Turning a corner

A week or so ago I suddenly became conscious of a change. Somehow, the fog I’ve been living in since September seemed to be lifting. It was not an easy week in my life as a chaplain; I dealt with five deaths, including 2 emergency trips to Labor and Delivery in the middle of the night.

And yet…

And yet somehow something changed. Somehow it has all become manageable, survivable, possible… Somewhere along the way I realized that my overwhelming grief, that feeling of swimming through molasses, was not just about the direct experience of the loss of dozens of patients. Yes, that was hard. But there was, and is, more going on in my life. The transition from seminary back to everything else has not been easy. In many ways, most of which I will not list here, nothing has gone the way I thought it would. Nothing. The last 8 or 9 months have been an uphill battle in foreign territory, in a place where I have had to question, rethink, re-imagine everything about who I am and what I’m called to. In the midst of that I have cared for the dying, the suffering, the broken-hearted, the grieved… No wonder I’ve been struggling.

And yet…

Something has shifted, and I’ve found something of who I was in the past, who I want to be now. Some part of my endurance, my ability to sit with pain and despair and the horror of it all and find grace has returned. So much of my fear has gone. I’ve seen so much, done so much – things I never knew I was capable of – that I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve seen death and suffering at all stages of life and for all sorts of reasons. I’ve watched women become widowed, held the hands of mothers whose children have died, sat with weeping fathers, comforted those who were dying alone, and commended to God many who should not have been lost.

Sometimes the sadness breaks through, and sometimes, the fear. A chaplain does not live in a vacuum, or in a world where none of the things witnessed at the hospital could happen to those I love. I am ever aware of the fragility of each of us. I strive to compartmentalize – to make walls in my mind between neonatal deaths and three women in my life who are pregnant, to keep the end stage AIDS and the lymphoma-out-of-nowhere boxed off in a part of my mind far from anyone I care about that this could happen to. For the most part lately, these things stay where they are put. Mostly.

I’ve begun to find consistent, effective ways to hit the “reset” button. A recent detour on the way to work to photograph Central Park in the snow. Being intentional about time with friends. Or simply wandering, setting out on foot in this spectacular city with no agenda, wasting time, seeing where I wind up, observing (and secretly laughing at) the tourists… The frantic, chaotic streets, full of all different kinds of people, none of whom are counting on me or even talking to me, bring some sort of healing relief.

And now a new dilemma – what happens when this all becomes not only survivable, but likeable? What happens when I start to think that walking away from chaplaincy after this spring would be a mistake? What if I like both parish ministry and chaplaincy? Where do I go from here?

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~ by Sophia on February 7, 2010.

2 Responses to “Turning a corner”

  1. I think when you get to that time God will help you cross that bridge!

    Leaving seminary was a harder transition for me that arriving there. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but it was for me. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would’ve been if I’d been doing what you’re doing.

  2. Is God opening multiple doors? Seems like it! This chapter of your story reminds to watch and go forward in my own life from a perspective of God’s abundance rather than scarcity.

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