Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fortunate Cookie Season

Words seen on a storefront.

Last Sunday, Mason arrived in the morning to take over as on-call chaplain. He has been a strong proponent of my going on to TWMC—he has said I’m gifted and that this is obviously my career, that I’m a good listener and have a comforting presence. Last week, he summarized the turn of events: “You were accepted for clinical pastoral education at one of the best hospitals in the country, but you’re not going to do it because you’re afraid you’ll be tired.”

“Yeah, it does sound kind of stupid when you put it that way,” I agreed.

He and Andrew have been two of the best parts of this summer. One day when Andrew and I were teasing Mason about always being late and saying he should make more of an effort to be on time, Mason said serenely, “That’s not the French way.” (He is not French and has never been to France.) He is always utterly himself, and is such a dear person. In a grand finale of tardiness (unless he does even better this coming week), he arrived 90 minutes late one recent day.

Remember that hearty laugh I hoped for? I caused it myself one day when we were doing role playing. Beforehand, we were discussing earth-based religions. Mason, an Episcopalian, rolled his eyes and Samantha asked what he thinks of when he thinks of earth-based religions. He said he thinks of a woman—and here he finished his thought by using his hand to indicate long, flowing underarm hair. He concluded, “I picture a woman with a unibrow sitting in a forest next to a tree.” One long eyebrow over both eyes.

In our role play, I was playing the wife of the patient, Andrew was the patient, lying on a sickbed made of three chairs in a row, and Mason was the chaplain. (In real life, this patient fell from a height and was impaled on a spike. After poring over his chart, I’ve decided to try to avoid having this experience.) In the role play, Mason asked about our religion and I said, “We’re Earth Forest Wiccans.”

Mason refrained from rolling his eyes and politely asked, “Tell me more about that.”

I said, “Well, each month on the full moon, we go out into the forest, and we do a thing with our eyebrows?” I used my fingers to indicate my own imaginary unibrow, which caused all four of us to laugh hysterically and ended the role play; the patient sprang up from his sickbed clutching his stomach.

I herewith take back what I said about Stephen Jenkinson being a jerk. He is a person of decided opinions, but they appear to have been hard-earned. His prose is rambling and at times a bit vexing, but my patience with his book—Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul—has been very amply rewarded, and I am now recommending it to everyone. It makes an excellent companion to Atul Gawande’s superb Being Mortal. Read Being Mortal first and move on to Die Wise.

I got a nice note back from TWMC about my withdrawal from their yearlong CPE program, and in the days after that, of course began to regret my decision. In class one day, I asked Samantha, Mason and Andrew, “Should I call [person at TWMC] and say I’ve changed my mind?” At that, Samantha put her head down on the table in front of her. When she recovered, she said, “Never answer your own question,” and, “It’s your job to ask the question. It’s their job to answer it.”

Accordingly, that night I sent this note:
I am now wondering if I have made a giant mistake and if it’s truly my body saying “I can’t do this” or if that’s my mind, coming from a place of fear.

I assume my spot is gone by now, but if not, or if another opening should arise before September 6, would one of you be willing to discuss this decision with me? I won’t blame you if the answer is “No!” :-)


The next day, I got a note saying they had indeed given my spot to someone else. For a couple of days, I felt bad about it, but then I spoke with my chaplaincy mentor, Naima, who reminded me that she had said months ago that it might be wisest to do the academics before doing CPE and also that I should keep an eye on my tendency to leap forward, getting ahead of what I have actually discerned is true for me.

She said to be sure to leave this summer unit with a good idea of what my strengths and weaknesses are, as judged by others, and that I might now profitably do some therapy about what came up in CPE that was difficult for me, take some courses at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, and / or go on a retreat. She said that being in the hospital stimulates the reactive mind while meditating stimulates the responsive mind. She said she thinks the particular CPE program and supervisor are just a small part of the process and that by no means has the world come to an end because I won’t be at TWMC this year.

Finally, she assured me that nothing has gone wrong and that she is not worried about my path. She said I’ve figured out what to do until now in my life, and that I’ll figure this out, too. “This is all part of becoming a chaplain: this is exactly what becoming a chaplain is.” Plus, I’ll always have the happy memory of Samantha putting her head on the table when I asked if, having withdrawn, I should unwithdraw.

I got this uplifting note from my friend and bodyworker Jack: “Sounds like you have clarity regarding this choice. It was a wonderful honor to be invited into that program and it’s a wonderful honor to listen to the whole of your life and build your choices from there. The chaplaincy does feel like such a lovely culmination of all that you are and I’m sure you will find your way forward with it.” I think so, too, and I now feel sanguine about the whole thing. I obviously don’t have a sound decision-making process, or maybe it would be more charitable to say that my natural decision-making process entails one reactive lurch after the other, and somehow I eventually end up somewhere else; that’s how I’ve made every decision I’ve ever made. In sum, the reason I wasn’t sure about TWMC was that I wasn’t sure!

Meanwhile, somewhere along in here I took Hammett to Mission Pet Hospital for a periodic check of his thyroid and was disappointed to learn that he has lost more than a pound since he was last weighed, in March. He now weighs as little as he did right when he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I had noticed he was a bit more frenzied, and that the bones of his spine seemed slightly more prominent.

I was hoping it was a matter of needing to increase his medication, but Dr. Press said the next day on the phone that his thyroid looks fine, and thus does not explain the weight loss, which Dr. Press said is worrying. He said it might not be anything bad—it might be a urinary tract infection or something with his gastrointestinal tract—or it might be something bad. Other than being a little more energetic, Hammett seems just as cheerful as ever, which I hope means it’s not something terrible. However, he’s been through quite a bit medically for a cat just ten years old. If it’s his time, then it’s his time.

Yesterday my walking friend and I had lunch at Ananda Fuara, and in the evening, Lesley and I had dinner at Tacolicious, one of the many new places on Valencia St. The tacos I had were utterly delicious—one carnitas, one chorizo and potato, one cod. One of them had a long hair in it. Our server replaced it but did not apologize or offer to adjust our bill.
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