This chaplain gig can be hard. It’s like trying to find my way around a new city on very crowded streets in the dark, only with much more emotional investment. Walking into a room with family members of a person who is gravely ill, there’s no way to know where they are emotionally. So I set off, asking questions, turning corners into hard topics, backing out of dead ends, yielding to the cross traffic of nurses and physical needs, and finally (hopefully) arriving at a place where they are less guarded and ready for someone to be fully present.
I’m coming to treasure those moments, especially the ones that come in the most unexpected ways. The patient who no longer speaks, but looked me in the eye and mustered the strength to pull her hand from under the blanket and hold tight to mine as I read from her favorite chapter in Isaiah. The young lady who finally was able to ask for prayers beyond relief from her current symptoms, revealing her deepest fear.
And I’m coming to treasure the conversations that take the scenic route, offering glimpses into lives so different from – and yet so similar to- my own. They talk of silly nicknames, the struggles to raise children, frustrations with this or that government administration, and adventures near and far. And then there we are, laughing and crying together like old friends.
But then I leave. I have to find my way back out into the hall of the unit, into the paperwork, into my own life. Back to the suburbs emotionally and literally. And I never know if I will see these dear people again.
I was going to say that leaving a part of me behind every time is like the horcruxes in the Harry Potter stories. But that’s not right. It’s not so much a loss as a sharing of something sacred. More like the way we tear off a piece of bread for communion and together are carrying a bit of Christ in us as we go our separate ways. And the next time we gather, there is still plenty of Jesus, plenty of love and grace, plenty of compassion to go around.