Enough

I had left the phone at one of the hospice sites the other day and one of my favorite nurses grabbed it for me.  I felt somewhat liberated without the phone for 48 hours and then somewhat giddy when I got it back in one piece. Instant connection is something I have gotten used to, like too much caffeine.   We were busy getting to where we were going and getting ready to see who we needed to see, so seeing that the battery had gone down to 2% I left it alone until I got a break between seeing patient number three and an upcoming meeting.  With a few quiet moments to myself I checked what I had missed. It was 11:30   my time.

32 minutes prior a text was sent to me and to her Dad.  Lulu writes “You will hear this on the news I’m sure. School shooting going on at the high school in Aztec.Currently my class is in lock down and we are safe”.  

Then a few texts out to her from her Dad and a second text at 11:29 that she was ok.   I left a message on her phone and was able to talk to her a few hours later.  “The kids have all been evacuated, but we just went back into lockdown because there were more shots fired in the park down the road.”  She started to tell me what it was like for her and then “Mom, gotta go, they are evacuating us.”  There were reports going around that were later corrected, but in the moment, it was confusing and sacary for both of us.

My words to her, “Call me when you get home, I love you.”

6:09  my time she texted, “Home”. 

Lulu is a first grade teacher in one of the grade schools in Aztec. She has 20 little lambs to teach and to shepherd over.  The town of Aztec is pretty small, around 6500, so basically everybody knows everybody. In the top North East corner of New Mexico, it is close enough for her and a couple of other district teachers to commute to and from Durango. Aztec is as much her community as Durango and I am glad she has her carpool buddies. She will need them.

A couple of weeks ago there was a teacher’s meeting where the issue of having a plan for an active shooter came up.  There wasn’t a plan.  The principal of the school and the teachers put one in place.  She practiced it with her class on Monday.  MONDAY.   

She had just started her class and over the emergency system came the message that there was an active shooter.   She did was she was trained to do and locked the door, gathered the students, pushed the kids cubbies loaded with stuff against the door.  She flipped the tables and arranged them as a barricade in the corner away from the windows and kept the children quiet and calm for 2 and half hours while clutching a pair of scissors in her hand for just in case.

She knew the protocol to unlock the door for the principal when she got the signal and she got the children to the spot where they could be picked up. She said “Mom, I could see what was going on outside and hear all the cop cars and helicopters going by and I knew kids were killed over at the high school. I could see people outside the window and I knew what was going on, but I haven’t stopped shaking. ”  

Did the kids know? I asked.

“No, they knew it was a real and not a drill, but they didn’t know it was a shooting.  They can learn that from their parents” she replied.

We have spoken a few times over the past 48 hours.  She knew one of the victims Casey Marquez, not the other, but knew that his nickname was Paco.

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She also said that the shooter was the uncle of one of her students from last year.  That he had gone to the high school to kill some kids before he killed himself.  She knows a couple of teachers who were in the High School that day.  Undoubtably her students will return to school next week and she will be processing this whole thing for weeks to come.

Even though the shooting was at a different school, her students are effected, she is effected and I by proxy as her mother, am effected. She and another teaching buddy were out yesterday at a cafe and a stranger who had overheard them talking about the shooting came up to them, bought them lunch and thanked them for keeping the kids safe.    They had heard about the shooting on the news the day before and they were effected.   We should all be effected.

Here is the thing.  Lulu is a teacher,  not a trained combat soldier  She is a first grade teacher who, not knowing if the shooting was in her school or not, responded by making sure that the 20 little souls in her care were as safe as possible and she armed herself. Not only with a pair of scissors, but more importantly with the courage and conviction to keep the children safe and did so with the confidence from training for an event such as this,  just three days prior.  The kids knew what to do and 20 First Graders were in lockdown for over 2 hours without a meltdown.

I didn’t see the shooting on the news Thursday night.  I was able to get on-line and get bits from new releases, but I didn’t see a story.  It felt odd, then I was enraged that a school shooting didn’t make the national news, as if we have gotten so used to hearing about mass violence, that three dead is not considered national news.

The President didn’t make a comment about it, not one tweet.  Just let that sink in for a moment.  The President has tweeted about his support for this guy. imgres.jpg

And he twitted about fake news, but he didn’t say anything about the lives lost. Or the teachers that responded, or about a community that is hurting.  Nothing. Perhaps it is better that way.  What can he say at this point?

There has now been some national coverage, and some friends who had heard the story from me told me they have heard about it on the radio or saw a quick bit on the cable news.  New Mexico is seen as a strong Republican State and the NRA is popular in New Mexico, I wonder if there is a correlation between those two things and lack of media coverage?  Lulu said that at a candlelit vigil the night of the shooting there were people with vile signs that said “Arm the teachers”.   Is this the new response, ignore or incite?

