So I'm gearing up to start at Fordham and all of you people should be scared because my first two classes are Psychopathology and Diagnosis and Advanced Development Life Span Issues.
Gotta love a class with the word issues in the title.
It's a pretty major shift for me, in a lot of ways. Not just because it means traveling to New York and not Boston (no offense, Bostonians, but I am a gal who loves the crazy grit and noise and shuffle of NYC), taking a train and not a car, hanging out in the Bronx and not swanky Newton Centre, but also because it's not a Master of Divinity program; it's a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care.
I actually really love saying that because I imagine a person kind of tending to their spirit...in the way one tends to their hair or body. I mean, let's face it, we spend an awful lot of time trying to look good on the outside. What might it look like to try make the inside more beautiful?
I'm going to Fordham to find out and then I'll be taking patients starting in the spring of 2018, after graduation. Which, quite auspiciously, falls on my birthday: May 19. Which, even more woo woo land, happened when I got my first Master's degree, from UVM, in May of 2001.
Believe me when I tell you, the signs are there, in our lives, that we are on the right path when we're on the right path. Pay attention. Your life is almost always trying to tell you something, and most of the time it's good news.
Here are two things that happened:
This morning I was standing in the kitchen, waiting for the water to boil so I could make some tea. It was quiet, no one else was up. I was thinking about a lot of things: about the days ahead, about tomorrow's sermon, about some of the sorrow of my life right now and some of the shifts. Then, all of a sudden, huge, fluffy flakes of white started falling from the sky. All at once; not at all in that creep up slowly kind of way, but like a message from somewhere else: all will be well, the world is a very beautiful place. As if the angels were writing me little notes.
Snow. So that happened.
Yesterday I made a visit to a hospice friend in Vergennes. I say friend because I don't know what to call the folks I visit. They're not patients or clients, they're just people. And this person, this human being, has been diagnosed with dying. Because that's what hospice is, right? Someone tells you...you're going to die. Which, in my estimation is a gift. We're all dying, only we don't know when or how. If someone told you today...listen...you're going to die...you might change a few things about your life, right? It might cause you to tidy up a few things, realign some priorities. Tell a few people some things you've been wanting to say. That's kind of what happens, when death is in the room. Good things. Clarity. Action.
So anyway, my Vergennes hospice person lives a very simple life in low-income housing, in three rooms he shares with his wife, whom he adores. They are probably both in their 70s, and while I was there, sitting at the kitchen table with him yesterday, his wife, who was out running errands, called to say hello. Just to say hello. And they spoke with great warmth to one another, about nothing: what she had for lunch, where she was going next. And then they ended the conversation with, "I love you."
It was so simple and so filled with kindness and about so little and so much at the same time that I wanted to cry.
This person I visit is hooked to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day and is in pain from whatever illness he holds. Yet, he is one of the most gentle, generous people I know. He won't let me leave without something in my hands: a book of puzzles, a painting done by his wife, a gift for my daughter. This man has nothing, in terms of things: he has very little money; their apartment is filled with the cast-offs of others. He told me, yesterday, that they had had to buy a new car and that "It took our whole life savings: $1300." Still, none of it makes him angry or sad, even. He seems to possess a light I rarely see in humans. He is grateful for what he has and doesn't dwell on anything else or wish for it to be different. I am supposed to be visiting with him to ease his burdens, to lighten his load, to make his day a little better, but it's a ruse; it didn't take me long to understand that he is teaching me things I will never learn in school.
So that happened, too: I found a guide living on public assistance in a small housing project, shuffling around in his pajamas, pulling an oxygen tank, doing word search puzzles and drinking cold coffee, in Vergennes, Vermont.