By Thursday of this past week, I was deep into pondering my own values. The most important ones seemed to be financial security, health insurance security, and liking to be well-rested and not stressed out. On the other hand, there are all those years I wished I were doing something more meaningful, and how great it feels to have a sense of purpose, or mission—to do something I’m actually passionate about. That is also very important.
My skills have slowly been improving. I’ve gotten more practiced at assessing spiritual resources, including what support the patient has from family members or friends, which makes it easier to tell who needs what and how often to visit which patients. In one chart, I saw this in a note from the ethics committee: “Patient is Jewish and being followed by Pastoral Services.” I’m the only chaplain who has seen this patient, so that was me! Doctors, nurses and other care providers do read our notes.
Thursday night, my downstairs neighbor had people over, some rather loud. You know what I’m proudest of in this whole summer? That not one single time did I call Tom, my best friend and downstairs neighbor, to ask him to be a little quieter. He is fond of videos of cars going around and around a track, or planes flying around and around in a circle (judging from the sound), and in the past I’ve now and then given him a call, but this entire summer, I have said to myself what Howie once told us he says to himself: “I will take what the dharma gives me.” I did the same that night and eventually I did go to sleep, and woke up feeling unbelievably lousy, and clear (for the moment, anyway) that while I might indeed like to work as a hospital chaplain, I need to be on the ten-year plan, not the three-year plan. This is going to have to be a marathon, not a sprint. My body is making it clear that it has no intention of doing a year at TWMC.
When I arrived at work on Friday, just two people were in the office: Rebecca and Victoria, the other CPE supervisor. Samantha supervises us summer interns, who are finishing one unit of CPE. Victoria supervises the residents, about to finish their fourth units, and I think she has considerably more experience than Samantha, certainly more life experience. I asked if I could speak with her for five minutes and told her that I feel like I’m dying—she looked concerned—and that I don’t think I can do the year at TWMC.
She asked how she could be of most help. I said, “I guess I want someone to say it’s OK to do this the slow way and that I’m not blowing a fantastic opportunity by not doing the TWMC program.” She thought for a moment and said, “You are blowing a fantastic opportunity, but this might not be the right program for you.” She did one unit of CPE in a trauma center, which caused her to realize she did not want to do a yearlong residency in a trauma center, so she went elsewhere. She said that the TWMC program is excellent—they are among the top eight hospitals in the country—but relentless. She said that TWMC treats extremely ill people, people who come from all over the country, and that stress permeates such hospitals from the bottom to the top. She said a year of CPE there would be an “endurance contest.”
I think I would actually enjoy working with people with trauma, but if I am not physically thriving where the on-call arrangement is so relatively generous, I am not going to survive something much more intense. Victoria told me about a woman she knows who decided to take a leisurely path to certification, doing just one unit of CPE yearly until she had completed her four units. This woman wanted to feel well and be in good health at the end of her training. Victoria said she saw this woman as a role model, and reminded me that there are many different paths we can follow to our goal. I’m not even sure I absolutely have to work as a hospital chaplain. Just being kind to people in general might be good enough. Volunteering might be good enough.
So that was helpful, and so was Rebecca, who overhead me saying I am planning to try to return to my former company. She told me she had worked there herself and learned valuable things, as well as in a subsequent job she had as a marketer at American Express. She talked about how financial security is a good thing and how our long-range plan can have a variety of chapters in it. After talking to Victoria and Rebecca, I felt that it would be perfectly fine not to proceed to TWMC and also perfectly fine to seek a job at my former company. (Cross your fingers for me.) Now all I had to do was tell TWMC. That evening, I sent them this note:
Dear [three people at TWMC]—
I will always be grateful and extremely honored to have been accepted into [TWMC]’s yearlong CPE program.
My experience of doing one unit of CPE at [VFMC], which will conclude two weeks from today, has affirmed my interest in chaplaincy and I feel more deeply than ever what a profound honor and sacred trust it is to be at the service of those who are aging, ill or dying, and their friends and families. However, I am getting an unmistakable message from my body that my path will have to be one that is slower and perhaps more meandering.
I am sure it is a significant inconvenience for you to have a student withdraw after so many HR procedures have already been completed—I am extremely sorry that clarity didn’t arrive sooner and ask for your forgiveness.
It has been lovely to interact with all of you in person and/or via email, and I hope the year will be wonderful for you and for your lucky students.
With relief, some embarrassment, much gratitude and many good wishes,