Monday, August 30, 2004
A Little Colder
As he walked out of the building, he wrapped his arms around himself and rubbed, warning off the chill breeze. Why was it so cold on his arms in shirt sleeves? Something was not quite right. He felt a little...well, a little lighter. A little lighter on the right side to be specific. Also a little quieter. The familiar jangle so constant had been silenced as his lanyard hung about his neck, empty of its former authority. His right hip felt more freedom too. It was altogether a strange morning and he couldn't quite figure out why. What was different? He continued his walk, his pace a little brisker now to match the wind. A siren sounded in the distance, but he paid it no mind and kept walking. No chirp answered the siren. As he reached his car and turned his key, he looked back at the building, reaching high into the sky. It was his still, in a way, but also a stranger. The vehicle cranked and he pulled out of his spot, turning left at the light. Giving two quick blasts of his horn, he pulled out into the lane, turning his back on the familiar yet enigmatic edifice.
My neck was lighter from having turned in my keys and badge. My hip no longer indented by the presence of a chirping pager. My arms succumbing to the nip in the air because my lab coat lay folded across a secretary's desk. Consequently, my shoulders straightened easier not being weighed down by the constant presence of my now infamous hip pocket Prayer Book. As I left the hospital this morning after my double shift, I left it both less and more than when I had arrived, turning my back on what had been my home for the past twelve weeks. Having divested myself of the symbols of my authority, I had given up my warrant to be there. However, what I gained was my mandate to go into the world having discovered that what I had become there was what I always was - chaplain.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
God's Sense of Justice/Humor
12 weeks of CPE over and done with. The only part still looming before me was my final two on-calls, back to back. I am finishing up the first of those now, and it has not been without incident. 12 weeks of this whole program and 6 on-call shifts prior have I managed to stay out of 3 West. Give me your collapsed lungs, your stabbings, your shootings; give me your bloody car accidents, your massive subdural hematomas with midline shifts, your chainsaw accidents; give me your heart attacks, your septics, your pneumonians, but for God's sake, keep me away from the dead babies. 12 weeks and I escaped. No longer. When I saw the pager read a number that indicated the 3rd floor (Labor and Delivery), I looked upwards and chuckled, "You do have a wicked sense of humor, don't you God?" They don't page the chaplain because someone had a perfectly fine, happy delivery. Somehow I knew that I would not get out of here without confronting that particular fear. So, here I am, post-partum if you will. I blessed the child, named him and committed him to God. 18 weeks old, 8 ounces. So small, but so human looking. When I touched his forehead to bless him, the skin was soft and yielding to my touch, the bones of his head having never had the chance to form properly. Mom and Dad in tears, not knowing what to do with their hurt. I prayed that God help us with it, because this really was an awful thing that was totally unfair. But now, at the end of it, I feel my CPE experience is somehow more complete. Only nine more hours to go...that's a lot of time for a lot of things to happen. We'll see where it takes me...
[Later: 2 Code Yellows back-to-back at 2:45 and 2:52 am. Both MVAs, both pt.'s ok. Slept rest of night]
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Alleluia, the Strife is O'er
Well, officially but not technically. Today was my last official day of CPE, but I have my final two on-calls to do, back to back, beginning tomorrow night at 5pm and going through Sunday morning 8:30am. I like to go out with a bang. The last official day today was moving and, in the end, very nice. In the morning, I was called upon to be with the wife of a patient in the Cardiac ICU as they moved the patient to palliative (comfort) care. She had asked that I be with her when they did this because I suspect she knew what I knew - once they removed the ventilator he would go quickly. Once again, I was honored to be called upon and I went. This woman was a stalwart companion of her husband throughout his stay in the hospital and her love for him was obvious. She spent a lot of time using her hands to memorize his body by touching and holding his face, his hands, his chest, his belly. To me, this was incredibly moving for some reason. She told me of his pet macaw, Wizard. Apparently Wizard's favorite activity was to crawl up on her husband's chest while he napped in his chair, snuggle down, and fall asleep himself. She tells me the bird has spent the last week going up to that chair and calling out, "Papa? Papa?" I was able to stay with her as she requested when they moved him to palliative care. The man was a fighter and he fought to the end, making his death harder on her I think. It was definitely harder on me; this was not a peaceful quiet death like some of the others I've witnessed. No, this man fought for his last breath, he had the so-called "death rattle", and he gasped for air even as he was turning blue. Seeking to dignify this passing, I brought out my prayer book, and, receiving a nod from his wife, began to read the litany for the dying while his son instructed him to listen well to the words. Several minutes after I finished, the heart monitor finally read zero and his agony was over. He was in the arms of his creator and we were left with a shell. Though terribly sad for all involved, I think this was a holy ending to my official time at CPE and I was glad to be able to be a part of it.
