affirming congregation would or could look like.

On their website, the church describes it as follows:
The relationship is one of mutual understanding and learning, of deepening appreciation of each other's cultures and values, and of encouraging each other in our attempts to live out the values of our Christian faith.

During our visits, we learn about each others' lives, our economic and political realities, tell our personal stories, share worship and teach each other songs, prayers, and games. Between visits, we communicate by monthly letters and are strengthened by our ongoing relationship. About 60 different members of our congregation have visited Dulce Nombre de Jesus, almost half of them as youth, and we have received several delegations from the village here in Boston.
Newell had been visiting Dulce Nombre many times already and was very active in the church group that called itself “The Nica Companions” and that basically was in charge of fostering the relationship with Dulce Nombre. Whenever Newell talked about Nicaragua and the people there, he started to beam. You could immediately tell that this was an important part of his life and a source of great joy...

[1] Disclosure: I usually don’t talk much about my belief/s and I certainly don’t write about it. However, let me just add that while I was brought up Lutheran, I am of mixed Christian/Jewish heritage. My paternal grandfather had survived Terezín concentration camp during the Holocaust. He was ridden with survivor’s guilt which seems to have reflected constraints against the expression of rage toward the Nazi perpetrators as much as those who failed to protect him and others from those torturous events. Instead of expressing his rage outwardly, my grandfather directed his feelings at himself and his son who was born out of wedlock to a Gentile - my father.

Note: Part two of this blog post looks at what I learned from Newell and what I will remember him by.

Postscriptum: I had started this blog post a week ago thinking of a visit with Newell a year ago when I was back in Boston. He was battling cancer and we spent a good afternoon talking about life and all that comes with it. Yesterday as I was about to post, I got news that Newell had died peacefully surrounded by family yesterday morning as the sun was rising.

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  1. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    This is very good, and important to living. Many thanks!
    Posted 05-Apr-2015 at 07:17 PM (19:17) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  2. Old Comment
    BluePoppy's Avatar
    Thank you for your kind comment. I am grateful for this opportunity of reflection. Part II of this post will go online tomorrow. Best wishes!
    Posted 07-Apr-2015 at 02:41 AM (02:41) by BluePoppy BluePoppy is offline
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