Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Altered Imagination

I have always had an active imagination.  As a child, I loved to play pretend and found myself lost in my imagination often.  One time when I was about 3 (I don’t remember this, but I’ve heard the stories), my mom thought my dad had me at work and my dad thought my mom had me at home.  Both of them ended up at the church…and realized they had left me at home.  My mom sped home, afraid she’d find me dead, but I was in my room playing and didn’t even realize they were gone.  At our old house, I remember that the bathroom had different colored tiles on the floor (all rectangular in shape), and I would pretend that each tile was a child lying on their kindergarten sleep mat and I would read to them, teach them, and yes, even discipline them.  From outside the bathroom, it probably sounded like I was talking to myself…because I was.  Throughout my years in gymnastics, my gym friends and I envisioned our future gymnastics arena we would build – it would be called Lazer Gymnastics and would have a 2-story gymnasium that was sure to impress any gymnast or coach.  Through all of these stories, it is clear that I loved to pretend, to dream, to imagine, and to wish.

This wild imagination also had a not so good side.  I could watch a scary movie and for the next year think that there was a murderer standing behind my shower curtain or a masked man hiding in the bushes with a chainsaw.  In middle school, I watched one of those ‘fact or urban legend’ shows where a man claimed a snake came up through his toilet and attacked his family.  I was afraid to sit on a toilet seat for…well, sometimes I still am afraid to.  I can’t get that imagine out of my head.  When I did CPE at the hospital last summer, I was afraid that the images of patients would never leave my head: seeing my first patient on life support, the first stab wound, the first severed limb, the first dead body, the first suicide.  Surely those images would stick with me forever and consume me.  The more experienced chaplains would tell me to “look past” it and see the person, but all I could see was blood and death.  When I would see a person with an injury, I would imagine that injury on myself and it was as though I could see and feel the pain myself.  That is what would cause me to get dizzy, weak, and sometimes faint.  At times, I would even imagine how I would take the news if it were my own family member coming into the trauma bay.

As I have been discovering my own vulnerabilities and being able to name them, I can move forward in creative ways and see how to best handle my wild imagination.  The more experienced chaplains were right: I have gotten more used to what I see and it doesn’t bother me.  I am able to look past the blood, the tumor, the wound, or the coldness of death and see the person.  I no longer imagine myself with the injury or wonder how I would take the news if it was my own family member.  I still believe there is still a deep mystery in death and I don’t think I’ll ever part from that ideal, but I have gotten more comfortable being called to deaths.  I mention all of these to you because I believe I am being most honest to myself and others when I share stories about that the things with which I struggle.  One of our supervisors taught us two very important lessons which have helped form the words for this blog: 1) ‘You cannot do pastoral care in hiding.’  2) ‘Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you are powerless – it means you are powerful.  If I am going to be honest in my calling, I must be willing to share in my weaknesses and continue to find my growing edges.

So while I no longer talk to floor tiles in the bathroom or envision the masked man behind my shower curtain, I am blessed to say I still have an active altered imagination.  This newfound imagination occurs through curiosities that arise in conversations with those who are sick and suffering, through talking with my chaplain peers about our strengths and weaknesses, and through my visions of where this residency might lead me.  Most of all, I think it is my active imagination that allows theology to come to life for me.  In a world that fights to be black and white, I think living in the gray area – the unknown area that doesn’t have all the answers but instead finds itself with more questions – might be a pretty good place for me to be.
At least for now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Facing Death

A week ago, I got to work and noticed the hospital felt different.  The parking lot was fuller, there were no chaplains in the pastoral care office, and the mood was somber.  I asked our secretary why the hospital felt different and she explained what had happened.  The night before, the staff received the awful news that one of the 25 year old NICU nurses, Larsen Hunt, was murdered.  I checked the news and found out that her ex-boyfriend came into her home, shot her several times, fled the scene and ended up driving his car into a house causing the car to catch fire and kill him, too.  Tragedy all around.  While I never met this beautiful young woman, I got to know about her story throughout the last week.  A funeral service was held at a local Methodist church last Saturday and was led by one of our chaplains.  There were over 800 people in attendance.
I worked with our pastoral care director and the NICU manager to put together a bulletin and service for the hospital.  Most of my day yesterday was spent meeting with some of the NICU nurses to gather information about Larsen’s life for the bulletin.  I searched for appropriate scriptures for one who has suffered at the hands of domestic violence, yet who lived a life of joy and laughter.  By the end of the day, I realized that I was planning all of this on All Saint’s Day.  It brought me peace to be reminded that Larsen is among the saints who have gone before us and that she joins the great cloud of witnesses who watch over us.
Often times in the hospital, we watch traumatic scenarios come in and I hear chaplains say “That could’ve been my child,” “I saw myself in that bed,” or “Wow, that hit close to home.”  This one hit close to home for me.  As I worked on the service, it made me realize just how fragile our lives really are.  Larsen was only 8 months younger than me.  She set her mind on her goals and fought to make her dreams happen.  She was young and full of energy.  I imagined that had I known her, we would’ve been friends.  I wondered, “What would it look like if someone were planning my funeral?”  How would people begin piecing together the stories and memories throughout my life?
I remember back to a class I took in seminary called “Death, Dying and Bereavement” where we had to write our own obituary and funeral service.  In doing that assignment, I began to come to terms with my own mortality; this tragedy furthered that reality…not in a pessimistic way, but in a real way that reminds me of the importance of living for the moment and not taking life experiences for granted.  It is unexplainable for anyone to die at a young age.  Even though her physical death can technically be explained, I believe it is truly unexplainable as to why these random acts of violence happen.  My heart breaks for her family, for her friends and for the TGH staff…my heart also breaks for her 5 year old son who has autism and who never again will have his mommy.
At the funeral, there were four doves released into the air: three for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and one for Larsen.  The picture was shown at the TGH memorial service.  It looked as though God was carrying her to heaven.  It certainly brought me comfort to read these words from Revelation 21 at the memorial service (paraphrased here): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.’”  May that day come sooner rather than later.