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Houston Compassion Cell: Christmas Decorations at TSC

My friend and a dedicated and compassionate volunteer (who wishes to remain anonymous) shares his thoughts on TSC Compassion Cell:

TSC is a HIV/AIDS clinic in downtown Houston serving the indigent patient population. It can’t be spotted from the main downtown thoroughfare, instead, you’ve to leave behind the glitzy highrises until you cross some invisible line into the grittier parts of the city, the landscape changes and now you weave through the hauntingly solemn, graffiti-plastered walls, pass beyond the silent, rusty, corrugated-iron and tin store-fronts, negotiate the narrow lanes and the weathered shotgun-style houses, and only then, the ‘clinic’ reveals itself. Picture an anachronistic, southern, mission-style’ish building, transplanted straight out of a spaghetti western, complete with red roof and bright paint to match. In the gray overcast, bitterly-cold afternoon, amidst the fading light and the dreary surroundings, this charming structure seemed surreal, incongruous, and almost metaphorical-beckoning humanity’s unfortunate and providing succor.

Inside, the building is a modern hospital. Southern charm gives way to business efficiency. As I’m riding the elevator, a delegation, what appears to be visitors in some official capacity, gets in and gives me curious detached looks. Suddenly the gravitas of a daily workday in this building dawns on me and my mind wanders; I imagine the hallways being privy to overwhelming amounts of enormous, never-ending, wrenching pain and suffering.

We’re given the fourth floor to decorate and I’m welcomed by friendly faces already hard at work. My eyes feast over the smorgasbord of decoration goodies all laid out. The result of ardous work of good-minded folks who all toiled to collect and haul it. I feel a twinge of guilt, showing up empty-handed in time for the feast, but it soon passes and I’m ready to indulge. In a matter of minutes, like pieces in a well-choreographed tableau, the festoons are hung, the wreath is pinned, and an otherwise drab patient lounge is now aglow in warm color – shimmering gold, silver, and red. The energy in the room is palpable, someone mentions a wish to have some background music – yeah, Roxy music or maybe Ravel, for the Christmas tree folks, I think, take your pick – but it doesn’t matter, we’re already jiving to a lively but silent internal beat.

It’s past business hours, the staff has gone home and the hallways are deserted. I was hoping to talk to the extra-ordinary, everyday folks who inhabit and visit this place, but it’s better that we work unseen, without getting in the way of urgent life-saving business. My earlier morbid thoughts have now given way to happier ones; I imagine holiday cheer flowing through the otherwise cold sterile air and smiles on weary faces.

Finally, it’s wrap-up time. Goodbyes are said and I imagine Santa’s elves vanishing in the darkness. I can’t wipe the smile off my face. Strange. Maybe, I should do this more often

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