Tasha shined brightly from the first time I met her. Her story of transition as a transgendered woman was powerful as an expression of human vulnerability, courage, great risk, and grace. Tasha had been afflicted with the demons of both AIDS and a terrible addiction. She had become homeless. Then she reluctantly found her way to Project Lazarus, the residential treatment program housed on the edge of the Marigny and the Bywater sections of New Orleans. Project Lazarus became her home for several years.
Tasha waded deep into her own recovery, so much so that she was able to find a residence after several years of living in that loving and healing community. Then she was invited to return to Project Lazarus as a staff member to help new residents make the transition from the addicted life of self-destruction into recovery. Not every person who comes knocking on their door with AIDS has also struggled with addiction. But most have. That is often how they eventually lose their jobs and homes. Most have been to the very bottom of their darkest place, and so had Tasha.
I believe that is why she was so effective in connecting with the residents of Project Lazarus. Tasha had known great darkness and had also found the light of love and grace. The love had come through staff members like Connie, the nurse, and Kim, the director. The love had come through other residents like Billy and Bobbie Jo. The light of love found Tasha and made a home in her. And she became a powerful vessel for sharing that Light with others.
That’s why we were all so disturbed when she fell back into the darkness. A day came when she walked away from the Light. It was like something in her, especially her old addiction, could not bear the light any longer. The old urges rose up over time and overtook Tasha. After that she went down fast. In less than a year of being “back out there,” as recovering friends say, we all got the word this week that Tasha had died in her apartment.
The memorial service was Friday morning. It was a tender hour. There was a celebration of her life, led by Jack Fowler, the spiritual director for Unity of Metairie. There were touching stories about Tasha and her powerful influence shared by many staff members and residents. The group clapped in appreciation after each person spoke. Theron described how Tasha’s straight talk helped turn him around in his early days at Project Lazarus. One of the staff sang an acapella gospel song from somewhere deep inside her. She moved the room, as really every story did. Steve Rivera, the interim director, shared a tearful saga of Tasha’s impact on him and the whole community, including her advocacy before the City Council. One by one hearts overflowed, united, and joined in gratefulness as we stood hand-in-hand to close the hour.
The love in the room was palpable. The feelings were real. Healthy grief and true joy were celebrated by all of us, even those like me who barely knew Tasha. God’s grace never flowed anywhere more freely than in that room. Jack closed the time with a call to center ourselves and a prayer of affirmation for the beautiful life of Tasha. He spoke of her need for peace above all longings and for the reality of the peace she was now finding. She was a troubled person at the last, a person who struggled with the unbearable Light, and yet a being in whom God’s power and Light had shined openly enough to bless many others.
So let this story of Tasha’s life and death serve as a calling voice, a challenging message, an invitation to embrace our own darkness, with the strength of a Power Greater than us, and to risk facing again the unbearable Light. May Tasha now find her way to live in the peace and Light which embraces her for all time, and so may we all. Amen.