Good news! TWMC (the Truly Wonderful Medical Center) has accepted me as a resident in its yearlong clinical pastoral education program starting this fall. I’m excited, and also pleased for the first time in 17 years to have a really satisfactory answer to the question, “What do you do?” “I work at ____” never felt good, no matter how much I tried to rationalize it, and “I’ve just been laid off by ____” wasn’t noticeably better. I always hastened to add that I volunteer at a soup kitchen. Now I get to say, “I’m studying to be a hospital chaplain.”
However, it’s entirely possible that at the end of the summer internship, I’ll conclude that I very much want to work for this company and to volunteer as a chaplain later on, so I’m going to keep those rationalizations, some of which are entirely solid, dusted off. Also, you can practice your values in just about any job. When I got laid off in January, a young fellow who sat near me, whom I had barely exchanged ten words with (mainly because I worked from home almost every day), asked if he could ask me a question: “Do you regret having worked here for so long?” I was touched by that; I think he was asking if he was wasting his life. I told him honestly that I don’t regret it at all, and that you can be a good person wherever you work.
Based on my experience last time I was laid off and how things have gone so far this time, I’m pretty much convinced that this company uses layoffs as a way of shifting people from where they aren’t needed within the company to where they are, as opposed to ridding itself of them permanently. This morning I was having problems logging onto the company website to look up a piece of information and had to call to get my password unlocked. The person who helped me told me to use my employee ID instead of another common identifier: “Don’t worry, when you’re back at work, you can go back to doing it the usual way.” It appears that being laid off is regarded as a temporary condition.
I trust that TWMC has a waiting list in the event that some of the people they picked for the yearlong CPE program change their minds or can’t participate for whatever reason. I think it’s actually more likely that by the end of the summer, I’ll be very interested in moving ahead and delighted that I get to start the yearlong program.
Backing up a bit, a couple of Thursdays ago, my friend Karen (from chaplaincy class) and I saw the movie 45 Years, followed by Indian food at Roti. The movie was surprisingly affecting, and dinner was delicious.
A couple of nights later, F. and I saw Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, at the Brava Theater. Sylvester, whose music I love, lived in San Francisco and died of AIDS here in 1988. The crowd at the Castro Street Fair that year chanted his name adoringly, loud enough for him to hear from his home, where he lay ill. The musical at the Brava Theater was excellent, with a first-rate live band, dazzling costumes, and splendid vocal performances and dancing. I was next to an aisle, so I got up and danced with abandon when the final song was played. After all, the theme of the show was, “We are going to die one day, so live! Live!”
That was also a theme of the play Aubergine, which F. and I and Tom’s mother saw at Berkeley Rep the next day, after lunch at Au Coquelet. (Tom was at a union event.) We took BART to Berkeley to meet Ann. After we settled into our seats at the 16th St. station, an elderly man hopped aboard wearing only a shirt and drooping black underpants. He did a bawdy gyrating dance and then turned around and reprised it for the audience members behind him, scrambling off the train just before the doors closed.
I have a friend who does a lot of ushering, including at Berkeley Rep, which she says reminds her of her childhood and of her parents, both of whom are now gone (well, I guess all three are gone). She reported that several people marched out of the theater when they realized that Aubergine is about death. It’s also about family and love and sorrow and, inextricably linked with all of those, food. One of the characters is a hospice nurse. Ann and I loved it. I was in tears by the end, and I could hear people sniffling throughout the theater. So maybe the theme was, “We are going to die one day, so eat! Eat!”
F. and I got a chance to comply right away, at the soup kitchen’s monthly potluck that evening. The guests included friendly visitors from the Philippines, who used Yelp to find a great place for chicken adobo and lumpia, which they brought in abundance. Meanwhile, someone who lives at Thomas House got inspired to have Thanksgiving in March: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes. He said that every day is a good day to be grateful. We also had salad, rolls, various kinds of nuts, hummus, chips and guacamole, and there was a huge array of desserts.
The crowd includes soup kitchen volunteers, guests, and people who are sometimes one and sometimes the other, including a fellow I’m particularly fond of who has a wild spray of silver hair, a raspy voice, and a way of leaning back on the couch after dinner with his eyes closed, making a contented purring sound. I noticed that evening that he has become alarmingly skinny, and that his face looked oddly blank. I hope he is not seriously ill.