This evening, I went to the movies to see a film I was having a hard time interesting others in seeing: Open Water
. I really like fish stories and have been fascinated with sharks from an early age. The story is loosely based off the true tale of two Americans vacationing in Australia who go for a scuba dive only to surface and find their boat gone. The movie version goes on to tell the story of their harrowing experience off the Great Barrier Reef, well known for being a natural habitat for aggressive sharks (White Tip Reef Shark
; Black Tip Reef Shark
; Gray Reef Shark
; Bull Shark
). Spending over 24 hours in the water, drifting with the current into deeper and deeper water, madness slowly settles on the couple. Close encounters abound as sharks investigate these strange floating invaders. The film does an excellent job of playing on our primal fear of sharks, the ocean, and not knowing what is beneath us. From the film, it looked to me as if the sharks they portrayed were Bulls, but I could be mistaken. Not only does the movie, a low budget independent feature, do a good job of portraying a realistic reaction to this experience, but it delves into the psychological effect it would have on a couple. Several stages of anger and disbelief are explored climaxing in a brilliant moment when the man just starts yelling at the ocean and his wife looks at him and says, "Are you done yelling now?" This seemingly calm question, which one might normally hear in a living room, comes after the couple has been lost at sea for hours and has been harangued by sharks for only a slightly less amount of time. As I've discovered though, the true story of this event
is extremely odd. Only click on that link if you want a spoiler for how the film turns out. After the movie ended and I got my fill of starts and thrills, I was walking out behind a couple of high school students, one of whom observed to her friends, "That sucked! I was expecting it to be much more Hollywood and much cooler!" Well, you're right about two things - it was not a very Hollywood film, nor is it a film for everyone. However, this does not automatically equate with sucking. Ah...teenagers. I remember being that cool once...last week...
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Chex Lovers Be Warned
I am compelled to tell this story for any number of reasons. One of the patients I have been visiting is in the hospital for a very interesting reasons: Chex Mix Overdose. This man has some sort of a condition where too much sodium in his system causes his lungs to fill with fluid. This is a poor syndrome to have for this Chex Mix lover. Apparently, his wife found him unresponsive in the bathroom, huddled up around a half eaten bag of Chex Mix in a clandestine attempt to feed his habit. After coming to the hospital, his wife reports finding small bags of mix hidden throughout the home in unobtrusive locations. Now that he is out of hot wate, I can joke with him about it. I said to him, "So, no more Chex Mix huh?" He replied, "Boy, word travels fast." I came back, "Well, come on, honestly, a story like that? That's fantastic! I mean, now that you're doing ok and everything, it's really sort of funny to us, who normally see cocaine and heroin addicts." "Yeah, I guess it is kinda funny then. Definitely no more Chex Mix for me. This is the second time I've done this to myself." "What?! You did this before? A Chex Mix overdose?" "The very same." "Ok, yeah, definitely no more mix for you." "The trouble is, I read the bag and it says only 4% daily dose of sodium, so I think I'm fine. What I fail to realize is, that means 4% per handful, not per bag!" "I can see how that would make a difference."
Anyway, on and on and on we went. This guy was hysterical. He has been able to identify his habit and hopes to overcome it. But I really sympathize with him - that Chex Mix stuff is AWESOME!.....and apparently deadly. It reminds me of my own father, who often hides snacks around the home and once almost signed up for a church group called S.W.A.C.K.S. because he thought it read S.N.A.C.K.S. Ah, men and their junk food...
Fiction and Non-Fiction
I have finished reading a couple of books recently and naturally have started new ones.
In the fiction department, I have finished Patrick Smith's A Land Remembered
. The story was marvelous and it was with a certain amount of sadness that I turned the last page. The characters seemed to really come alive through the skill of Smith's pen and creativity which caused me to find myself really reasonating with several of the characters. Old Florida jumps off the pages with his vivid descriptions and I got a real sense of what the land looked like in the time of its natural beauty. I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who has ever wanted to know more about a Florida that didn't involve Disney World.
Since CPE is ending tomorrow (officially - I still have a double shift on-call this weekend) and I will be heading home for a few days, I needed a longish book to take with me so I don't need to take more than one. Also, since the last two books have been rather serious, I wanted something a little more fun, so I chose off my shelf the second volume of Michael Moorcock's dark fantasy Eternal Champion series
, Von Bek
For non-fiction, I finished (a while ago) Dr. Sherwin Nuland's reflections of life's final moments entitled How We Die
. In it, he highlights by chapter the seven or eight ways that death is most likely to finally claim us. Written from a medical perspective but with an eye out for the layman, it is comprehensible and informative at the same time it is philosophically and pastorally reflective. For my next non-fiction choice, I have borrowed from a friend John Eldredge's The Sacred Romance
. I haevn't gotten very far into it yet, but it seems easy to read and pretty good so far. A lot of it is language that sounds like CPE, reinforcing my learning from this summer. Anyway, I look forward to getting further along in it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
When I die...
...and have an autopsy done, please don't put my rib cage on my legs and please don't pull my scalp down over my face. That's right folks, yesterday afternoon, along with several of my colleagues, I was privileged to witness a complete autopsy. It is an experience that has left all of us changed in some pretty intense ways. I have seen the inside of a person, completely and unequivocally, and I have seen God. Hudd, I'd love to discuss this with you sometime in greater detail.
