“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver, poet
Early January, 2012. A new adventure began. Years ago while I was in seminary, most of my friends had to take a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). I didn’t, because I wasn’t on the same track. Yet I was fascinated by their tales. Tales of coming to near-blows in their peer group. Tales of gripping hands of family members at the fresh news of death.
In 2011, while a reporter at our local paper, I took my first unit, and loved it.
Loved the process of self-reflection and peer reflection. (Loved it more when I was not the one in the hot seat.) Loved the challenge of being with someone in crisis and fighting the impulse to fix, save or rescue (and figuring out where that impulse comes from). Loved discovering that simply being there for people was gift enough.
I can use the word love these many months later because I am grateful to have made it through three more units of CPE–about 11 months’ worth.
Love has another side: fire. When your peers and supervisor probe you and your motives, and ask you to explore your feelings on a certain matter, it seems as if you’re completely naked. “I can’t reveal that!” you think, but then you do, and it’s OK and the sun comes up the next day and the earth continues to spin on its axis.
There’s a parallel. I got to find out, through these explorations in group, how out-of-control patients and their families feel.
Another gift: Bearing witness to so much life and joy among the suffering. It’s not that I’m a total Pollyanna here, as if suffering is desirable. What I mean is this: There’s hardly anything more holy, more real, than seeing masks and the usual pretenses stripped bare. It’s like being on the hinge of a door. One minute life is open to all sorts of possibilities and then–bam!–it closes.
It’s a gift to be with people in those times. There’s no concern about the latest political drama or who’s on “Dancing With the Stars.” No concern for what celebrity said what.
Vulnerability though death or disease has a funny way of making us focus.
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
What do I plan to do?
For now, I am simply grateful.