Saturday, June 25, 2016


This past week Samantha was out of the office. I assumed she was taking vacation, but overheard her in our open-plan office saying something about when she would return “from leave,” which suggests she may have something going on in her life that is making her cranky. In any event, I was happy we’d be getting a break from her and that her boss, Jacqueline, would be teaching our class sessions, which are Tuesday and Thursday from one to five p.m.

In class Tuesday, Jacqueline was saying something about the Google calendar we use and I asked her if some recent on-call trades would be reflected there. She asked, “What does that have to do with what I’m talking about?” Sheesh. I submit that there are nice ways to say things and mean ways, and that that was a mean way. In the 18 years I spent at the large corporation that laid me off in January, I can’t think of a single occasion of blatant rudeness (except for the time I walked away from the fellow who was insisting that I go through the kitchen door before him; I apologized later). I’ve only been in clinical pastoral education for, as of yesterday, three weeks and have already lost count of how many times someone has spoken in a rude, angry or impatient way. (However, I did make a mental note not to depart from the topic at hand in the future.)

When the day was over, I asked Andrew if I could walk to his shuttle with him, and on our way up the hill, I asked, “Is it just me, or are these people jerks?” He said, “It’s you and me both” perceiving it that way, and added that it’s well-known in seminary circles that this is the culture of CPE: it’s supposed to be spiritual boot camp or something, he said. I can’t fathom how being harsh with students is supposed to teach them how to be empathetic caregivers.

When I got home, I called Naima, my mentor, and she was able to speak right then. She said three or four times that she is very sorry this is happening, but also suggested that I stop focusing on my instructors and consider what I can learn from this situation. She said that CPE is just plain hard—it’s hard for everyone at the beginning. She reminded me that the time I spend directly being supervised is a fraction of the whole experience, and that I’m there to learn pastoral skills (how to provide spiritual or contemplative care). If that is happening, that’s the main thing, and that is happening.

I went that evening to Howie’s just to serve as the greeter, and complained to him about my experience, and he looked pained and asked, “Where’s the love?”

Jacqueline did say one helpful thing on Tuesday, which is that we might get to the end of the summer and conclude that a hospital ministry is not for us, and that is fine. She said, “There are many different kinds of ministries you can have.”

On Wednesday, I had a 60-minute one-on-one meeting with her, at which I expected to be further offended, but it was actually very helpful. I scribbled down lots of notes. I had figured that I’d hang around the hospital and be friendly and listen to people as best I could, and that if I had to, I’d say prayers or otherwise proceed in a religious or spiritual context, and that that would basically be it, but what is really required is quite different. It’s about learning to figure out what others are feeling, which depends on being able to figure out what I’m feeling, and to learn conversational techniques that are not about solving problems but about allowing people to explore their own issues and to place them in a meaningful context (which could be a religious context) that may suggest solutions. Offering reassurance seems like a really nice thing to do, but it’s not the goal here, as it does not recognize what the other person is feeling. In fact, it does the opposite. It says, “Don’t feel that way” and can leave the other person feeling alone and unheard.

We lately read the first half of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande (which I had read before; it’s excellent) and now we’re reading The Skilled Pastor: Counseling as the Practice of Theology, by Charles W. Taylor. I’m finding his chapter on verbal responses very helpful. A key skill is paraphrasing what we’re hearing. He says that paraphrasing is the most important skill discussed in the book “because it is the one that contributes most to both [patients]’ exploring and [caregivers]’ empathy.”

We do a lot of role-playing in class, giving each other honest feedback afterward; plus we will write five “verbatims” this summer, in which we try to recount, sentence by sentence, a conversation we had with a patient, and what we were thinking during the conversation. We will go over these in class, as well. Having to do this should improve our ability to recall what was said, along with how well we pay attention in the first place. As someone or other said, you can’t remember what you didn’t hear in the first place. Jacqueline might have said that.

I was on call again on Thursday and slept much better this second time. There were no pages during the night, so I got 10 hours of sleep and had time to meditate for 45 minutes the next morning, plus you get the next day off, so I am having a three-day weekend.

I am feeling much, much better now that I’m back to getting pretty much all the sleep I need. At first, I felt so terrible both physically and emotionally, and also disoriented and overwhelmed. I literally felt dizzy now and then, but with each passing day, I feel more present in my body and can attend to my posture and how I’m using my body, a la the Alexander Technique, so that I feel more comfortable and more at ease. I’ve only been at this for three weeks, but so far I’m not brooding over patients’ problems after the day ends. For one thing, it’s my practice to try to be present in this moment, and for another, this is obviously a heavy thing to do, with great potential for compassion fatigue, so I feel it’s my responsibility to enjoy everything that can possibly be enjoyed. This is happening naturally as I can’t help but appreciate that I am not lying in a hospital bed. I can go outside. I don’t have cancer.

