Monday, June 18, 2012

Place Matters

In public health it is often said that place matters.  In other words the built environment which includes accessibility to safe places to exercise, grocery stores, transportation, employment, and civic services person lives directly influences their health outcomes.  Lately I have been thinking about how place also matters for me spiritually.  I've been back in the United States four months and in between finishing and defending my dissertation, serving as a teaching assistant for two classes, and graduating, I've criss-crossed the country visiting friends and family before returning to Cameroon and then on to Niger.  In the next two years it is unlikely that I will be back in the States for this long, so I wanted to take advantage of seeing as many people as I could. In the process, I returned to many places that are spiritually significant to me.  Some I visited on purpose, one completely accidentally.

A couple of weeks ago I was flying from California to Florida to visit some college roommates.  My plane was delayed from California so I missed my connecting flight in Dallas.  This meant that I was booked on the next flight the following morning that involved connecting through Chicago with a 2 1/2 hour layover.  The minute I arrived in Chicago and looking at the signs for my next gate, feelings of anxiety washed over me.  I knew this wasn't simply related to travel and then remembered that I flew through Chicago in January 2011 on my way to Cameroon to begin my doctoral research.  At that time, I was filled with concerns if this project would really work.  If I was physically, emotionally, and mentally strong enough to complete everything that had to be done in order to make all of the deadlines to graduate in June 2012.  During that layover I was making last phone calls to American friends, unsure of how well we would be able to stay connected while I was away.  All of those feelings of uncertainty returned with a simple sighting of the Concourse K sign.    

During this recent layover I went and sat in O'Hare's urban garden.  The urban garden is in between Terminals 1 and 2  and provide fresh vegetables to the restaurants in the airport in a sustainable manner.  While sitting there for a few moments I reflected on all that has happened in the last year and a half.  Everything came together and I did indeed make all of the deadlines and graduated last week.   I thought about a quote from Richard Rohr who says, "A journey of faith, produces a people of faith."  As I was reflecting on that statement I realized that this last year and a half has been a journey that has deepened my faith so that I am better prepared to handle the next journey of living and working in Niger, a much more desolate and needy country then Cameroon.

Chicago O'Hare's Urban Garden
 I am leaving on Wednesday to return to Cameroon to collect 6-month post data, train health workers in using the audio program, facilitate a seminar with health delegates, and translate the script into local language so it can be broadcasted on community radios.  On July 31st I will fly from Cameroon to Niger to begin my work with Samaritan's Purse as the Health and Nutrition Program Manager.  Again, I will be flying through Chicago on my way to Cameroon.  A place that now has new spiritual significance.

Without these journeys there's something you simply don't understand about the nature of God or the nature of the soul.
Richard Rohr