Warning! Anatomical details ahead!
As I suspected, the only part that really got to me was the initial incision. It's going to be a long time before I have chicken with skin on it folks. Once the skin and fat layers were peeled back, the rib cage and abdominal cavities were exposed. It amazes me how much we are really just meat. I understand vegetarians now on a whole new level. The smell was also something. The bone saw then came out and the rib cage was sawed away. That's when they sort of just tossed it on the feet. A rib cage. Which looks remarkably like a side of beef ribs you'd buy at the market. Tossed. On the feet. Don't do that to me. With it gone, the lungs and pericardium surrounding the heart were exposed. With a few swift slices of the scalpel, the esophagas and trachea were severed and the doctors lifted out all the internal organs in one fell swoop, all attached to each other by various tissues. And there you have it. The chest cavity. "Cavity" is a word which makes so much more sense now! Pooled in the bottom of it, around the spinal column, was all the blood that distended the skin of the back like a stretched out wine skin, coloring it a deep red. One doctor then spent their time dissecting the organs which was intensely fascinating while another began work on getting the cranium open and the brain out. The scalp was cut from ear to ear and peeled down over the face like a halloween mask. Again, please don't do that to me. There's something wrong with having your scalp covering your eyes and your hair bunched up all by your nose. The skull looked exactly like I thought it would, hard and somewhat yellow. The saw came out again and began work. Since the skull is so think, about 3/4" as I observed, it takes a while to get through. Bone dust has a very distinct odor. With a sizeable chunk removed, the brain was exposed, again, looking exactly as I thought it would with the exception of the blood vessels which were really interesting to watch as blood moved through them when the head was jostled. Severing the various nerves and parts of the spinal column, he simply tilted the head back and caught the brain as gravity did it's job. Then it went into a bucket, which was weird at first until I thought about it, and really, what else is it going to go into? (Monty Python reference ahead.) Brains also float in water. Apparently they float in your head too, in the cerebral fluid. Organs, including the brain, are slightly heavier than I expected them to be. The brain was the most interesting one to hold because of it's texture. I also found it interesting to hold the appendix, because I wanted to throw it to the floor and step on it repeatedly for causing me so much pain....twice! But then I remembered, it wasn't my appendix. Overall, it amazes me every time I think about this experience how incredibly fragile we are, while at the same time being superbly sturdy. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. Should you ever find yourself in a place where you can watch one of these, I recommend you jump at the chance. You'll come away with a whole new understanding of life, on every level. I found myself wondering if this person's soul was sort of hovering around in the room eyeing the operation and finally exclaiming, "Oh! So that's what was wrong with me!" Actually, I imagine them to have been at their peace long before this took place, but it's still a fun thought. One of my goals for CPE was to become more comfortable with death, and now, I think I have made a huge leap towards that end.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Commemorating a Life
A man calling himself The Salty Vicar
asked that I tell a story about the people I mentioned who died last week. This just so happens to coincide with something about which I was going to write tonight anyway. Yesterday, while at Jives' watching the USA lose a valliant effort to Lithuania in basketball (Tim Duncan vs. Darius Songaila - awesome!), my cell phone rang. It was my fellow chaplain, Tat, calling from the hospital. He said a man called him at the hospital looking for my phone number, which Tat rightly did not give him. But he took down the man's name, number, and a message to relay to me. The man was Ron, husband of the recently deceased Ellen. He apparently was so grateful that I was with him and his family during his wife's death, that he wanted to call and thank me personally. Really, I was just doing my job, but I was touched by his phone call. Tat went on to say that they were having a celebration of Ellen's life on Sunday (today) and that Ron wanted me to come out and lead a service. WHOA! I thanked Tat and hung up the phone, not knowing what to do. Should I call him and agree to do a service for this party? Could I do such a thing, as a non-ordained seminarian? Would it be stepping beyond the boundaries of the job? I thought about it and decided I would not be performing a sacrament, nor would it be a funeral or burial service (pastoral offices) and so, I could do this. Now, should I? I decided yes. He honored me by asking and I would honor him and his wife's memory by doing this for them. I called and told him so. He was delighted and he told me the details. This morning, after church, I drew up a short liturgy of remembrance. Not knowing how many people would be there, I printed up 15 copies of the service, thinking up to three could share a copy. The drive out to their house took about 45 minutes and when I arrived, there were cars lined up parked in the street for blocks. I knew I definitely did not have enough copies. The party was out in the back of the large home under a huge tent. Easy, there were 150 people gathered there. I sucked in a deep breath, donned the mantle of my pastoral identity (great group material!!) and went inside. About fifteen minutes later, I found myself standing atop a deck, addressing those same 150 people in the name of God for the purpose of commemorating the life of their loved one, Ellen. I read scripture. I prayed. I gave a short homily talking about how briefly I knew Ellen, but how I knew just what kind of woman she was from those short moments we spent together. A woman whose candle burned brightly and fiercely. A developer who commanded the respect of tattoed, muscle bound construction workers. A woman whose love was reflected in the tears of those gathered to celebrate her life. Then we closed with the Lord's Prayer, which Ellen loved dearly. It was over before I really knew it had begun and I felt good. There were tears of sorrow shed, laughter of memories shared, and embraces of love and life exchanged. People told me they were touched. I kept replying as I thought I should, still stunned by what had transpired.