On Thursday afternoon, we had quite a good class with Jacqueline. Maybe Tuesday was hard partly because she didn’t know us at all. By Thursday, she knew us better, and the mood was friendly. She gave us a useful presentation on the art of conversation and we saw the movie The Sea Inside, about a quadriplegic, played by Javier Bardem, who wishes to end his life. Samantha had said firmly that we ought to be able to delve into a patient’s deepest beliefs in a first conversation, but Jacqueline said that this kind of intimacy may take several conversations to develop, which sounds much more realistic. However, the average patient in this hospital is there is for only three or four days, so a very deep conversation might not happen that often, but I’m enjoying meeting tons of new people, including nurses. I had a riveting conversation with a patient who is Buddhist and Christian and who recounted in vivid detail a couple of mystical experiences, as well as a very meaningful dream. I don’t take any credit for that beyond the symbolism of the chaplain title. “You’re a chaplain? You’ll want to hear about this!” Also, I had time to listen.

Today I met my walking friend at Café La Boheme for tea, and then Tom and I had El Salvadorean food in Berkeley and went to Berkeley Rep to see For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday. Ann didn’t join us for this one. The play was short, about 80 minutes, with no intermission. When it starts, an old man is dying in a hospital bed. Monitors are beeping, he has an oxygen tube in his nose, and his five adult children are gathered around him. (Hmm, seems like I’ve seen this somewhere lately … ) The oldest child played Peter Pan in a theater production when she was a child. The first half of the play seemed kind of flat, but in the second half there is a dream sequence which I found magical and quite moving.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Glowing Round Moon

I think I mentioned here when I was doing hospice volunteering that I’m scared of dead bodies. I had never touched one, and asked Samantha, my supervisor for clinical pastoral education, if this would be required. She said if I’m scared of death, this is going to be a hard summer, but then she softened a little and allowed that she herself has never had to touch a corpse.

Herewith the story of my very first day on call, which was the day before yesterday.

I decided to take the bus so I wouldn’t have to worry about my bike being stolen from the parking garage, and I left extra early, because I knew the bus was going to have to detour around the Juneteenth celebration. I did not know that the bus was going to stop dead and the driver tell us to get off and walk a block over to catch some other bus. There was a blind man on the bus who didn’t freak out, but who expressed that he was going to need clear instructions. I said, “Don’t worry, sir—I’ll go with you.”

We made our way over a block, the very friendly blind man holding my elbow, us chatting away, and there we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with virtually no traffic of any kind, next to a shabby little park with a few shady characters studying us. I called Muni to ask if we were in the right place, and while I was on hold, we decided to start walking north. I was now worried that I was going to be late to take the pager from the previous on-call person, and could easily imagine what Samantha would have to say about that.

Periodically, I stepped into the street to see if there was any sign of a bus. The third time I checked, there it was 20 feet behind us, preparing to roll by. I yelled, “Stop! Stop!” and waved my arm violently, and the driver let us on. The blind man and I had a good chat while we rode to our stops. He had encountered clinical pastoral education students at the hospital he goes to. When he got off the bus, he said very cheerfully, “Thanks, reverend! It’s been tops!”

At work, I saw there was a request to visit a young man in oncology. Just 26 years old, he has decided that he doesn’t want his suffering prolonged and evidently means not to have any more chemotherapy. He said that one month ago, his life was “normal.” (I’m not sure if his illness had been diagnosed yet or not.) He was making plans for how his life would unfold; he was saving to buy a house. His sister is going to be married next year and he would like to be there. He has good friends who have been visiting him, but his entire family is in India, and his parents don’t yet know about his decision. They are coming on Thursday, and I felt sad thinking of them arriving here after such a long trip to learn that they are going to lose their smart, gentle son so young.

When I went outside, I felt so happy just to be able to walk along the sidewalk and feel the sun on my face and the fresh breeze.

I made my way to my normal units and saw a few patients. Then I got a page: a patient had died and her partner wanted a blessing said for her. I had thoroughly prepared in case I had to baptize a dead baby, but had not prepared at all to say a blessing for a dead adult. I went to the patient’s room and peeked in. Sure enough, there was a dead body in it. Before heading to the unit, I had done some frantic Duck Ducking for blessings, but found only things that were very religious or seemed too cheesy. I had been told that the dead woman had not been religious. When her partner returned to the area, he told me they had been together for 26 years, and that she had changed his life. I asked about her beliefs in order to pick up some clues about what to say, and then we went into her room and stood on either side of her bed. The skin of her face was already tight over her skull.

Her partner took her hand and I stood politely across from him as he told me the story of their first date, how they were in Golden Gate Park and she called, “Charlie! Charlie!” Just as he was wondering if he’d taken up with a lunatic, squirrels began to come out of the trees—the gardeners who work there all call the squirrels “Charlie.” The woman’s partner said he didn’t have many photos of her, but he had thought to save her driver’s license, and he showed it to me. She had a pretty face and a warm smile. She was wearing red lipstick. Very different from the person between us, but her partner didn’t seem to notice. He said, sounding happy, that it was the first time in days that he had seen her actual face; she had been covered with monitors in the ICU.

