This summer of spending my days and some nights at Nationwide Children's Hospital has come to an end. A lot of people told me what this summer of clinical pastoral education would be like: draining, breaking, and full of moments where I was in conflict or unsure of what to do.
All of that happened. But every moment holds an undercurrent of affirmation for me.
When you watch parents cry over their child's body or be with a mother as she wrings her hands in worry about her son in surgery, you see it. The love. It's heavy in the air and it doesn't dissipate; the love in the grief and worry is strong. It doesn't make the emotions easier to deal with; in fact, love makes the pain worse.
Love carries people to the ugliest moments, to the places where there is not enough anger in the world to blind the pain. Love stirs up our vulnerabilities and leave us feeling ragged, torn, and exhausted. But love does not leave us weak; we are strong in our compassion and reaching out to the other to adore, argue with, tease, worry for, and hug them. This summer I have seen this love between patients and their families as well as seen how emotionally and spiritually hungry people are when they have not experienced love in their close relationships. Humans have the ability to take a pure love and mangle it into something that is unrecognizable. Having seen the pain of this summer, I treasure the love I have with my family and friends and look forward to people that will be very important to me throughout my life. I am affirmed in how vital it is to continue working on how I express my love for others and my role in mangling the love I've received and give out to the world.
My eyes have seen things that made me cringe and my ears have heard cries of grief and worry. It has been a heavy summer of feeling lonely and overthinking situations, while it has also been a light summer of connecting with friends/family and exploring beloved as well as new parts of Columbus.
What have I learned from this summer of CPE? There are so many things that I cannot even begin to cover it all, but here are the things that stand out currently.
1. Everyone is searching for a sense of normal. There is nothing more bitter than perceiving that you are different than others or being pushed into a traumatic/shocking situation that gets out of your typical life. But what is normal? It's at completely different levels for any given person.
2. Emotions trump situations. I've spoken with parents waiting to for their child to get through a 10-hour brain surgery that were feeling quite calm. I've been with a crying parent while they waited for their child to get through a 10-minute ear surgery. It doesn't matter what they are going through but rather how they are handling their emotions and the state that they are in.
3. The little things count. Hospitality is one of the skills that I most treasure; people will not be thinking about their tired feet or parched throat when they are watching a loved one poked by 10 doctors. It's my job to anticipate how they feel and any little things I can get for them. Just as important are the simple conversations that establish some normalcy; I've spoken about One Direction, hair cuts, Game of Thrones, traffic, gardening, and etc. for hours because people needed a little time to rest their worried heart.
4. A chaplain's job is to feel clueless. I don't need to know any medical details to be present for people. I don't need to know what a person does or any past history in order to reflect back their present emotions. The stories pour out on their own and the details are a treasure that I receive by staying in the present for the person I am with.
5. I am supposed to be doing this. Does chaplaincy terrify me? Yes, every day I quiver in fear because this job has little certainty. I do it for the moments when someone opens up about a past trauma or lets their tears spill out. I do it for the moments of connection (especially when patients or family members tell me I look like Emma Watson--what up!), even when the conversation is as simple as how it was raining that day. I get empathy, I understand emotions, I am filled with exhaustion and joy when I am a chaplain. I wear that label like a badge of honor. Is chaplaincy the only thing I will do as a spiritual leader? No; I will wear the pastor badge and someday I am going to be a CPE supervisor. I have a lot of time do all of this and I am dreading and looking forward to all of those moments.
I left Ohio two days ago; I spent half of the summer wishing that I was back in Berkeley and my heart was aching for the Bay Area culture. Yet I left the MidWest with a heavy heart and feeling how odd it is that I don't know the next time I will be back. I hear one of my fellow CPE-ers in my ear, who told me over and over these past weeks, "Transfer! Transfer! Transfer!" I'm thinking of how precious the Short North, Innis Woods, Hocking Hills, Bexley, and German Village are to me. I'm remembering the late nights out with friends and hikes with my aunt. This summer has been a bittersweet one, with the pain and joy of the unknowns that come with being in my mid-20's. One of my friends told me that there is a beauty in all that God touches; there is a beauty in the grief of this summer. I have fingerprints of God all over my skin and I take the people I've met this summer in my heart as I continue back to Berkeley.
Affirmed and Striving.