Holding Onto

We all hold onto a variety of parts of our lives: A favorite mug; a cherished memory; a position or job; a life plan; family; friends; or even our self-images. We hold, even grasp, what we see as worthy parts of our lives. Thus, April Stace writes a memoir of all that she holds or held dear as true in her life.

In late 2015 she moved to New York City to become a minister on the senior staff of the Riverside Church, one of the largest and oldest churches in Manhattan. Thinking of her new position at such a religious institution as validation for her chosen life, she brings her husband and young child to NYC, prepared to demonstrate to all that her life is one big success. The vision she had held onto of herself and her life, however, would soon wither under the weight of her true spirit. Early on in her new life and job, she admitted to herself that she was, and always had been, a lesbian.

White Knuckle Love, A Memoir of Holding records the first year of Stace’s life without a husband, job at the historic church, and the other life rudders that had, until her acceptance of herself, steered her life’s course.  Sleeping on the living room sofa in her ex-husband’s apartment, she flounders before becoming a chaplain intern at St. Luke’s Hospital, a refuge for the ill indigents of NYC. However, after her year as an intern, the woman who holds a PhD in Religion writes, “Spending time with the sick and dying has not been a fresh, new bandage on a damaged life. It has been more like the tearing off of old and rotten bandages that have been holding together infected parts of my spirit for years.” Placed in the context of her year of discovery, the quoted words are not as rough and raw as they at first read, but like all of her memoir,  Stace’s words tell of her honest examination of all that her patients and she hold onto. She discovers in the “untamed moments” in St. Luke’s that while “The hospital is a place where people are defined by their physical problems, … by sitting next to people in their beds, I help them remember that they are human beings, not health problems to be solved and discharged.” And as she writes, she discovers that her spirit and identity are not a problem, but a truth about her life.

Stace has written a moving and powerful memoir. The rawness of her words carry truth. When she recounts being told one night that a young woman is asking for a priest and could she come to the ER because Isabella, the young mother’s, baby boy had died shortly after birth. Going into the curtained-off part of the ER, Stace meets a young mother who says, “I just wanted someone.” The baby, who had been named Aiden, lies in a small, plastic box at the foot of the bed. Stace holds the baby, who is still warm, and gives him to his mother. Stace describes that moment as “A momentary breath of life, barely begun before it ends.” Alone because Aiden’s father could not bear the pain of his death and left the hospital, Isabella asks Stace to baptize Aiden. With the help of three nurses, Stace writes, “I hold baby Aiden against my body with my left arm as I sprinkle water on his tiny head with the fingers of my right hand. His head, still warm, glistens with water made holy by our gathering. The only community this young human had ever know, a community of people who worked the night shift in a New York City emergency room, has gathered to affirm his place in our lives.” In such moments as this, and more, Stace writes, “I am re-learning what it means to have faith.” (Stace italics)

Read this memoir and perhaps re-learn having faith, which will always benefit any of us. And in your year journey with Stace, meet many people. Some, like Jack, who belonged to AA, will teach you how to “white-knuckle” life along with him and so many others.

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