The longer we stood there, the more comfortable I felt, and I decided to be brave and to touch her. Her hands were at her sides, palms down, fingers curled under. I rested the back of my hand against the back of hers, and felt that it was still warm. I left my hand there, and after a while, began to feel so tenderly toward her that I rested my palm on the back of her hand, putting my hand over hers, and it was fine.

Then I put my hands in prayer position, closed my eyes and offered a blessing, improvising, and after I said “Amen,” I looked at her partner and saw that he had tears in his eyes. He said, “That was beautiful. Thank you so much.” Moments later, my on-call pager went off. I’m glad it didn’t do that during the blessing. I would have turned it off, but Samantha had made herself clear on this point. I apologized, and the woman’s partner said, “No, no, I know you’re busy.” I touched the dead woman one last time, and felt that now her hand was perfectly cold. The warmth in her hands had left while we were with her.

This page turned out to be for another dead person in need of a blessing, at another campus. I took a cab there to find a Samoan family, 15 or 18 people, sitting in chairs near the deceased in her bed, a woman. In the class at Sati, we learned that people may feel shy about touching their dead loved one and that if we do this, it can embolden them. However, this family did seem to be keeping a formal distance, and they indicated a chair for me that was a few feet from the bed, so I sat there and didn’t touch her. But I could have! I can totally touch dead people now, thanks to the nice woman who changed her partner
’s life and knew the secret of summoning squirrels.

Again, I asked about the beliefs of the departed person, to get some clues as to what to say, and I offered a blessing, with one of the relatives murmuring, “Yes, Lord,” at intervals. I liked that she felt inspired to join in. When I was done, they thanked me, and I went into the adjoining room. There were a number of little kids running around, and a lot of food laid out. As I was leaving, someone said, “Chaplain! Wait, chaplain! We’re making you a plate,” and they handed me a paper plate with biscuits, potato salad, and two pieces of fried chicken. I sat in the lobby and ate their kind offering and then I took a cab back to my usual campus, where I spent the night in an apartment reserved for our on-call people.

I did not get paged during the night. I got up to go to the bathroom once and was dazzled by the beautiful city lights and the glowing round moon making its silent way through the night.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Russian Mafia

Now that I’ve spent more time with my fellow chaplains, I see that some of them are quietly extraordinary. One specializes in working with dying patients, including babies and children, and with psych patients. He radiates calmness, making it nice to be around him.

I spent the past work week seeing patients and charting patient visits and attending class for eight hours, plus we had a meeting of the spiritual care department, which includes a healing harpist. Reviewing charts before seeing patients made me feel kind of queasy a couple of times—it will probably be worse when I actually know what all those words mean—but when one patient spat a large amount of dark green mucus into a cup, I didn’t pass out, so that was good. Reading about medical matters seems to be more disturbing than directly observing their effects.

I visited one patient with Samantha and that was very illuminating in part because our interpretations of what the patient was saying contrasted greatly. Of course, maybe I was right and Samantha was wrong, but since she’s been at this for a while now, she likely is correct. Then again, I’ve lived for 21 more years than she has, so maybe I’m right. Anyway, it was interesting that we could see the same patient and hear the same words and come to very different conclusions.

I was in a hospital elevator one morning with one other person, a doctor. A second doctor got on and whispered to me, just loud enough for the other doctor to hear, “Be careful around him: Russian mafia.”

There is a lot of talk about emotions in clinical pastoral education. It appears a key chaplain task is to identify and empathize with the emotions of others, which requires identifying one’s own emotions. My mental health professional is going to be shocked when she asks me, “How did that make you feel?” and I answer, for the first time in 34 years, “Sad,” instead of, “None of your business.”

I have had a lot of two-minute conversations with patients so far:

“Hello, my name is Bugwalk, and I’m a chaplain here. Is there any spiritual or religious need we can support you with while you’re here in the hospital?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Ah, very good. I hope your afternoon is peaceful. It was nice to meet you.”

One of my peers was reporting the same this week and I replied that we could hardly be expected to have a deep conversation about very personal topics within minutes of meeting a stranger, so he shouldn’t feel bad, but Samantha said she begged to differ. She said you absolutely can get to these topics in an initial conversation, which threw me into a slight crisis: do I want to do such a thing? Is it even beneficial?

When Carlos died, one of the most helpful things I did was to be mindful of my thoughts: “Having the thought that I am not going to survive this. Having the thought that this is too hard.” Thus it was indeed drawing on the resources associated with my religion that helped, but since Buddhism is as much psychology as religion, this does not confirm to me that what someone in the hospital needs is religion. I felt better when I came upon a reference to the “Four Facets of Spirituality” in some instructions for a writing assignment: Formal Religious, Privately Spiritual, Expressing Feelings, or Value and Meaning. That covers quite a spectrum.