I have talked in my group at the hospital about how I think I am in a shell. I have spent so much time on the road to becoming an Episcopal priest, that I have become a person becoming. That shell cracked today and light shone in. There's a whole new world out there and it's bigger than anything I've ever known. But, I'm excited, because God's hand is leading me into it. It's an amzing thing, really, to know you've touched lives so deeply in such a short time. Humbling really, because I know it was not really just me, but God working through me; His love emanating out of me. It kinda makes your skin tingle and feel like it's ready to burst. Weird. I hope I never lose that feeling.
On Church Last Sunday; On Pay "Beaches"; On cooking out with Jives, Beal, and beer
When Beal was here, I asked him what kind of church he wanted to go to on Sunday morning; I said that here in Chicago, the Episcopal churches really run the gamut all the way from seriously high church to pretty low church styles. He said he'd like to experience what a real AngloCatholic High Church service was like, so we went to St. Paul's by the Lake - a church with which I am familiar for having just such a service and a church where my fellow seminarian Mitch
serves. When we arrived, we discovered that there was to be a Baptism that day. Not only that, but I remembered after seeing the bulletin that it was the feast day of the traditional Catholic remembrance of the Assumption of Mary (a predominantly Catholic belief that Mary never died, but was assumed into Heaven much like Elijah). This would make for some fine high churchin' if ever there was to be any. But, oh! The fun didn't stop there - the Bishop of Quincy was presiding over the service, complete with mitre and crozier topped with dueling dragons. Beal asked him about the crozier after and the Bishop said the traditional crozier is shaped like a Shephard's crook and implies pastoral oversight, but since this was not his diocese, he uses this crozier which emphasizes the bishop's role as battler of evil. Awesome. Needless to say, it was an excellent service and Beal got his fill.
After the service we had planned to go to the "beach" nearby for the afternoon. Well, whatever the locals call it, it isn't a beach. Sure, its got sand and water, but there is a distinct lack of salt in both air and water, a key ingrediant in beaches. But, it would have to do. We arrived and there was a sign posted that said "Beach Token Required". I inquired what such a thing was and apparently, you have to pay $6.50 to use the "beach"! Ludicrous! I said, "I didn't pay the other week when I was here!" The lifeguard, who was probably all of 16, replied "If you were here, you paid." I retorted, "Oh right. I forgot. How silly of me not to remember that I paid to go to a pseudo-beach!" I left that place angry, angrier than Beal anyway. I told him on the walk back, trying hard not to think about how I had just rubbed sunscreen all over myself for no reason, that I thought it was ridiculous to think you had to pay to use a beach. Who can own such a thing?! I can understand owning land for buildings and whatnot, but it's a beach! He told me I was sounding like Pocahontus. Well, maybe I was. Maybe I was. But I think she had something right in her thinking.
So, we ended the day joyously after that bit of silliness by cooking out burgers and tater-tots with Jives, while drinking daquiris and beers. It was a good end to a good day, even if the city of Evanston tried to ruin it.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Depart, O Christian Souls
Three of the patients to whom and to whose families I have been ministering this week went this day to their eternal rest. I had gotten to know these families and shared in some small way in the grief and sorrow they felt. So, please pray for the souls of Chun, Ellen, and Bill, for the comfort of the Holy Spirit on their families, and for the souls of all the departed.
On Beal's Arrival; On Beal vs. Onions and "The Village"
arrival was rather funny, much like everything involving him. He arrived in the middle of the night while I was on-call, so I left him a key and expected to return home in the morning to find him fast asleep on the futon after a hard night's drive. Well, I walked in at 9am to find him sitting up, drinking a Coca-Cola Classic, watching the Goonies. Pretty typical Beal style.
That night, we went with Jives to Clarke's to eat dinner; it is a little diner downtown Evanston. Now, all the times I've eaten there in the past, I've noted their affinity for the onion. Not the satirical paper
, but the vegetable
. Well, about halfway during the meal, Beal began to slow down eating and drinking a lot of water. Then, he began having a hard time breathing. Yep. Allergic to onions. I ask if we need to go to the hospital, because anaphylactic shock
is no cup of tea. He says no, that he is not that allergic to onions. We pay, leave the restaurant and head to the movies to get tickets to see The Village
, M. Night Shyamalan's new film. While we're in line, Beal takes a seat on the floor and I know we need to do something. He insists all he needs is some water and to sit down, so we get him that, but keep a close eye on him. Mentally, I'm mapping out the quickest route to the nearest hospital and thinking about taking the boy anyway. But, after a while of some sitting in Border's and some water, the spell passes. Really, don't let him eat any more onions.
