Twelve days ago, I had emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder, followed by a second surgery to remove a wayward stone that was wreaking havoc. Typically these procedures involve no more than a one-day stay, but I had a persistent fever that kept me in the hospital for four days.
I am just beginning to uncover the many gifts of this interruption, this forced slowing down. One is the willingness to trust others with my life. A couple of hours after coming to the emergency room, I found myself on a gurney, being rolled to an operating room. I was amazed by how easy it was to give myself over to the process and to trust that my caregivers had my well being at heart. There was something very freeing in allowing others to take over, and this in a hospital where I was used to spending time being the one offering care – pastoral care – to patients in crisis.
I was moved by the kindness of strangers and by the kindness of colleagues I had only recently met. I was moved by the generosity of my stepmom who appeared in the hallway as they rolled me from the recovery room. I was moved by the presence and actions of friends who stepped in to help. And I was moved by visits from my fellow chaplains.
The first one came that evening, entering the room as a gentle, benevolent presence. And then the next day, another, and another, and then a pair of chaplains. And that afternoon, after my second procedure, two more. By the time the weekend was complete, seven chaplains had come to call.
They made me feel loved and important. Their presence in this time made me feel like I matter, not because of what I do, but because I exist. My vulnerability became their vulnerability. None of them tried to “chaplain” me; they simply came and lingered a while, somehow knowing just how long to stay. Their gift to me reminds me of the heart of ministry – a willingness to show up, to be with “the other” for a while.
We all need to know that we are not alone on this journey. That is something of immense value – a treasure of the heart. Catching even a glimpse of that can make all the difference.