I’m still finding CPE very difficult physically—I’m consistently not getting enough sleep—and it is quite a rollercoaster emotionally, with days where I feel discouraged and/or resistant, and days where I feel just staggered by the remarkableness and beauty of some person I have spoken with. I spent half an hour with one young woman with a host of terrible problems who spoke with such determination of tackling and vanquishing one after the other. “God is so good,” she kept saying. “God loves me so much.” Her boyfriend had given her HIV, but even there she had found a silver lining. I was nearly in tears by the time we parted, tremendously touched that someone whose life sounds so hard can find nothing but things to feel grateful for. 

It’s also kind of fun to chart patient visits. It’s like writing a little story about each encounter, some admittedly more interesting than others.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Eggs for Breakfast

I had constructed a very unrealistic CPE schedule for myself which called for going to sleep at 7:30 p.m. so that I could get up at 4:30 a.m. to meditate and so forth before going to work. When I got home Wednesday evening, after the difficult interaction with Samantha, I felt utterly miserable and decided that I was going to have to stop eating dinner in order to fit everything else in, which made me feel even sorrier for myself. I thought of various people I could call for support, including one of my new chaplain pals, except that my schedule allowed zero minutes for making such calls, let alone going to see my mental health professional. I pulled down the shades and got in bed.

Finally, however, I felt so wretched that I called my mother in tears and we spent an hour on the phone. I asked if it would be a sign of poor character if I were to quit CPE after three days. She consulted my father, who said to give it two weeks. Mom was very kind and sympathetic and said that if getting nine hours of sleep is non-negotiable, then I will have to spend less time eating and meditating. I’ve sat 45 minutes a day for a long time, but I’m going to have to let that go. Ten minutes will have to do on work days. I also remembered about Sayadaw U Tejaniya, whose practice for many years was conducted while running a business, without long periods for sitting meditation. Accordingly, he advises paying attention in a relaxed way all day long.

After Mom and I got off the phone, I sprang back out of bed and ate and listened to music, and on Thursday and Friday, I meditated for just 10 minutes and let myself skip stretching both days while I recuperated, and I felt much better. 

At work, there are us three summer chaplain interns, four chaplain residents finishing up their year of CPE, another CPE supervisor besides Samantha, and maybe two full-time and two part-time chaplains employed by the hospital. I was observing that many of them appear not to be thriving, based on appearance and affect. (We summer interns look fantastic, of course.) Also, if the job really is to assess and attend to spiritual and religious needs (duh), maybe it’s not for me, because I mainly just like to go around being friendly and chatting with people. I’m hearing a lot of chit-chat about religion (duh), which is not that interesting.

However, here is one thing that does pique my interest, which is that people who have been doing this for a while notice a lot of stuff I don’t notice. After seeing a patient with another chaplain, she asked if I’d observed this and that—I had not! I would like to learn not to miss those things.

I found out on Thursday which campus I’ll be assigned to, and it’s the one where our office is, which means we will see our supervisor often, which is good (I guess), and it’s also the best one for bicycle commuting: a good healthy ride but not clear on the other side of town. My access to the bike cage still hasn’t come through, but I found out that I can ask the security guards to open the cage for me, so I got to ride to work Thursday and Friday and didn’t have to take the bus, which was wonderful.

I have been assigned to parts of three floors of the hospital: a transitional ICU (TICU), a telemetry area (or cardiology; not quite clear yet), and an orthopedics area. We shadowed another chaplain as he or she visited a patient, and the next day, we visited two or three patients while being shadowed, and then we were sent off to see patients and chart on our own! Thus on Friday afternoon I found myself having several short, friendly visits with patients and then sitting in front of a computer at a nurses’ station charting! “I’m working at a hospital!” I said to myself.

I had some misgivings about Samantha even in our initial interview and must say that she often takes a rather blaming, unpleasant tone. When you ask her about something, she says, “Did you try looking in the book?” and if you spend half an hour trying to figure something out yourself, she says, “Why didn’t you ask me?” The ratio of criticisms to compliments is about 15 to one. Actually, I’m not sure we’ve received any positive feedback whatsoever, though she seemed mildly pleased when I did something on my own she was otherwise going to have to help me do.

She and I met on Friday and she asked why I didn’t answer her boss’s question in that meeting and informed me that not answering is not an option, so then I told her what I had experienced in our interaction on Wednesday and she understood and sort of apologized. I don’t know if we’re going to form a warm relationship—it’s too bad she will be writing my evaluation at the end of the unit—but I am going to do my best not to dislike her. I also understand that we all are sometimes calm and kind and we all are sometimes jerks, and when we’re jerks, there’s a reason for it. She may have troubles I can’t imagine, though whatever they are, I didn’t cause them. I am going to just do my best in the coming ten weeks and work as hard as I can and learn as much as I can.