Now, the film we saw was pretty decent I thought. It had a good story and a good twist at the end, Shyamalan's hallmark. But, I'm thinking he needs to come up with a new hallmark because I go into him movies now with an eye for the most unexpected thing to happen, which leads me to figure out what is going to happen, or at least get pretty close. I"d see it if I were you, and if I, being you, were a fan of his movies. But, in my opinion, Signs
is still his best work.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
On renewing marriage vows in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit; On a sleep-filled on-call
Sometime in the afternoon of last Friday, which was passing by ever so slowly, I received a page from the duty chaplain, asking me to call a relative of a person in the CICU. Apparently, they wanted to discuss something with me. So, I rang up the number and heard the story of how the man now in the hospital had flown all the way from LA with his wife to renew their marriage vows on their 25th anniversary in the church where they were married. But, he got critically ill two days before the big event and was now in the hospital. The priest who was to do the service had to attend a bishop's funeral downtown and was unavailable. Would I be willing to renew their marriage vows in the hospital room that afternoon? I was stunned, but quickly said that I would be glad to do so and would await their arrival. After I hung up, a thousand questions ran through my head: What should I do? Can I do this? How do I do this? Did they have something planned? Oh boy! So, I went downstairs to the chaplain's room and read through the Holy Matrimony section
of my prayer book (when all else fails, revert to the BCP!). Then, I researched renewal of marriage vows on the internet and found several nice liturgies. So, pulling from a few, plus the BCP, I developed a pretty nice service I think. Actually, I was rather proud of it - and, it could be adapted to any particular needs they had with ease. So, I then went back up to the CICU and approached the room. When I entered, they informed me the priest had called and would be able to make it, but thanks very much for my offer. I felt relieved for them that their priest could come, but somewhat sad that I wouldn't get to have this opportunity. I decided I'd stick around and watch. As it turns out, the man's bride is Filipino, and the renewal service was to be done in their style. Hordes of family began to show up dressed in all sorts of beautiful traditional garb and I actually felt relieved that I wasn't doing it; I don't think I'd of known what to do with all that! Well, as it turned out, it was a wonderful service, adn was the highlight of that unit's week, hands down. Several nurses shed a tear of joy and there were smiles all around. It definitely lifted the spirits of everyone involved and I was glad this couple could go through with their original intent. Later that night, I had my on-call shift from 12:30am to 8:30am. I arrived already sleepy and once I took the pager, decided I would go to sleep in the chaplain's room until it went off. So I did, and it did, at about 3:00am. It was a Code Yellow, but thankfully for all involved, not a very complicated one. At about 4:30 I went back to sleep and the pager rang again at 5:30, a code yellow x2 (meaning two patients). I went back to the ER, groggy, only to find that it was cancelled! Grrr! So, I went back to sleep and slept all the way through the night until 8:15 when my alarm went off. It was a new experience for me - a very restful on-call!
PS - I should note here (thanks Hudd) that my family and my house are all fine. Hurricane Charley hit us pretty much dead on at full force there in Fort Myers, but we pulled through ok. Lost our mailbox and a bunch of trees, but they were exotic trees anyway and we wanted them gone! However, do pray for those folks who lost everything, the thousands who are homeless, and the 19 who lost their lives.
Beal Says Hi
You may have noticed that for the past few days there has been a significant dirth of blogging activity on this page. The reason for this was that Beal
said hi. And, when Beal says hi, it takes about five days. Now, those were a delightful, rejuvenating, exciting, and hilarity filled five days, so don't get me wrong. But, because of them, I have not had time to blog. The trade off has been a good one. However, the down side was that there have been numerous things worthy of being blogged and I'd like to do that, but I don't think I have time to do it in one sitting, nor do you want to sit and read that many words at once. So, here is my agenda for the next few blogs (two of which, at least, I hope to post tonight):
On renewing marriage vows in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit On a sleep-filled on-call On Beal's arrival On Beal vs. Onions and 'The Village' On church this past Sunday On pay "beaches" On cooking out with Jives, Beal, and beer
- On going to downtown Chicago with Beal
- On the Shedd Aquarium and a unique species of fish
- On the man who wanted to save those fish
- On sushi
- On how Beal became the greatest person ever and had it documented
- On Beal's departure the arrival of a normal paced life once again
Tha outta do it...
