My chaplain internship at the hospital is starting to wind down, which is truly hard to believe. And, as is the case with most things that come to an end, I am finding myself looking back over the experience. What I see is a lot of people who came into my life, in an intense and brief way, and then left. They either died or were discharged. I met them; we connected and then they were gone, often within the span of just a few days. At first this was very hard for me; I tend to go deep with people, especially in circumstances like those of the hospital. There's an energy there that seems to say, There is no time to waste...you must cut through the crap and get right to it. Encounters there are often flavored with the reality that death is lingering very close by.
This week, though, I met with a different loss, outside the hospital, this time with a high school student with whom I have been sharing time for the past few months. She has a keen interest in photography, and so once a week I met her at her school and we went out into the community so she could photograph people for a very cool project she curates. She is quiet -- a first-generation American whose parents moved here from Vietnam -- smart and wise. It was with the most humble of voices that she shared with me one day that she was "in line to be valedictorian" of her class. In the course of our time together she taught me that it's OK to sit quietly together in a car, that conversation is sometimes just noise. She drew me into the nuances of her culture, which felt refreshing. We laughed a lot. I gave her my Diana camera hoping she would have more luck with it than I, and she did. She got right to it, figuring out the mechanics, taking photos and mulling over the developed results.
On Tuesday, just before I dropped her back at school she told me she had some news, that her parents had decided to move south and that she would be leaving in a week. She didn't really understand why and clearly she wasn't protesting. She was sad but resigned; disappointed that she had put so much effort into her endeavors as a student only to have to transition away from her school world before seeing her labor bear fruit. I didn't want her to go. Though I am doing less with photography now, it felt really nice and fresh to be sharing this passion with someone young. I had been looking forward to seeing her hold a show of her work in a public venue; I wanted to know more about her life.
I'm not sure why the world seems to keep taking people away from me these days. Undoubtedly I'm being prepared for something -- perhaps a much bigger loss. For some reason it feels like I am meant to keep learning the same lesson over and over: don't hold too tight to things in life, nothing is permanent. It is kind of funny how we humans shore ourselves up with a lot of stuff: we have homes filled with artifacts, things that make us feel safe from the battering winds of life. I'm afraid that, in the end, it really is a lot of smoke and mirrors, though; the terrible truth I learn every day I walk through this life is that the only thing we can count on is that nothing is going to stay the way it is today.
I do know, though, that we can count on our dogs. They seem to be exceedingly loyal. And I know, too, that we can count on ourselves. We can count on ourselves to try as hard as we can to cultivate love in our lives so that when people disappear, love stays. I have to ask you today to do this just once: put down your phone, walk away from your computer and spend some time in the company of a person you like. Preferably, actually, a person you love. And don't leave them until you have conveyed to them this truth: you matter to me. Don't wait until time has run out and life is taking them away from you to start bargaining with God for five more minutes with them. Do it now.