F. came over Friday after I got home from work, and it was nice to see him. Our whole relationship is upside down at the moment, because he’s usually the one to call me, and now I mostly have to call him. I felt so happy when I woke up yesterday morning. I don’t have to go to work! The sky is so beautiful! My first week of CPE is over! I’m going to have eggs for breakfast!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Frightening Outfit

Starting with the most important clinical pastoral education news: my ID badge photograph looks fantastic. It has been a week of receiving an enormous amount of information and orientation. There are two others in my peer group, both men attending seminary in Berkeley. I found out that I can hang my black jacket in my closet at home and leave it there. I brought it along with me the first day just in case, but Samantha, our supervisor, said the way we were dressed was fine, explaining that you want to be attired so that if you find yourself at the bedside of someone who is dying, you’ll feel properly and respectfully clothed, but you don’t want to make every patient whose room you go in terrified that he or she must be about to expire.

We did get our badges on Monday, but it turned out that my badge did not open the bike cage, which I mentioned to the administrative assistant on Tuesday morning. She had been very kind and welcoming up to that point, including in phone calls before the program started, but she looked at me with an irritated expression and said, “What are you asking me to do?” I was rather taken aback, but it was the very beginning of the day, a time when she probably has a lot of things to do.

During this unbelievably crammed week, I found myself being very appreciative for small moments of pleasure. Lying around reading for six hours is out of reach right now, but I can consciously enjoy seeing a beautiful painting on the wall at the hospital or feeling a fresh breeze. I hope that being present as much as possible, which focuses energy inward rather than outward, will help prevent fatigue and overwhelm. We shall see. I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the surroundings at my former job. In my new office, the bathroom is not very nice, and there is no such thing as an unstained chair.

The sanitizing hand gel barrier was crossed on Tuesday! Someone was briskly giving us a tour, and before I had time to think about it, I had rubbed gel on my hands to discover that it dried almost immediately and felt fine, but smelled bad. Subsequently I have noticed that sometimes it completely disappears and other times it leaves sticky wisps, but there are sinks everywhere and it’s fine to use them for sanitizing instead of using gel, or for washing gel off.

In the course of the week, we toured all four campuses. At one, we visited the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). I saw a very tiny baby in its incubator so covered with various monitors that I couldn’t see its face, though I could see it had a little hat on its head, which was not much larger than a tennis ball. It brought tears to my eyes to see such a defenseless little human. We learned that after such babies die, that is the first time, and probably the last, that the parents see what their child actually looks like. We were told that if the parents want to take photos of a deceased child, we should suggest that they use the black and white setting on their phone or camera, because the child will look less dead (though we should not offer this explanation). However, most babies in the NICU go home in good health when they reach what would have been their normal due date; most babies are there because they are premature.

On Wednesday, I felt really terrible due to lack of sleep, and, to make a long story short, had a difficult exchange with Samantha, and was so near tears that when Samantha’s boss asked me a question in a presentation, I said that I was having a hard morning and needed to be quiet for the time being. After the meeting, my very nice classmate Andrew asked if I wanted to talk, and I did burst into tears then, and afterward felt better. He’s a really lovely person, very calm and down to earth. Our other classmate, Mason, is a good person, too. The three of us fell into an easy and cordial relationship right away.

(To be concluded in next post.)

Sunday, June 05, 2016


Last weekend, F. came over on Friday night and at about 6:30 a.m. Saturday said that he was angry about something that seemed so over the top to me that we went our separate ways for the weekend right then.

Two or three fights before that one, he’d mentioned on the phone some things he was resentful about. After we hung up, I listed them: 14 items. That’s just too much, so earlier this week, I proposed that we do some sort of forgiveness ritual—that we think about what we’d like to be forgiven for, and, as best we could, forgive each other and let some of that baggage recede into the past. I further suggested that, from now on, we stick to the matter at hand, with one person saying what he or she is perturbed about, but not adding, “And you did the same thing last month and the month before that, and another thing I don’t like is … ” Likewise, the listening party can refrain from saying, “Really? Well, what about last week when you did such-and-such?” I said our primary goal in such conversations should be to understand each other.

F. said that doing a forgiveness practice sounded like a constructive idea, and suggested that we not do it at my place, but on neutral ground. Late Friday afternoon, on an extremely warm day, we met at the top of Dolores Park and sat side by side on a bench. The expanse of green grass, all the people enjoying the park, and the lovely breeze were idyllic. We sat for a while, and then F. spoke his piece, and I spoke mine, and the mood was peaceful. I really appreciate that he so sincerely engaged with the concept of forgiveness. He mentioned it several times during the week and it was obvious he was really thinking about it. Once he even said of some small thing that arose, “I forgive you for such-and-such,” just skipping the getting angry part entirely. The first I knew of his unhappiness was when he announced he had forgiven me! I was going to tell him that he’s not obligated to skip the getting mad part, but then I decided not to mess with his process.