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Despite what Mark Renton
says, I strongly urge you to choose life instead of heroin. I have been visiting with a patient who chose heroin and have seen the misery he has wreaked on his body. In hospital speak, he has a fasciotomy secondary to compartment syndrome on his volar and dorsal upper left extremity. Now what that means to folks in the real world is his left arm is messed up good. After collapsing from a heroin overdose, this person fell to the floor pinning his arm underneath him between his body and a baseball bat lying on the floor. Staying in that position for fifteen plus hours caused what is known as Compartment Syndrome
(scroll down to the bottom for a picture): pressure changes in his arm aided by the drug and enhanced by the odd and prolonged position caused his skin to split on both the top and bottom of his arm. The split swelled as the hours passed, exposing muscle, tendon, and bone, and now remains a gaping open wound which cannot be surgically closed. This wound needs to be cleaned daily of its necrotic (dead) tissues, which is accomplished through the application of tweezers. A more severe pain I have never seen anyone in. A more gruesome wound I have never seen. All of this is highly avoidable if you recognize fact from fiction and choose life rather than heroin.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Religion, Soldiers, and the Media
Ok, here's another thing I've been thinking about. Have you noticed that whenever a media report comes out about the lastest, greatest fighting in Iraq, they always identify the religion of the opposing force and their minister? "US Marines today exchanged fire with Islamic militants led by Cleric Muqtada al'Sadr in Najaf..." How come they never say anything like, "Christian US Marines and one Jewish division prayed for by Marine Chaplain X exchanged fire with militants in Iraq today..." I think it's a little funny. I know I'm being somewhat extreme in saying "their minister", in so far as al'Sadr is not only the cleric but also the warlord who finances the fight. But still, saying such things as "Islamic militants" only propagates the negative stereotypes by which this essentially (and scripturally) peaceful religion is stigmatized by the West. How important is their religion to the cause for which they are fighting? Superficially - you might be able to make an argument for it. But fundamentally (I'm recapturing that word for it's intended meaning) these people aren't fighting and dying for God. They're fighting and dying because some folks they don't want there marched into their backyard with machine guns and said they weren't leaving. In the end, very few people actually die for religous beliefs. Most people who claim they are doing so are actually choosing to put themselves in fatal positions because death has become preferable to life; because a culture of death has been established and cultures of life cannot even be remembered. Statements by the media, and NPR is at fault for this too - such as the one I highlighted above as heard on today's Morning Edition - do not serve the purpose of building understanding, which in turn serves the higher purpose of bringing about peace. A homeless man in Fort Myers named Joe once told me, "The more we talk, the less we shoot each other." Name calling and religion branding doesn't constitute talk.
That's Hymn #690 in the Hymnal 1982 - "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" and it is the hymn that has been on my mind of late. It seems to fit a number of circumstances in which I find myself and I am thankful to my friend Jack
for pointing it out to me. I am wandering through the strange land that is CPE, as you faithful readers know, and am encoutering a number of struggles there. The pure emotion of it all is so hard to take in for me because if I take it in, it will bring me to my knees, which, granted, isn't always a bad place to be before the Almighty. But, sometimes it's an uncomfortable place to be. So, sometimes willingly but reluctantly, and sometimes unawares, I have let it catch up with me and it's been a powerful force. I am wading through this unfamiliar territory known as seminary, though by now it is beginning to be familiar and I imagine will be all to recognizable once classes start up again. I look around me, especially in the wintertime, and find myself in the north (which my brothers will hastily point out to me was my choice to come here), but it too is a strange land to me in many ways. So, 690 is a good hymn for me right now.
It is also a good hymn for me right now for another reason. I broke up with Myra this past Sunday and while it was sad, it was something I felt needed to be done for reasons of which it would not be appropriate to go into here.
In happier news, my fraternity brother Beal
will be coming to visit on Friday. Much silliness, tomfoolery, ridiculosity, and general frivolity will ensue. I am looking forward to his visit greatly. He will arrive in the middle of the night, due to his insane driving habits, while I am on call. So, it will be funny; when I return from work at 9am on Saturday morning, he will be asleep in my living room. Strange.
In literary news, I have finished Andrei Makine's Requiem for a Lost Empire
. It was an excellent story and I thank Jives for pointing it out to me! Told from the perspective of a modern day Russian army doctor, it is the tale of three generations of his family, tracing the history of Russia through their eyes mediated by two great wars and one cold one. The language and style of it remind me of a cross between Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain
(a book which I've been thinking a lot about lately) and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls
. A lyrical melancholy underlies the entirety of the novel and it left me feeling satisfied but longing, exactly as the word in the title suggests. For my next novel, I have picked up a book I've long wanted to read but have been waiting for the right mood to strike. It seems appropriate after Makine's work, or at least sticking with a general theme: Patrick Smith's A Land Remembered
. Written with a similar device of multi-generational storytelling, it is a saga of Florida as it was, and, in some places, is still. Spanning three generations as well, it seeks to impart something of the natural beauty of the land, its people, and its times. From the little that I've read so far, it is doing a superb job of making me homesick, so that means it's pretty good. Names that once were only a part of Order of the Arrow productions appear as colorful characters and places now populated by retirement centers and golf courses are described as being havens of nature, last bastions of wild creation. It also does a nice job of describing how Florida was indeed, despite popular belief, deeply touched by the Civil War and how we native "crackers" (in the best sense of the word) are indeed Southerners. I look forward to this book, as only 47 pages have now passed me by.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
Friday, August 06, 2004
For those of you who do not know, half of the CPE experience is taken up by discussion time in your small group. The majority of that discussion time is spent delivering clinical presentations, or, verbatims. Now, there are a variety of styles of verbatims: the clinical presentation (pretty standard), the figure/ground report, the critical incident report, the theological story, and the spiritual verbatim. Having two clinical presentations to make this past week, and give that nothing extraordinary occurred during the week, I was having difficulty coming up with material for a second verbatim. So, I decided to do a "spiritual verbatim", which is basically a verbatim between you and God. It sounded weird to me too. But, I thought, I'd give it a try. It actually went pretty well. I felt weird writing it at first, but once I got going, it seemed to flow. Did God actually talk with me and I record His divine words? Who knows. Maybe I did. Maybe I heard the voice deep within me, which is God, and let it bubble to the surface. Again, who knows. But, God came out to be an extremely personal God to me. As my supervisor put it, "Your God seems like a cool God." And indeed He was. I did the verbatim on feelings and how to experience them. The following is an excerpt:
R: Hmmm. Ok, well…the purpose of this is so that I can try and talk with you about emotions and feelings. It’s my second goal in this CPE program – to learn more about my feelings.
