Monday, January 9, 2012

pastoral clinical week 13


This last Friday was the last day for the Music Intern at my site. We’ve had a cordial relationship, having a few conversations mostly about her concerns about having no work lined up for the immediate future and uncertainty about moving back to Iowa, and she’s served as the music accompanist for some of my chapel services. Which is to say, we’ve had a good, cordial, and professional relationship. So when I stopped by her office to say goodbye on my way out, I was completely taken aback by her suddenly hugging me.

Make no mistake, I’m no stranger to hugging goodbye. Back in New York, it’s often the way people take leave of one another whether they expect never to see one another again or to see them in an hour. I tried keeping that tradition after moving here to the Midwest in the early 90s and came to the conclusion after a few years and marrying into a Midwestern family that the correct procedure is that people who are related or have experienced some important and nigh life-changing adventure together are all right to hug. Outside those criteria, hugging is strictly frowned upon.
I’m exaggerating, of course, but the fact remains that I was surprised by her hug. I hadn’t thought of her as a hugger or someone sentimental about the few experiences we had shared. By the same token, I was surprised at how the Nurse Manager on my floor took time from rushing off to yet another management meeting to discuss with me her recent decision to move from management back to fulltime nursing. I had stopped her on the stairs momentarily to ask if she was comfortable with her decision, and her first answer was a quick, “Yeah, yeah, I’m very okay with it.”

We’ve had many conversations over my months here and so I followed that with another question that might not have been thought within the boundaries we’d set. “I wondered if, given what you said a few days ago about the comments your boyfriend had made [these questioned her decisions to sometimes stay late in order to talk with residents and staff when they had concerns and he had argued she’s not as important as she thinks she is], if that had anything to do with your decision.” I expected a kind of perfunctory, “No, it hadn’t,” response but instead she took a moment to gather her thoughts, looking off for a moment into space, and then launched into a solid five minute explanation of what went into her decision-making: her years of considering the loss she feels moving away from practice into supervision, the doubts she has about her efficacy in management, her need to feel as if she’s doing something immediate with residents that doesn’t have to filter through other people, her desire to feel a part of things again. Finally, she said, “When the list of nursing positions at the new place opened up, I looked at it and thought, ‘Maybe this is my chance to go back to what I really love to do.’ I thought that might not happen again, so I took the chance.” I came away from that conversation feeling very confident she had made her decision over the course of years rather than moments and it wasn’t in reaction against some experience, as I’d feared, but in response to something inside her.
Similarly, while our schedules matched only a few times, another intern and I had several fruitful conversations during the couple weeks when only the two of us were here at the facility. Often they were theologically based, usually asking one another about subtleties in our different religions. These were in-depth questions about dogma and practice and I think we both came away from them with a better understanding of our respective faiths. Most of my questions hinged on events or situations I’d read about and wondered, while most of his seemed to revolve around questions about Unitarian Universalism he’d considered for a long time. They were good questions and good opportunities.

It’s surprising to me that I’ve made these connections with people I hadn’t expected to because of the shorter time CPE is happening (as opposed to the eight months my wife is taking to do her CPE) and to the lesser time I have spent with staff and other interns. Most of my time of course is taken up on the floor and so I expected to have strong connections with the residents I saw and talked with everyday. But I’ve been surprised by the joy I’ve experienced coming into community with these other people I likely will never see again I’m not certain if it’s a case of lowering my guard (or of theirs) or the shared sense of change that being thrown together encourages in most people, but it is a benefit of the CPE experience I hadn’t expected.

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