We stayed at the park Friday afternoon for another half hour or so, and then he went to pick up something for dinner and I went home to start cooking mine. F. hates to eat alone and really likes it when we eat together, an activity I find stressful. When I was a kid, adults ate in one room and children in another. When I was 17, I moved out and lived with various roommates, none of whom I sat down to dinner with, and for the past 33 years, I’ve lived alone, which is to say that my experience of family dining is nonexistent. In addition, when I was a child, my mother would cook dinner after coming home from work (as a research associate in the naval architecture department at the university) and quite often would be quite cross while she was doing it. She didn’t raise her voice, but it was obvious that she was angry, and there could be colorful language. One might wisely choose to leave the kitchen.

After a while, my father took over the cooking and discovered that he enjoyed experimenting with recipes. And it wasn’t terrible, by any means, eating with my two younger sisters. I believe we had many moments of levity. But I think I did inherit, or get a direct transmission of, my mother’s displeasure with having to do tasks for others at the end of a whole day of activities. And let the record reflect that we aren’t talking about just putting TV dinners in an oven or boiling pasta and pouring sauce from a jar over it. She made everything from scratch and it was wonderful food: lasagna, chop suey, brown butter and kniffles. Wow—I never knew how the latter was spelled until this moment! It’s pronounced, or at least we said, “NIFF-luh.” It’s German, as was my mother’s father’s family. My mother also baked bread from scratch and grew wonderful vegetables in her garden out back.

And I am sympathetic because I feel the exact same way when F. and I dine together: irritated. I don’t want to eat his food and he doesn’t want to eat mine, so for one thing, we have to prepare or otherwise obtain two completely separate meals. When I eat alone, it takes 45 minutes or an hour. When we eat together, the whole thing can be two hours from start to finish, which drives me crazy. As my mother sometimes muses when we’re on the phone—this makes me laugh—“I’ll never get these minutes back.” Finally, because I, in my view, do a much more thorough job of cleaning up, I do all of that part, except for drying flatware. I’ve suggested that I could train him in my cleaning-up methods—for instance, how to wash the bottom as well as the top of a plate—but that offer was felt to be insulting.

In sum, it’s a perfect setup for tension to arise, and it often has, but that’s what we did right after our forgiveness exercise, and I noticed how stressed out I felt, and he was unhappy because our timing was off, so when we sat down his pepper beef from Heung Yuen wasn’t hot enough, but somehow, things remained placid. The dissatisfactions were there, but heated offense wasn’t taken, and the whole weekend had that flavor—just a bit more tolerance, a bit more willingness to cut the other person some slack. Therefore, we had a much more pleasant time overall.

I was remembering that when F. cooks us breakfast, it’s quite nice to eat together. His breakfasts are delicious, so I am happy to allocate the time, and since he does every bit of the cooking, I can feel fine about doing every bit of the washing up. We’re also eating the exact same food. I mentioned that on Friday after dinner and he agreed that our breakfasts together are enjoyable.

Saturday morning, my walking friend and I met at the Atlas Café for 90 minutes or so. I know there will be few Saturdays when we can spend hours walking around, so I asked if we could get together more often for shorter periods, and he said that would be fine. Then F. and I met for lunch at Esperpento.

Clinical pastoral education begins tomorrow! Frightening and exciting.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Giant Hole

A couple of days after I got home from Ypsi, my walking friend and I took a stroll and had lunch at Ananda Fuara, where we split a cheese and spinach enchilada and had a bowl of the delicious pureed mushroom soup we had once before.

The next day I saw High-Rise, which was involving but grisly. The actor Luke Evans reminded me somewhat of F. in appearance. A worker at the theater summed it up by saying, “I’m glad I saw it, but I wouldn’t want to see it again.” Agree. A couple of days later, I volunteered at the soup kitchen, and on Friday, I saw A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson. That evening, Karen V. and I had dinner. She had suggested an El Salvadorean place on Mission St., but the only thing at that address now is a giant hole in the ground. It’s where a building burned two or three times in the past year, killing one person, right next door to a new building full of expensive condos. In the Mission, there has been much talk of arson lately, regarding this site and others. While I was waiting for Karen, a couple came along looking for the same address. I recommended Esperpento to them, and when Karen and I arrived there ourselves, we saw the couple there. After dinner, she and I took a walk on Valencia St.

I told her my worries about juggling clinical pastoral education and my relationship with F., but she said if I need to adjust my boundaries, I will adjust my boundaries, and if the time comes to end the relationship, I will know that. You got this,” she assured me, which was quite comforting.

Last Sunday, Ann, Tom and I had lunch at Imm Thai Street Food in Berkeley—I had spicy eggplant with tofu—and then we saw a vigorous production of Treasure Island at Berkeley Rep.

A few days ago, I saw the very inventive movie Alice Through the Looking Glass, which I enjoyed. That evening, I went to Howie’s, but instead of getting there early enough to set up the chairs, which I’ve been doing for years, I only went in time to greet people at the door, and when meditation began, I came home to get ready for bed. Every two days this week, I’m going to sleep 30 minutes earlier, in preparation for starting CPE next week. My walking friend reported that Howie, not realizing I had gone, said a lot of nice things about me to the group before he started his talk. “He revered you,” said my friend.

