Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Almighty Sam

For the past week plus a couple of days, I have felt very fatigued and have had a headache much of the time, which is extremely unusual for me. The last time I was at the soup kitchen, I had to sit down before my shift was over, which has never happened before. I have also felt dizzy at times, and faintly nauseous. I concluded this might be a flare-up of mono, per what I read online, and have spent a lot of time resting.

As energy permitted, I also started casting various irons into the fire. I have been researching the two-year chaplaincy program at Upaya Zen Center and the 12-module program at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley. I also applied for a temporary position with my old employer. I noticed that I felt energized by the former and disheartened by the latter. On the other hand, I didn’t immediately hear back from the schools—I still haven’t heard from Upaya—whereas the day after I applied for the job, the hiring manager called me, and the day after that, we had an interview on the phone, and the job actually sounded very fun and interesting.

I emailed my wonderful contact in HR to ask what would happen if I accepted a temporary position but declined an extension to that position—would that end my severance pay? Going a bit further, what if I were to leave a temporary position at some random moment (i.e., to start the program at Upaya)? Surely that would end my severance pay. But it turned out the answer to both questions is no. You can decline the extension to a temporary position or leave it whenever you feel like it and still get the rest of your severance pay. Remarkable. (A small good thing to balance all the bad news about this company lately heard.)

I had told the hiring manager that I could start right away, and there didn’t seem to be any downside to that, particularly given that I could leave the job at any moment and go back to getting severance pay, or maybe it would prove to be a fantastic job that I would do for years.

On Sunday, I still felt lousy and had to miss the big annual potluck which is held at the soup kitchen itself rather than at Thomas House, where the core community lives. On Monday, I got a call from the Chaplaincy Institute and had a wonderful conversation with the admissions manager. I figured that either I would get a job with my old company and start doing the Chaplaincy Institute’s program, or I would take the next two years and do the Upaya program plus the Chaplaincy Institute’s classes, and then I would finish with a year of clinical pastoral education at VFMC, where I was this summer, and then I would look for a job.

Lately I have had the feeling that something excellent was going to happen. Maybe that was just the feeling of having a number of appealing options, which is indeed a good feeling, but it seemed stronger than that. Over the months, I’ve had a handful of what I think of as chaplain dreams, and I had one a couple of nights ago, where I was wearing a robe like a Zen Buddhist would wear, and I had a wrist mala on—a circle of beads that some Buddhists wear around their neck or wrist (which I would not be caught dead wearing in real life). In the dream, I also had a circle of beads around one finger, like a finger mala.

Yesterday morning I still felt crappy and was reflecting that I am more and more appreciating the frailty of the body, how it periodically says, “Time to rest!” I finally called my doctor and got a call back from her assistant, who is an excellent diagnostician, and who said she would not immediately conclude that this is a brain tumor. She also didn’t think it was a mono flare-up but more likely a virus of some sort, maybe an inner ear infection or fluid in the inner ear. She said to try taking some Sudafed and to call again if it’s not gone in another week.

I had asked Jacqueline to send me the link to the application for part-time work at VFMC and not heard back, so I figured that conversation was at an end, but on Monday of this week, she sent the link. I had been starting to think that being on call Saturdays actually would not be a bad thing; I was remembering that I liked being on call on weekends because then you get to handle all the pages yourself rather than dispatching them to appropriate co-workers. Also, nearly every page represents a person who actually wants to talk to a chaplain, whereas making normal rounds involves talking to rather few people who want this. Also, the hospital is quieter on weekends.

I turned on my computer yesterday morning to get Jacqueline’s phone number and called her to say I’d reconsidered about Saturdays. It was fortunate that I had the urge to call her, because I might not have turned my computer on until much later. Now that it was on, I noticed an email from Sam, my friend who began CPE at TWMC last week, reporting that someone had already dropped out of the program! He sent a second email saying he’d mentioned my name to two of the teachers.

Though my reasons for deciding not to do the program were sensible, I regretted that decision and felt a pang every time I saw a TWMC van go by, or when I thought of those who would have been my peers starting their huge adventure without me. I didn’t really expect hear from TWMC yesterday, but it was clarifying to note my reaction to the possibility: great excitement and enthusiasm.

Now and then I get a call which is someone responding to a page; whoever sent the page typed in the number wrong. I think these pages originate from somewhere in the TWMC health care system; I’ve been getting them for years. As it happens, I got one yesterday morning after seeing Sam's notes and had to smile—at least I got some sort of call from TWMC.

And then a bit later, there was another call, and this time the caller ID said “TWMC MED CTR.” Yeah! It was the spiritual care director calling to say that someone had dropped out and that a rumor had reached him that I was still interested in doing the program. “I’m there!”, I tried not to yell in his ear. It was a joyful conversation. I could tell he was smiling as he said, “I know you Theravadan Buddhists don’t pray to God.” Naima, my chaplaincy mentor, said something similar later on the phone: “Does this change your mind about whether there’s a God or not?” (She is a Zen Buddhist and Mystical Christian.) I don’t think this has made me believe in God, but it’s really made me believe in Sam. Thank—uh, Sam that I had a friend on the inside who could mention my name at the right moment. Thank Sam!

After I spoke with the spiritual care director, per his instructions I called the administrative assistant who had helped me with all my application and onboarding stuff earlier, who now yelled, “Miss Bugwalk! How are you? This is wonderful! This was meant to be!” I felt very, very thrilled and delighted.

I slept not last night, and finally gave up at 3 a.m. and got up to write this (plus the preceding entry, craftily backdated). However, I feel all right. Either the Sudafed helped, or I’m too tired to tell how I actually feel. If I don’t die on the first day, that will be a good omen. Or if I do, I’ll already be in a hospital, surrounded by chaplains! There are 14 student chaplains in my group, and six of us are Buddhists. (However, the spiritual care director is not a Buddhist. I said that in an earlier post. He isn’t. The one at VFMC is.)

I was remembering a day in that somewhat horrible month of August, when I was changing my mind twice a day about whether to go on to TWMC or not. One afternoon, when it was clear that I would be there, I felt a quiet but unmistakable wave of joy and almost awe: I am doing this. I am going to be a chaplain.

I am doing this! I am going to be a chaplain! I start the yearlong CPE program at TWMC today!

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