One day during the first year I lived in Portland Oregon, I heard my inner guidance say, "Now it's time for you to work with death." I didn't really want to hear that - but it was coming to me often enough that I finally surrendered and began calling up funeral homes to see if they needed a receptionist. Nothing felt right. I tried First Call, but when the job was described to me I realized I didn't have enough size or strength to do the hauling-out of bodies that would be required; and I had neither gut nor gumption enough for some of the situations involving the long-dead-and-forgotten-and-maybe-rotten corpses that First Callers encounter at times.
I then thought - oh! Why don't I start calling hospices? I like the concept of hospices, so that was immediately a more cheerful prospect. I looked up hospice numbers and began dialing. Much better. When I dialed Our House, the AIDS hospice of Portland, everything fell into place. I was soon on the volunteer roster there, a member of the Spiritual Care team, and a Tuesday night regular.
My only previous experience with AIDS had been a pre-death shamanic counseling session with homosexual partners, followed by a post-death session with the survivor and the playful ghost of the departed. In both sessions their shared dog was a major player. In other words, I really knew nothing about being around AIDS - or, for that matter, how to be around as much dying as was happening at Our House. Even though I'm trained as a shamanic healer and shamans do a lot of work on "the other side," helping people cross over, finding lost soul parts, working with ancestors, and so forth, still - dying people, and in particular, death by AIDS was something it took me a while to get used to. I did my best to cover some skittishness my first couple of Tuesday evenings. Then when I realized we weren't all filled with contagion, and that what was most important was love, I began to relax. The night I finally knew I was "in," I was hanging out in the kitchen when another volunteer began a conversation. I'm such an innocent I didn't realize at first what he was alluding to. These words of his woke me out of that naivete, however, and showed me the level of acceptance needed to be able to hear people there and be present for them and with them: "I used to be a top whip," he said - "Never left a mark." Realizing I was being tested, I did not pack up and leave, never to return. Rather, I simply nodded, as if I heard stuff like that every day. I was in.