I finished Chernow’s splendid biography of Alexander Hamilton the other day, and, of the tasks on my long-standing to-do list that can be done now, I’ve done all but two, including shredding six or seven pieces of paper I’d been meaning to get to for a couple of years. The final two tasks are to try CatHead’s BBQ on Folsom St. and to make a will.

I sent a note to the spiritual care director at Laguna Honda, who supervised my volunteer work there, telling him what I’m up to and thanking him for providing a reference for me to TWMC (Truly Wonderful Medical Center, where I’ll start CPE this fall, depending on how things go this summer), if indeed he did. I got a nice note back saying he did give me a reference, that it sounds like I’m on a solid path, and that he thinks I will make a very good chaplain.

Next week will be orientation, during which we will spend time at all four of VFMC’s San Francisco campuses. I know one of them has bike parking because that’s where my own doctor is. I rode over to another this week to check out the bike parking, which I’d been told was on the lowest level of the garage. I went down a level, and then down another level, and just as I was starting to think I’d better find another option—I don’t really want to be by myself in the bowels of a parking garage—I saw the bike cage, which is just inside a second entrance to the garage; the garage is built on a hill. You need a badge to get into the bike cage, so I stopped by the office of my supervisor (I will call her Samantha) and the very kind and helpful administrative assistant (to be known here as Rebecca) and confirmed that the badge I’m going to get should open the bike cage. Samantha said we should be getting our badges on Monday.

Yesterday I volunteered at the soup kitchen and was exhausted when I got home. If four hours a week of service feels like it’s killing me, I wonder how 40 hours, plus one overnight a week, will be. I talked to Carol Joy on the phone yesterday and she reminded me that the beginning of anything is always the hardest part (except for romantic relationships, I guess, since at the beginning, all personnel are on their best behavior). I fully expect this summer to be extremely difficult. I expect to be tired and crabby and for half my self-care activities to fall by the wayside. I expect to dislike my supervisor (and also the patients), to feel that I’m the last person on earth who should try to be a hospital chaplain, and for my relationship with F. to collapse.

Therefore, if anything goes well at all, if there is one rewarding encounter with a patient, one hearty laugh, one day when I feel rested and happy, I will count the whole thing as a big success. And if I end up continuing in the fall, the very challenging first unit of CPE will already be behind me.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Family That Does Home Laboratory Testing Together ...

The next day of my very nice trip to Ypsilanti, I went to visit the Catholic Worker just west of downtown Ann Arbor. I spent a couple of hours there and got to see the young couple I met at the soup kitchen here in San Francisco and to meet some of the people who live at the Ann Arbor shelter. It houses both men and women, which is rather unusual, and is open three times each week for people to come and eat. I was there for the final two hours of a four-hour open meal, and it looked like only six or eight people who don’t live at the house had come to eat. Maybe more people come earlier.

The young woman I know from here lives at the house and appears to be absolutely thriving. She does some cleaning at a hot yoga studio one morning a week in exchange for taking three or four classes, and she looked utterly radiant—relaxed and happy and perfectly at peace. Her boyfriend is more interested in working outdoors and less interested in living in community—I don’t blame him—so he lives elsewhere and works as a landscaper.

After being there, I went by both of the houses I lived in as a child. In the evening, Mom and Dad and I watched Purple Rain on TV. Another night we saw Lords of Dogtown, which I had seen before and liked. The music is excellent; ditto Emile Hirsch.

One day I met Ginny for lunch at Café Zola. We got all caught up, and, as always, I had their fantastic salmon burger and, as always, a greasy morsel slid down the front of my shirt. I tried my mother’s Whink Wash Away stain remover, and it worked perfectly.

Another day, Amy treated me to lunch at Seva (birthday coming soonish). We also had a good chat and she showed me a video of her and her husband’s four new pigs, which they are planning to eat, so they haven’t named them. Amy said she calls them all “Pork Chop.” She said she goes to their barn to feed them and “chat with them” every day, and she said her husband loves them, so it’s possible that when it comes time to have them butchered, they won’t be able to. I joked that a year from now, they might have four 1200-pound pigs sitting in their living room in front of the TV. In the early evening, my Uncle Rick and his wife, Janet, took me out to dinner at Haab’s in downtown Ypsi, another lovely visit.

On Friday, I went back to the meditation group at the Ypsilanti library. The next day, Dad treated Mom and me to lunch at Subway. When my father and I went on our road trip last year, he discovered that I’d never eaten at a Subway and we stopped at one for lunch, where I was a giant brat and refused to eat most of what I’d ordered. We sat together in silence, and it was horrible—a sad memory. So I asked my father if we could eat at Subway during this visit, to try to overwrite that memory with a better one. He, gracious as always, said he didn’t remember anything bad about our first visit to Subway, but took us there, anyway.

