Saturday, August 27, 2011

Losing my cross...

[Midrash] poem/prayer for August 28, 2011

it's a whole lot
      to lose my
   than to lose my
to leave it propped
      up against the corner
   of the closet, dust
         bunnies sleeping
       at its feet;
to ignore it
      standing on the coffee
   table, looking out the front
           window, its cow eyes
        brimming with tears,
      as i pull away from
     the curb;
to simply reply, 'i can't
   remember the last time
           i saw it,' when
      i'm asked, 'what ever
   happened to your cross?'

each morning, it puts
   into my hands,
   closing my fingers tight
          over it, whispering,
      'don't let go; don't ever
             let go.'
it tapes a picture of
      to my bathroom mirror,
   so i will know it
         when i see it,
     and stand up to
it spends each lonely day
   at the loom,
       weaving the yarns
   labeled hope, love,
      patience, perseverance
         into that community
    which helps me to  
        bear what is mine.

(c) 2011  Thom M. Shuman   

Thom M. Shuman
Interim Pastor
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, OH
Associate Member, Iona Community

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thoughts While On-Call

I was in the chapel office when I heard this incessant beeping coming from the top desk drawer….the source of which I discovered was the back-up pager that our per diem chaplains wear when we CPE students are otherwise occupied in class or group time.

The pager is designed to continuously beep if a rapid response call has come though from the front desk and no buttons have been pushed to indicate that it has been received and read. I flipped through the contents of the tiny LED screen and noted the endless stream of multi-digit numbers listing the code status and the room locations of the calls received:
Stroke Alert 4ED
etc. etc. etc.

The pager had 25 calls stored in its memory, all of which also came through on the primary pager while this one sat idle in the desk drawer for the better part of a week.
Fifteen were rapid response (999) or emergency (333) calls, many of which likely resulted in a death or life changing experience for the patients and families involved.
Nearly every rapid response call I’ve been summoned to results in the same scene: 20+ people crowded into a tiny hospital room and flowing out into the hallway, as one doctor straddles the patient’s bed doing chest compressions. Nurses and techs fly in and out carrying syringes and pushing electronic equipment while I, the chaplain, hover around the edges looking for tell tale signs of family members in the melee.  Rarely does this scene end well.

As I flipped through the list on the pager and deleted each call I couldn’t help but think of the stories behind each number. Some room numbers were familiar and I remembered the patients whom I saw in these rooms early last week. Often we don’t know what happens to a patient when their name disappears from the census list we print out each day. Some are discharged, some are moved to other units…and some end up as a string of numbers in the on-call pager.
Names and faces passed through my memory as I deleted each number, and a sadness fell over me as I contemplated the fragility and the futility of this act.
In a single second a life is deleted…a memory of a death erased to make room for those that are yet to come.

I know the memories of these individuals live on their family members and all those whose lives were touched by their existence…..and the brief memories that I have of these patients will live on in me. But in the chaplain’s on-call pager they exist for only a shift’s length of time. For a harrowing few minutes they are the source of activity, anxiety, and stress….and a few hours later they are deleted from existence, never to be seen again.
It’s a good thing people are not like pagers.

I cleared the pager of all it’s calls and placed it back in the desk drawer.
The one on my hip that has been going off all day remains silent for now.
I pluck it from its holster and scroll through the menu:
Erase all messages?
Yes. Please.
Messages erased. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A (Tired) Chaplain's Lament...

I feel heavy.
I feel heavy under the weight of walking into hospital rooms and listening to stories of pain, loss, frustration, hopelessness, and despair.
I feel heavy under the weight of grief and anguish as it comes gushing out of family members who are anticipating the death of a loved one, or who have just watched their loved one die.
I feel heavy under the weight of standing at bedsides and staring down at hollowed eyes and gaunt faces and feeling the anguish of every… labored ….breath.
I feel heavy under the weight of shattered dreams, wounded hearts and broken promises that tear through the lives of those suffering with addictions. Over and over and over again.
I feel heavy as the last person peels away from the body, away from the room, and leaves me alone at the bedside praying for safe passage of a soul. Nurses return to their stations, doctors return to their charts, family members stagger down hallways and return to their homes, to get on with the horrific business of picking up the scattered pieces of their lives.

I feel heavy because as chaplains we are called to sit in this pain and anguish with those who are suffering through it. We are not there to ease their pain. We are not there to fix it.
We are not there to be “purveyors of hope” as professors in pastoral care classes gone by told us we as clergy are blessed to be.
We are weight bearers.
We lift up heavy-sashed windows and prop open triple-steel doors that people have shut tight to hold back their emotions, and we try not to get blown over as the pain comes rushing out.
We tremble under the strain of holding the weight of sobbing sons and daughters, parents and spouses as they fall into our arms and ask over and over again, “Why?”… “Why?” …“Why?”

We don’t have the answers.
We’re not expected to.
But still we stand on the front lines, inserting ourselves as a presence in the most painful moments of people’s lives. And we show up for this battle bearing no arms, except for the two that God gave us.

I feel heavy.
In the last 8 weeks I have learned how to stand in the pit with others, but I still have yet to learn how to climb back out.
Perhaps because as I stand in the pit I feel the weight of my own pain as well…
pushing me down, causing my knees to buckle, as I hold tight the windows and doors that are holding back the emotions I don’t want to leak out.

This chaplain needs a chaplain to be present in that pain.
I have only the two arms that God gave me.
And I can’t hold the world up, and myself, at the same time.

I feel heavy.
And I need someone to catch me, before the weight sends me crashing down.