G: I know.
R: Of course. Well…I even lit a candle.
G: It was supposed to be a bush, but ok.
R: At least you’ve got a sense of humor about all this.
G: I’m a funny guy.
R: Yeah, I’ve noticed. So funny you put me smack in the middle of this group in this program where all they wanna do is talk about feelings. I don’t do that so well and I guess I need to learn how. I’m doing this all for you, you know.
G: You’re doing this program because your bishop and your seminary asked you too do it. Do you think I limit ministry to those who have been through CPE?
R: Well, no, but…well, why do I have to do CPE?
G: Do you think that you would make just as fine a priest without it?
R: Well, I wouldn’t have a lot of experiences that I have had now. And that, I think, would affect the way I minister to your people. But, that doesn’t involve the group stuff.
G: So, you’ve not learned anything from the group?
R: No, I suppose I have. I just don’t like it. Sometimes it feels really silly and sometimes it hurts.
G: Try a cross someday.
R: Ok, I’m not sure if that was really you, but it was kinda funny.
G: That’s an emotion. Humor.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Two Decembers ago I was struck on the road (Metro in FM to be exact) and my car got pretty banged up. Due to the awkward nature of the accident, no one was ticketed. But, come to find out, the young lady who hit me has no auto insurance. So, apparently, my insurance company is suing her for the damages and I have been subpeoned to court, in FORT MYERS! Now, this just sucks. Through some finagleing and good use of the good ole boy network, we've managed to get the court date moved to a time when I am going to be in town, September 1. Now, what else is on September 1 you might ask. My mother's birthday, one of the reason's I am going home! So now, not only do I have to drag a suit home on a routine trip, but I have to wear it to court! Grrrr!!! They are betting on the fact that she doesn't show up, which means we win. But if she does, then full steam ahead. I don't even know what I'm expected to do. Just tell the story as I experienced it I suppose. We'll see. But for now, I'm frustrated by this and a few other things, but that's all I'm gonna write about.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
So, I've been having a couple of insect problems lately. For a while there I was having to squish several (5-15) mosquitoes a night in my apartment. Then, they stopped showing up, which caused me to believe they did the only sensible thing and fled before me. This was apparently not the case. There is a huge light on the staircase up to my apartment outside, which was naturally attracting the mosquitoes and flies. Now, what do mosquitoes and flies attract? The iron lattice work on the roof overhang of my building near that provides the most ideal place I can think of to spin a web, if I'm thinking like a spider. About a week and a half ago, I found a spider on my bedroom wall. I got a paper towel and squished it, tossed it in the trash and thought nothing of it. Then a morning or two after that I went to put on my pants to go to work and something fell out of them onto the floor only to scurry across my carpet. Hmmm, what was that? Yep. It was a spider. So then I thought, well, that solves the mystery of why the mosquitoes stopped coming in to the room. Then one night I went outside and happened to glance up. I lost count of the fat, eight legged kings and queens lounging quite happily in their evolutionary marvels of a trap above my door and along the entire ceiling to the staircase and light. Since then, I've averaged killing 2 a day in my bedroom (I think they come in through the air conditioner.) So, tonight, I got my snow shovel out and knocked down all the existing webs I could find and smeared all the egg pouches up there. In so doing, the adults started coming out of their day time hiding places and I got them too. I felt kinda bad about it and all - I mean, they're just doing what they do. I don't mind that they do that, I just want them to stay outside and do it. I know we're invading their space and all, but can't we just respect each other. I won't mess with their homes if they don't mess with mine.
So, Isis (my car) is in the shop having some work done and while it is there, the dealership has given me a loaner car. I think their policy is to give you a better car than the one you drive to entice you to buy it, but this only works on the wealthy and easily tempted - neither of which I am. So, they have given me a G-35, a shiny but subdued red in color. It is such an excellent piece of equipment and this town's 35mph speed limits are really hampering my enjoyment of this car. I likely have to give it back today as mine will be ready, so that'll be sad. We'll not discuss the other Infiniti drivers/cars in my family.
