It was a long day yesterday. My chariot brought me to the hospital a little before 8 in the morning and I am just now waking up in my little sleeping pod on Shepardson 4. It's an interesting training program that I'm in here as a chaplain intern. We're kind of released to do this work on our own. It's up to us to step into the role with a measure of authority that we construct for ourselves. No one waves a magic wand and says, "You are now a chaplain, go forth and heal souls with your powers!" More than anything, being a hospital chaplain is about being. Being in a room with a person who is sick or scared or lonely. Being quiet when a patient is dozing. It can be about bearing witness to the presence of God in the situation, but it doesn't have to be.
The folks who are with me on this journey -- our little group of seven (There it is again! Another crew of magnificence.) -- have each been called, in one form or another, to do this work, which lends an air of mystery to the discovery process. We're all a little confused as to why God needs us here, and at the same time we're kind of certain that God needs us here in this clinical environment.
I've been assigned, for the next five months, to the oncology floor. Full disclosure: I requested it and please don't ask me why. I have no idea. I learned a lot yesterday, but one thing in particular: there's no bullshitting a cancer patient. You cannot stand by their bed, smile and say, "Everything will be OK," because the truth is that there is a very good chance that everything will not be OK. Most of the people in oncology are transitioning, away from the life they knew before and into some bizarre new reality that they absolutely did not want. I think it's safe to say that every person there had an entirely different vision for how their life was going to play out.
Hospitals are strange places. The lights are bright, there's a lot of hustle and bustle, a lot of seriousness, a lot of fear inside these walls. Somewhere, I know, there are babies being born, so there's some joy here, but for the most part this is a house of pain, and you can feel it around every corner. There's a big, modern lobby with lots of glass, and there's incredible art hanging on the walls, but it falls short in neutralizing the grief and anxiety you see on the faces of most of the people walking through these halls. It didn't take long for me to realize this yesterday: I get to leave here. I get to walk out the front door and back into my life, a life that is full of opportunity and love. I can do almost anything I want when I exit this place in two hours. I can go ice skating or out to breakfast with a friend. I can kiss my kids or walk my dog. The little life I left when I entered the hospital yesterday morning at eight is suddenly a huge life, gorgeous and ripe and spilling over with grace and possibility.
I wish that you could, I wish that everyone could spend a day in the oncology rooms. I guarantee that you would stop taking everything beautiful in your life for granted. And that perhaps you might even start to really live.