by John Gillman
Cynthia Trenshaw, Meetings in the Margins. An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press, 2015. 188 pp. $16.95.
The author, a chaplain and massage therapist, takes us to the homeless in the streets of San Francisco where, over a period of three years starting in August 1996, she offered her gift as a therapist. Her narrative is part memoir, part journal, sprinkled with vignettes recounting her interactions with those living in the margins.
Trenshaw states upfront the four reasons why she crossed the threshold to offer the possibility of connecting to those in the Tenderloin district, a triangular area known for its bars, clubs, theaters, single-room-occupancy hotels, and alternative lifestyles. Her goal was to offer her intangible gifts; to receive intangible gifts offered in return; and to carry “stories from the periphery back to the mainstream where they need to be heard” — and to do the work simply “because we can.” To accomplish this, she had to work through her fear, refrain from judgment, and be open to what unfolded.
The titles for the first six chapters convey her approach, challenges, and lessons learned: “Initiation: The Elements of Ritual,” “Tenderloin-Style: Touch as Science, Sacrament and Presence,” “Barriers — What Gets in the Way,” “Intention, Being With,” “Having Enough,” and “Being Enough.” Each of these is worth reflecting upon regardless of one’s context for ministry. Another chapter, “Do You Dare?” processes her fears and offers practical suggestions for street smarts.
While reviewing this book I was supervising a group of CPE residents at UCSF, one of whom provided pastoral care to those in the Tenderloin district for three years. Similar to Trenshaw’s, her encounters were often profound and moving. Viewed from the perspective of the Old Testament book of Leviticus, those living in the margins are “outside the camp” of mainstream life in the community (see Maps and Meaning by Jo Hirschmann and Nancy H. Wiener for a very fine theological reflection about those, including chaplains, who move in and out of the camp).
In Meetings in the Margins, Trenshaw is open and transparent. She accomplishes well her intention of bringing stories from the periphery to the mainstream. Her narrative invites all of us to reflect on our experiences with those whose lives are often rendered invisible.
John Gillman is an NACC and ACPE supervisor at VITAS Innovative Hospice Care in San Diego, California.