I spent Thursday evening (after the conference at the church in Oakland) in tears, which has been rather common lately. I have been feeling very sorry for myself, mainly because my most important communities have vanished, meaning the soup kitchen volunteers and guests, and those at Howie’s. My mental health professional still exists, but our schedules this summer overlap on precisely one day, more than a month from now. There are any number of people I could talk to, but I don’t have time to talk to them, though this is partly for a good reason, which is that I am making a point of doing something with a friend one day each weekend, if I’m not on call Saturday or Sunday. Those pleasant days are what have been keeping me going.
Thursday evening, I felt resolved that I do not want to be a chaplain. What I’m doing right now is very hard. The program starting in the fall would be even harder and would last for an entire year. (At the conference, I was seated next to two people who are finishing up their year at this place, and they agreed it is brutal. If on-call eats half your weekend, so be it. You don’t get a day off after being on call, though there is one particular situation where you can get a comp day. They said you sometimes have to work 14 days in a row. They did also say they have learned a lot and that it has been a wonderful year. They are both young. I’m old.) After that year, if I hadn’t jumped off the bridge during it, I would have to do education that I have no interest in for its own sake, and after that, I might or might not be able to find a highly stressful full-time job as a hospice chaplain, or a part-time job that would not pay enough to live on. Samantha and I had our weekly meeting Friday afternoon and she agreed that chaplaincy is an unstable field. I don’t know if I’m constitutionally suited for unstable. Also, I’ve had enough health difficulties that the idea of periodically losing my job along with my health insurance is kind of frightening.
I also have very little interest in providing spiritual care per se. I am devoted to my own meditation practice and I like to hear about other people’s meditation practices and the insights that arise therefrom, and I also like to read about what the Buddha had to say and what modern commentators have to say about what the Buddha said, and that is where my interest in religion ends. What drew me to chaplaincy was wanting to hang around a hospital and be friendly to people, which one can do as a volunteer, as Samantha said on Friday. I told her about trying to decide whether to go back to my former company or not and that the best time to do that would be before mid-January. She said that in that case, I’d better make up my mind in the next month, because it’s not good to start a yearlong CPE program and then quit it (though my therapist has given me permission to do this). She said, “I see potential in you to do good chaplaincy work,” which I appreciated, but if it’s going to be immensely difficult and/or boring to get there, and result in not enough money or too much stress or both, and if it really is explicitly religious and/or spiritual, which I now understand it is, I think it’s not for me.
I have been able to adjust my schedule so that I can sit for 45 minutes most or all days, which is making a big difference, and I am getting enough sleep (namely nine hours) pretty much every night. Those are probably my two most crucial self-care activities, so that is good, but I’m really missing my sangha and the people at the soup kitchen.
Yesterday I went to see Carol Joy in Novato. We had brunch at Toast and then, because there was no movie we wanted to see, we went to her house and played three entire games of Sneaky Pete, 21 hands, followed by dinner at the Sonoma Latina Grill. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I got to discuss my big decision with her husband, Bill, who has lately retired from a long career as an emergency room nurse. I asked him, “Should I be a hospital chaplain or go back to my former employer?” He immediately replied, “Go back to your former employer.” His view is that it’s a simple business decision: I can be a chaplain at any age but if I think I’m going to get a lucrative job at age 60 or 65, I’m not. He said lots of people want to be chaplains and are willing to do it for free, and added that it’s lousy to not have enough money at any age, but really lousy to be old and not have enough money. I will continue to ponder, or rather, try to ponder less and sit with the yucky feeling of uncertainty more. All this thinking definitely is not helping.