My mother has done a lot of research on the ills of high-carb eating and accordingly is very careful about her own intake, to the point that she even checks her own blood glucose at home from time to time; sometimes my father does the same. After lunch, my mother thought she’d see how much damage the bread had done, and I volunteered to let her check my blood glucose, too, and my father followed suit, so now we can remember it as the time we all went to Subway and then checked our blood glucose.

That afternoon, my father and I went over his financial information, which we do every two years, so that my eventual executor duties are as stress-free as possible. I really appreciate all of the effort he has put into this. A friend whose last parent died last year advised me to try to get this information sooner rather than later. When I described the preparations my father has made, she approved heartily.

In the late afternoon, I sat outside for a time in the beautiful green backyard with my mother. My sister came over again that evening, and we all watched Trumbo. After she was gone, we watched Inside Out, and the next day I flew home.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Banks Are Excellent, Especially Chase

I mentioned in a recent post that my credit card had been misused twice lately and wanted to clarify that it wasn’t the exact same credit card. Chase caught the first problem immediately, canceled the card, and sent me a new one, and they caught the second problem immediately, too.

Before I left for Ypsilanti, I read all of Buddhist Care for the Dying and Bereaved, edited by Jonathan S. Watts and Yoshiharu Tomatsu, in preparation for clinical pastoral education, and particularly liked two chapters. It dawned on me that one of the authors’ names looked familiar, so I checked the website for VFMC (Very Fantastic Medical Center), where I’ll be starting Monday, and was delighted to see that this writer is the director of hospital chaplaincy and CPE there. She won’t be supervising me directly, but will be my boss’s boss. I will be supervised by someone who is in training to become a CPE supervisor, which takes six years.

I got up at 2:45 a.m. on a Thursday to leave for Michigan and was standing right next to my open living room window at 3 a.m. when I heard a woman screaming, “Help me!” It didn’t sound like someone who was drunk or someone who was playing around. It sounded like someone who was being raped or killed. I raced to the phone and called 911 immediately. I heard her scream “Help me!” again, a bit farther away, and then I heard a final scream, quieter still, as if she were being dragged up the street. Then nothing.

This street is behind my building. To get to it, I’d have to go out front, down to the corner, and all the way around the block, so there was no point in rushing outside. For the next week, I checked every day to see if there was any mention of a crime in my area involving a woman, and didn’t see anything, which I guess is good, but I still have a bad feeling about it. Who was that woman, and what was happening to her out there in the dark?

I arrived at the Detroit airport without incident, found the weather muggy and warm, and got into a shuttle in which the heat seemed to be on full blast, or so I thought until the driver announced cheerfully that the A/C might need recharging. Then he reminisced about the years before there was such a thing as air conditioning in cars, which I took as a suggestion not to be too particular about what exactly was issuing from the vents.

On Friday, per intelligence from Marian, my chaplain friend in Ypsilanti, I walked over to the public library to meditate with a group. There were eight of us sitting in a circle, and I thought the instructions given by the leader were particularly good. Four people take turns running this group, including Marian. One thing that day’s leader said was to let our bodies register the calm our minds had created. She is a therapist who uses Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing technique in her work; there is a book by Gendlin by that name. Afterward, I asked if anyone wanted to join me for lunch at Dalat, a Vietnamese restaurant, and the one person who was free was the instructor, so we ate together and had a nice chat.

Later that day, I went over to meet Marian, her boss and another colleague at the hospital about ten minutes from my parents’ house. It’s the hospital where my parents go when they need to go to a hospital. As it happens, Marian’s boss is at this moment the head of the national committee that evaluates M.Div. equivalency, while her colleague is a CPE supervisor. I asked the latter what he thinks is the most important way trainee chaplains should practice self-care, which I keep hearing mentioned, but he said he thinks CPE students harp on self-care too much and forget that they also have important responsibilities. “Like saying ‘I can’t see this many patients because I have to take care of myself?’” I suggested. Marian’s boss nodded. I will take that to heart (while also practicing superb self-care).

Marian had said that Buddhist equivalency was about to become more difficult. It turns out that it depends on how you go about it. Her boss explained that an increasing number of educational institutions have a formal relationship with the Association of Professional Chaplains, so if you just go to one of those places, it’s easier, while if you want to cobble together something else, that is increasingly less welcome and therefore standards are becoming more rigorous, if I understood correctly. He said that if I have questions about my plans, I’m welcome to contact him. Isn’t it kind of cosmic that, of the five Buddhist chaplains I interviewed, one should be right there, where I myself was going to be just a couple of weeks after we spoke, and that her boss should be the head of the equivalency committee?

That evening, my sister came over. I spent a lot of pleasant time on this trip just being with my parents, including a lot of time watching TV—getting my semi-annual Rachel Maddow fix. I love Rachel. I was also reading Chernow’s Hamilton biography, and Ram Dass and Paul Gorman’s How Can I Help? Plus I’m still plugging away at Rob Burbea’s Seeing That Frees, two or three pages every now and then.