Thursday, July 05, 2018

Chaplain Tries to Poison Fledgling Priest

A week or so after Mason’s graduation from divinity school, I returned to Berkeley to have breakfast with him before he moved back to New Mexico to serve his own church as a priest. I had checked online to see how far it is from his hometown to Santa Fe and it appeared to be more than four hours by car: too far for a day trip. I told myself that, realistically, this would probably be the last time I would see him, and to let go, let go, let go. I have a quote somewhere about how what we humans need practice in is letting go, because we’re already experts at holding on.

We met at the Sunny Side Café, near UC Berkeley, and after we ate took a walk on campus. I gave him a card congratulating him for receiving his M.Div. and a couple of small gifts, including a polished piece of malachite. (I learned later that malachite is poisonous and that you shouldn’t carry it around in your pocket. He told me he plans to keep it as a reminder that Chaplain Bugwalk tried to poison him.) I asked how long it would take him to drive to Santa Fe and was pleased when he said the trip is just two and a half hours. There is a Monday in August when I can be in Santa Fe but not at school, and it turns out that Monday will be Mason’s day off, so we have plans to meet. Mason suggested that we go to all the museums where, as a Native person, he gets in for free.

Back in the city that day, I attended a training on psychological first aid, such as one might have to render after an earthquake or other mass casualty event. One thing you can do to help someone feel calmer is to ask her to name five things she sees around her, five things she hears, and five sensations she feels in her body, then four of each of those things (not the same ones as before), and then three, two, and one. When the trainer had us do this, it was pretty hard to hear that many different sounds, but overall, this did seem to have a relaxing effect.

Her number-one recommendation for helping lesson people’s anxiety was to ask them to breathe into their diaphragms for a count of four, and then to exhale for a count of four, and to repeat this for a while. Another very useful thing the trainer shared was to say to a survivor, “Hi, I’m Bugwalk. I’m here to help. What’s your name?” and extend my hand. If the person says her name and extends her hand to shake mine, I have just learned several things: the person’s name, that she isn’t hard of hearing, that she speaks at least some English, that she is willing to engage with me both verbally and non-verbally, that she doesn’t have an injury that prevents her from moving her arm and perhaps that she is not in overwhelming physical pain.

The trainer said not to say, “Everything will be OK,” because it might not be, and to use a survivor’s name often, because people are very alert to the sound of their own names, so this might help keep the person we are talking to from getting lost in anxiety.

Most of the people in the room were nurses and social workers, most working in one hospital or another. Next to me was a fellow chaplain volunteer from County Hospital. She told me she is from Mackinac Island, a charming place in Northern Michigan and not one I had realized you can be from; I thought it shut down in the winter. At least last time I was there, about 45 years ago, there were no cars. You could get around by foot, horse-drawn carriage and bicycle, and also eat fudge. (It appears this is still correct. Wikipedia says motorized vehicles, except for emergencies, have been prohibited there since 1898. You can get there only by boat or plane; if it’s winter, you can also go over an ice bridge on a snowmobile.)

Back at home after the training, I gave Emily a call and asked the person who transferred the call to make sure she put the phone to her good ear.

“Do you have the phone up to your left ear?” I asked her.


“That’s funny that you didn’t say ‘right.’”

“Correct.” She really is rather charming.

She said things were going better: She was visited by two of her friends, and another called her on the phone, and she likes the head nurse, and she had a good conversation with a volunteer, who had a helpful suggestion. When Emily feels upset, she likes to go for a walk. She told me that the volunteer said that, when she feels this urge, maybe she can imagine she is walking, and move her feet in bed. Surprisingly, this worked.

I found among my meditation-related clippings this account of something said by Suzuki Roshi during a sesshin; I misquoted it in an earlier post: “Suzuki Roshi began his talk by saying slowly, ‘The problems you are now experiencing’—we were sure he was going to say go away—‘will continue for the rest of your life.’ The way he said it, we all laughed.” I don’t have the name of the person who wrote this, and will be glad to add it if it comes my way.

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