Ironically enough, this morning's staff devotion at the hospital was on how we shouldn't build up treasures on earth or hoard material things. I thought the way she went with the devotion was a little melodramatic (complaining about her son's fascination with baseball cards and her complicity in getting them for him) but I think I got the overall point. While she was explaining that, all I could hear in my mind was my mother saying, "It all depends on where you are in life." The kid is nine - he is allowed to like baseball cards if you ask me. And really, what a wonderful teaching moment - talk to him about the value of things and how Mom can't just keep buying him these cards. The kid thinks they are worth a lot of money, so explain to him that they are only worth what you can sell them for (a lesson my father taught me in my card collecting days). If he wants cards, let him earn them, or let him earn some money/allowance and teach him that he has to use that money as best as he sees fit: you can't have both an ice cream cone and a pack of baseball cards on Friday afternoon after school (nine year old fiscal responsibility). She's right to point out that her willingness to indulge him is problematic if it continues, but to use this as a cosmic example of Christ's teachings about material wealth is probably carrying it a bit far.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Mark down the day folks - Ryan has a positive experience to report back from CPE "group". It was so completely excellent, words can barely describe it, but I'll give it a go. So, we're in group and we're talking about prayer rituals for the dead, at the time of death. I mention that in the Episcopalian tradition, the prayer involves the line, "a sinner of your own redeeming" and how sometimes, I feel uncomfortable saying that line in the moment. I know that it is a truth, but it seems unhelpful to the family and loved ones surrounding that bedside. They don't want to necessarily hear that their loved one was a sinner at that time; though a rational thought and a truth, in that moment of grief, sorrow, and often despair, rationality is thrown right out the window. My supervisor (champion of feelings), agreed and said, "Yeah. I know. I mean I feel that but I don't always wanna hear about it or talk about it." I said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up there. What did you say? Repeat the last thing you just said." She began, "I said that I feel that but...oh no...you're totally going to use this against me." I laughed out loud!!! I said, "Absolutely!!" Some members of the group were slow on the uptake so I explained. Our supervisor just admitted that she has feelings she doesn't want to talk about. I said, "Right now - my feeling is vindication!" The entire experience changed my whole mood - I had been in a bad mood and then I was in a good mood. It was excellent.
On another note, Beal recently rightly pointed out that my "EveryDayFaith" has become "WheneverIFeelLikeItFaith". I do apologize for that. I know I have not been blogging with my regular consistency. CPE takes a lot out of you and I am exhausted at the end of the day and don't have the energy to blog sometimes. Plus, the excitement of the whole hospital experience has become more routine so I don't feel inclined to report every little thing anymore. For that I am sorry and I will try to do better so that those of you out there who have been feeling disenfranchised can recover.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Absolutely Perfect Day
Today was one of those rare days that I can look back upon and declare to be simply wonderful. It began early (which I know doesn't make most people's list of qualifiers for perfect days). Yesterday afternoon, I went down to Lincoln Park to help Jeff move out of his old apartment. Unfortunately, he could not move into the new apartment yet, because the lease timing was one day off. Luckily, however, our friend Sam(antha) lived in the same building as Jeff and is moving to the same new building as he is. So, we took all his stuff down to her first floor apartment to keep for the night and would move it in the morning, which is why we had to get up early today. I say we because seeing as how Jeff was homeless for the night, I offered him my futon and he readily accepted. So, about 8:15 this morning we got up and got on the train back down to Lincoln Park. Walking from the station to his apartment we passed a Panera and stopped in for a cup of coffee and a pecan roll. Just walking around the streets of Chicago at that hour of day in perfect weather was wonderful. We got to the apartments (the old and new buildings only being separated by two other buildings) and began moving stuff from Sam's apartment/storage into Jeff's new apartment once he got the keys. All morning we worked, carrying the large, heavy, and bulky items first. Sweating like pigs, we worked into the afternoon. At about 2pm we decided we needed a little lunch break and so I walked around the corner and picked up a bunch of Chicago style hot dogs that just hit the spot. Sam had hired movers for her, plus her parents were here to help her so she didn't need much from us; Jeff and I just concentrated on his apartment. Finishing up around 4pm we went for ice cream at Coldstone, stopping along the way for a popsicle, which were being handed out for free by an eager marketer. After the frozen treats we sat in his apartment for a little while and played a video game (hooking up the TV being one of the first priorities) and relaxed, basking in an amazing sense of accomplishment. I left around 5pm to return to my place so that I could shower before Sam, Jeff, and Sam's family came to my apartment to pick me up for dinner. Sam's family decided to take Jeff and I out to one of their favorite kosher restaurants (they're Jewish) in Skokie to celebrate the moving being finished. Dinner was excellent - I had Lamb Tignine, which involved apricots and dates! Sam's leaving on Wednesday for a 2 week trip to Israel, so we wished her good luck on that as well. She works for the Israeli Consulate and they are having her lead an education trip for students who have never been before. She encouraged me to come down to her office at the Consulate and check out what other programs they have to offer. Chuckling, I said they probably have my picture posted in that particular office as one of the people they don't like to let in! She and I, having a good understanding of one another, had a good laugh while her parents just looked on confused. We didn't feel it was the time nor the place to explain. So, now that I am stuffed, happy, delighted, and accomplished, I think I will retire early to catch up on a few missed Zzz's from the weekend. God's blessing on Sam as she travels and may her work with these students foster understanding and peace.