At the Intersection of Hip To Shoulder, Side by Side.


Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number four. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.


I kept hearing stories in snippets, and I wondered about the whole thing.

There was a man who had survived stomach cancer, car accidents, a gasoline fire, a broken skull, and a direct hit by lightning.

A woman who suffered a heart attack because her mother and brother had died within weeks of each other.

Two different women, one young and one old, who were once very successful but kept burning themselves with flammable fluids because of the demons in their head. “I can’t help it,” one said. “I don’t know why I do this,” said the other.

A woman who was obviously abused by her husband, who wanted to stay longer in the hospital because she was afraid of the monster at home: but she wouldn’t admit what was happening.

I sat with a mother who was holding her baby in her hand. We had been called to NICU to offer a final blessing and a baptism, but we were too late. The baby had coded. Her lungs had become like melted wax and she couldn’t breathe on her own. She barely fit her mother’s palm. I wondered about the story she would never get to live. I wondered about God and why and “His Will” and the meaning and a reason and a crushed future and how life could keep going after this. I wanted to talk with the mother but the mother didn’t want to talk and I thought that was okay. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes the stories are told in silence.

I was with a father who had been shot protecting his son. It was on their front porch in a bad neighborhood as they were leaving for a high school football game, and half a dozen neighbors showed up with guns. The father kept saying, “I have to work, what about work?” He had about ten kids to feed. His entire family piled in. There was so much anger, the kind that leaves you in tears and exhaustion. I was angry for them. I wanted to find the people who could do such a thing to a family; I wanted these stories to end with the ending they deserved, with reconciliation and healing and a lot of high fives and laughter. But they don’t always end like that. And this is that strange place where I came in with my chaplain brothers and sisters, at the intersection of a busted up dream to a different kind of future, full of heartache and the irretrievability of loss, where the hospital was like a womb where each patient would walk out the door as completely reborn people, into the vastness of the vacuum of uncertainty. I wondered where each one would go, and I think they must’ve been wondering the same thing.

I stayed a bit longer on Friday. It was nearly midnight when I left. As I walked through the parking garage, the weight of these other lives punched through me like a slow-rolling freight train, and I wept. Very quietly, alone in the garage, one step after another. I wasn’t doing it for me. I think it’s easy to cry tears for me, out of pity or conceit. It was, purely, for the other. As Heschel said, “Whenever one man is hurt we are all injured.” Or Paul: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” And there I was, attached at the hip somehow, to snippets of real people in their lowest moments, who needed a few minutes of the little I could offer.

On the other end, I’m growing to love the team. I’ve been feeling that the hospital is how a church should be run. Certainly no place is perfect, but a focused mission suddenly brings a lot of clarity about what we’re doing, and even all our different styles and opinions seem like advantages that we bring to the field, rather than something to bicker over. There’s a proportionate sense of prioritized urgency, like fellow soldiers fighting back death instead of each other, and very little time for petty drama. I’m honored to be in such a body. I’m grateful to be a small part of the whole thing.

J.S.


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