“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
summer. The last place I wanted to be, if I admitted it, was in the hospital.
But that is where I found myself, not by choice. The good news was, I wasn’t
there as a patient.
chaplaincy internship was one of the requirements for my graduate program and
since I had avoided it the summer before by taking Greek, if that gives you any
indication of how much I wanted to avoid the summer hospital chaplaincy. I had
heard horror stories about it from others who had gone before me – dealing with
intensely traumatic situations, screaming family members, fear, grief, anxiety,
anger – none of which said ‘summer’ to me.
there I was, in the hospital on a bright sunny Southern California day. My ‘job’
was to cover the third floor, knocking on doors and asking the patients
something along the lines of ‘how are your spirits today?’ Kind of like the
people who come knocking on your front door selling their God or religion or
their politics – except these poor people were confined to hospital beds and
couldn’t pretend not to be home. It was awful. What made it worse was that when
I introduced myself as the chaplain many people assumed that the chaplain visit
could only mean one thing – they were dying – and so panicked. It was awful.
this particular sunny summer day, I made an executive decision. I would ditch.
Not completely, as I needed the internship credits and couldn’t justify leaving
the hospital. But I would ditch my door to door work on the third floor and
head down to the hospital lobby where I knew there to be a coffee cart. An ice
blended mocha sounded like the perfect solution to my predicament.
deliciously chilly ice blended mocha in hand, I looked for a place in the lobby
to sit down. “If I sit down and talk to someone, then I can justify ditching in
case my supervisor walks by,” I thought.
I know, not the best of motives, but alas.
spotted an older woman sitting alone and went to sit near her. She too was
drinking something and we struck up a conversation. She was a delight. As it
happened, she was there waiting for her husband, the patient, to have some
tests. We chatted about life. When she asked what I was doing there I explained
that I was working as a summer chaplain. “Oh, I hate chaplains,” she responded,
not intending any ill will toward me, just stating her obvious opinion. We
continued chatting. As we neared the end of our drinks she said, “Why don’t you
come with me to visit my husband – I’m sure he’d love the visit.” I was
dumfounded, but agreed. We walked down the hallways on the first floor until we
came to his room, where she introduced me to him and I sat down. About an hour
later a nurse came in to do some more tests and so I took my leave. “Please
come back and visit again tomorrow if you’d like,” he said as I was leaving.
was dumfounded. What had just happened? A woman and her husband who ‘didn’t
like chaplains’ and ‘weren’t at all interested in religion, church, or
religious people’ had just asked the Presbyterian chaplain to come back for
another visit. But more than that, the Presbyterian chaplain (me) who didn’t
want anything to do with cold calling people in their hospital beds had not
only just had a delightful ‘chaplain’ interaction, but was agreeing, willingly,
to go back for more the next day. What I thought had been cheating – going to
get an ice blended mocha instead of dutifully fulfilling my assignment – had
actually turned into the most life giving interaction I had had all summer. I
had viewed my responsibility as one of duty and drudgery.
real magic happened when delight snuck in the back door.
Erin Dunigan is founder of Not Church. For more information regarding gatherings and events, please see www.facebook.com/notchurchbaja