This weekend, I had a rare weekend at home. Saturday morning, I went up to a friend’s house to get the VW Bus looked at but the friend had forgotten I was coming. So, I drove home, and on the way my VW remembered why it needed to be seen to, and blew a fuel breather hose. About half of my tank of $3.25/gallon premium gas wound up on the ground by the side of Business 80 before I could plug the leak. But I did after 5 minutes and drove home.
Rather than being totally skunked about this, I suddenly realized I had a whole day open at home to catch up. I repaired a few things around the house. Late in the afternoon, I picked up my new glasses. The blind could see! And I could again make out small details.
Sitting at my desk, I looked at the long-ignored pile of computers I had promised to look at for my friends, (most without charge). I noticed a 300GB external hard drive, that used to be the backup drive for my MAC PowerBook, retired in 2007. I had photos and documents on there dating back from 2000 or so. The drive had not worked for years. I pried the drive mechanism out of its case and placed it on a test rig. It spun up and I was transported back in time.
I found files from 2003 of a large gathering of friends and family. Because of the occasion of that gathering, I’d not looked at these for several years. I was pleased to find the photos taken with my own digital camera by my friend, Leisa, a professional photographer. I had thought these long lost. It was a bittersweet experience going through these photos.
There was Fr. Henry, an Episcopal Priest mentor I had know in Boston who had moved to California. We had gone through cancer treatment at the same time in both Boston, MA and Stanford, CA. He passed away 1 year later. There was a blurry photo of my friend Bruce, a retired Sociology professor who passed away unexpectedly 8 weeks ago. There were some photos of my friend Gary, who had played such a large part in my life and had suddenly passed away in 2003.
Most poignant of all were many photos of my mom and stepdad. There were excellent shots of mom with my brother, Andy and his son, Dennis, who had flown out with him. Most amazing of all was a photo of my Mom, my stepdad, my Dad and my stepmom sitting around a table and having a good time. Mom and Dad had been divorced back when I was in high school and had not really spoken for 30 years or so. Yet here they were getting along famously. Mom’s health was precarious, and five months later she, too was gone. This gathering was the last time I spent with her before she returned home to Wales, where she passed.
3 weeks ago my friend Bruce’s widow asked me to come over to see if I could get into Brice’s MAC computer, where he had their address book. Over the last 10 years or so, I’d often sat in Bruce’s rustic office in a shed attached to his house. This sanctum was stacked with papers, antique hand tools, piles of photos, cook books and other life souvenirs. Bruce and his wife have two amazing homes, one in Davis, CA and one in Mendocino, CA on an old hippie commune. I’ve been to them both. Once again I found myself on that rickety old oak chair in front of that 9-year-old iMAC, needing to channel all my IT wizard skills to bring it back to life. As I finally got the computer to boot up, the icons of Bruce’s work came up on the screen, including the memoirs he was writing when he passed. I sat in the chair and cried for several minutes. Bruce’s wife cried too. Then we went back into the house where I helped her format the invitation for the memorial next month.
I don’t cry often like that. Frankly, I didn’t cry anything like that when I heard my mom had passed. I had simply taken a flashlight and walked around my end of town in the pre-dawn darkness.
This month, I am back into a Clinical Pastoral Education program to become a Hospital Chaplain. After 2 years of training and clinical internship at another area hospital, .this time I am honored to get into the program at the University Medical Center where I work. UCDMC’s CPE is a hard program, and it’s tough to get in. I’m four weeks into the 20 week program. To be honest, my time at the last hospital as a Chaplain could have ended a bit better. I had been called to the Trauma unit on a Friday night, away from a dinner party. I did not know I was on call that night and when I got there, generally made a hash of the visit. Fortunately a Fire Department Chaplain who was also there saved the situation and the family of the deceased patient was none the wiser. But I was, and the Charge Nurse definitely saw what happened and wrote me up.
This last summer has been what is called a “Desert Experience” as I went through the Critical Incident process at that hospital while suspended from working as a volunteer chaplain for 6 weeks. I had to look deeply into what had happened and my motivation for wanting to be involved in hospital ministry. I eased back into chaplaincy in August, visiting people in nursing care facilities for my church. And started remembering why I had wanted to do this in the first place. But a piece was missing.
In the last week or so, I’ve realized what was missing from my previous Chaplain work for these last two years. It was an emotional empathy - taking the time to feel my own feelings for my patients and friends who had passed away. This empathy had come back at my friend’s house. This week at Chaplain’s class a colleague had to minister to a very ill infant. I again let tears flow as I heard about what had happened, but then felt glad one of us Chaplains could be there to make a difference.
That evening, I fired up Piccasa on my larger laptop to catalog the photos I had just found, I teared up once again, while looking at photos of my mom, and of my friends Bruce and Gary.
I’m not completely sure of all the ramifications of this realization. However, I have to think it could be the one missing piece of the puzzle, which may make this next 16 weeks of ministry training different and more blessed – for both this Chaplain and for his patients he sees.