In November of 2012, I met Abhi Janamanchi. I hadn't set out to. But I did. And I am thankful.
It had been a few months since I had performed, and I was starting to feel the itch. A few months not performing, and 2 years out of a singing group. I started to look into finding a choir. For whatever reason, the Unitarian Universalist seed that had been planted many years before came to mind, and I gathered up the courage, with a dear friend in tow, and I dived in.
To say it was perfect is not an exaggeration. I had just been married in the Indian tradition, and found this congregation of UUs to have an Indian reverend. I was delighted.
He was enigmatic, warm, and immediately the sort of person you are so glad to have in your life. He is among only two others that make me feel that way.
I took a UU 101 class to learn more about this place that made me feel like accessing myself, yearning, and growing wasn't to be stifled. It encouraged it. Much like Sanatana Dharma, all paths were valid. If you are a seeker, you can find peace there.
Not to mention that I pretty much knew I was going to join about the time I heard Abhi mic check with the Houses of Hogwarts in his accented, rich voice: "The House of Gryffindor . . . Hufflepuff . . . Ravenclaw . . . Slytherin . . . " I beam at recollection.
To my great dismay, the comfortability and ease of transition into a faith community was short-lived. Abhi was to be called to serve another congregation in another state. I found out while I was working a clinic program at the shelter. I had to sit and weep a moment. It must have been all too easy. Too perfect. To find comfort and then become apathetic, surely. I made sure to email Abhi that evening. Words are meant to be said.
" . . . It is so peculiar that in a short time I should put such faith and esteem in one person, but I suppose that is the power of being in a leadership role for a congregation. As I divulged in class, you were and are a huge draw to UU, not just because you are Indian, although that is a concise way to put it, but because, I suppose, I know you grew up with and appreciate the aspects and culture of spirituality that resonates with me most strongly . . . It comforted me greatly to know there was a place that had people that could be open, and even a 'leader' that knew the intricacies of Sanatana Dharma and its application in a faith community.
What little we've said to each other personally, I felt compelled to expound here. Because you have, in whatever small or great way, helped me to grow and step into the murky waters of looking closer at myself and launch into a greater spiritual journey. I avoid this kind of self-reflection and growth as a matter of preservation and protection - acknowledging the harsh truths of life frankly provokes panic and resignation . . . "
The next day I attended the service to complement his announcement. I openly wept. I lost a contact. I drove home dangerously at best.
But upon reflection . . . I was weeping for no one but myself. For my poor fortune. You cannot weep for a man you do not know. But you can shed selfish tears that you can no longer stand in the sun.
Abhi, gracious and dedicated, invited me to have lunch and work through the transition with me. How odd it was to try to let him in. Someone you wish to share everything with and come up with near nothing. He told me to relax, and said I sounded like himself; older. I suppose I always have. When you are present; awake . . . there is little room for distraction.
In no time, it was time. From the Roast and Toast to Abhi's last service, this weekend has been a whirlwind. So many memories have come and gone in his 14 years of tenure. As I sat through the service, I could only reflect and scribble on my order of service between moments of being overcome.
"My pain is unreasonable. Obnoxious. Uninhibited by social constructs. To treasure a happenstance and then mourn its passing."
Tissues were being passed around like donation plates. We smiled, we wept, we sang. And eventually, after he threatened to read ALL the announcements for the upcoming week, we released him from his covenant.
Like that, our paths cease convergence. And I am strengthened and made better for it.