Monday, November 17, 2014

Out, Damned Chaplain!

Several days after the orientation session at Laguna Honda, I went back to meet with the volunteer coordinator, Jan, and with the spiritual care coordinator, Bob. Jan showed me the various parking options, should I wish to arrive in a City CarShare car. He mentioned that HBO was there that day, in the largely abandoned old building, filming a scary movie or something. I can see why they’d be attracted to that location. It’s atmospheric, kind of ominous looking, and bulging with ghosts.

It sounds like the schedule I was envisioning will work out: to go on Saturdays for a while, until Bob sees that I’m not running amuck, and then I’ll go Thursday evenings for a couple of hours. He has assigned me to the rehab unit, which is one of the few areas of the hospital from which residents may end up being discharged, after some weeks or months. If they end up moving to another area of the hospital, they may be there for the rest of their lives.

He explained that I am there to support residents in practicing their spirituality or religion, not mine, though if they are genuinely interested, it’s fine for me to answer questions about Buddhism. He said there are plenty of Buddhist residents, but they all speak Chinese. An English-speaking Buddhist is a rarity. They offer several varieties of church services throughout the month, plus AA meetings, art, Zumba, all kinds of things. If a resident wants a bible or a rosary or Buddhist prayer beads, Bob has a closet full of those things. And if they don’t want to talk about matters religious or spiritual, we can just talk about whatever. Also, as was mentioned in my class, the chaplain is the one person a resident can order out of his or her room, in which case my gift to that person would be to leave politely and promptly.

I remember feeling mildly disgruntled when a chaplain showed up when Carlos was in intensive care last year. The word “chaplain” had a negative connotation for me—it still does—and I felt intruded upon, so I’ll try to remember that when people are asking me to get lost.

As mentioned, 80% of the residents at Laguna Honda will live out their lives there. One hundred percent of them have little money and few resources. It’s the hospital and care facility of last resort, so you might think it would be a grim place full of filthy people in wheelchairs slobbering on themselves, with grumpy nurses attending to them or not, but it is precisely the opposite. In this beautiful, light-filled, art-filled building, every single staff person I saw was smiling, almost radiant. The residents have the conditions that they have, but they are obviously clean and well cared for. I’d venture to say they are loved, and if so, that makes it a place akin to the soup kitchen. People were friendly and welcoming. You can tell Jan gets happier every day that he’s there, and he’s been there for years, coordinating volunteers along with one other person.

As I was leaving, a resident in a wheelchair—nearly 70% of their 800 residents use wheelchairs—said, “You’re lucky you can walk! I’m trapped in this prison.” I murmured something, and he said, “You’re pretty. You’re lucky you can walk. You’re pretty.” I noticed he had a bible verse on the back of his chair, written on a piece of cardboard, so I said, “I see you have a prayer on your back,” and he said, “Yes. You’re pretty. You’re lucky you can walk.”

Before I can start volunteering, I have to provide proof of having had a flu shot plus have two TB tests back to back, so I’m in the process of doing all that.

There was a tall crane towering over my neighborhood the day I went to Laguna Honda for my interviews, Mark Zuckerberg’s marble bathtub or giant server or some such being delivered. The crane was parked in front of his house on 21st St., which is a permanent construction project.

You used to hear, at night, some vehicle go by blasting extremely loud music, with massive bass causing everything in the vicinity to throb. That’s gone. I don’t know what kind of cars those were, but I’ll bet most of them weren’t BMWs, Teslas, or custom-built Mercedes convertibles. Now you hear, at night, the unmistakable sound of a high-performance sports car skidding around the corners way too fast.
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