I just can’t.  I had felt liberated by being disconnected for a short time and now reunited with my phone and thus connected to my child by text and calls, I feel better.  But I don’t feel better about where we are as a nation. I want to disconnect from all of the stuff that is going on, as if somehow by disconnecting the idiocy, it will go away.  Well is hasn’t and it won’t if I avoid it. I must continue to face it and by doing such be moved to action where I become part of the change, not a part of the problem.

I want to float, not dive

7239cf715db990fa2babb5c00ec962e1.b2c7dcabcd02d6b1a207e0dffe7b5242.jpgNot quite ready for the day.

I have my tea and mouse is keeping me company.  I kinda want to be all on top of it and hit the ground running, but today I just want to ease into it.  Like when you are going swimming in the early morning and you slip slowly into the still waters, trying not to make a ripple.  You are one temperature and the water another and the change from one state to another can be a welcome shock, but not first thing in the morning.  Late in the afternoon, in the heat of the summer, you welcome it, along with the other swimmers. But early in the morning, you move slowly into the depths.

And today I have patients to see and meetings to attend and driving to do between one place and another,  all within certain times, all seemingly crowded together. There are notes too. Notes to say what I did and how I met the goals already written.  “Patient will transition through the end of life process with peace and serenity.”  ” Patient received pastoral presence and silent prayer.”  Today is like most days, but today I want to slip into it slowly and purposefully, not reactively. I want to slip into the sacred and let it support me as I go,  I want to float, not dive.

 

Mouse Is In The Garage

I had a heavy week.  I thought I would get ahead of it by doing a spiritual assessment on a new admission Sunday afternoon and while I was at the facility, I would check in with another couple of patients.  I have a flexible schedule like that. However I also had a bunch visits that needed to be done, a week of lousy, rainy and otherwise dank weather, a memorial service and an online class.  Come Friday I was a bit fried.

Balance is the key and so knowing that, I got a kitten and named it Mouse. img_0788

I figured having something very alive was a good balance to being with those who are dying.

But after a long week, I figured I needed something else. Teary eyed and exhausted. I finished up work and even Mouse could not help lift the weight, so I headed down to the village, and I decided to go and get that bike that I have been wanting for a good long while.  I had been down to the Dedham Bike Shop at least a couple of times over the last few years and even bought a bike for my buddy Bea’s birthday. But didn’t get around to getting one for me.

I stopped riding a bicycle about 18 years ago when I was diagnosed with IC and was told that I had to change a whole lot of things in my life to reduce the pain and disabling effects of the illness.  Riding a bike was one of those things. Plus I was either a student or an unemployed CPE intern or simply unemployed, so a fun thing like a bike was out.

imagesYesterday I threw  caution to the wind and decided to go look at bikes and found one that seemed like a good fit. I put a deposit down on it with the plan to go ahead and pick it up this morning.   I felt like I was 5 again.  My first bike was red Schwinn Pixie but with a white seat and it came from the Dedham Bike Shop. I picked a purple one and got a purple helmet to match.  I felt like the kid at Christmas who peaked and saw a bike with their name on it.

It was a good thing too. When I returned home after a meeting last night I was called in to work to help the family of that new patient I had been with last Sunday.  The patient had put themselves on hospice and the family was not ready.  The Patient was ready for death and had said so to me, but the family wasn’t on the same page.  And despite the protests against the illness, the patient passed away.   I got the call and within 15 minutes was on site, but the family had left and so I did what I was called to do.

Went down the hall, entered the room and then spent then next little while with the deceased.  I had found the TV on, the bathroom door open with light streaming out, full light in the room and the sheets of the deceased all askew.  I turned things off, pull the covers up over her feet, shut the door and began to pray.  They had said to me last Sunday that they had forgotten their prayers, so I pulled out a Rosary and said it for them, as I laid the pink plastic cross down.  Returning home I took some time to decompress and thought about that bike.  I went to bed singing “Bicycle race ”

This morning I went down to the village and rode it home, singing.   These same streets that I rode my first little red bike on and all of those feelings of being free came back. Just like when I first learned to ride and go faster than on foot.  And getting the bike gave me some energy to do the chores and put the cat window in for Mouse. She learned to use it and has some freedom now herself.

In her new freedom she disappeared for a while and gave us a scare.  Turns out she went into the neighbor’s garage and before they went out for the night, the door was closed with her locked inside.  They are still out and she is still locked in, but at least I know where she is and eventually they will come home, see my note pinned to their door and I can go fetch her.

And here is where the balance pays off.  Mum was tired at the end of the day and when Mouse didn’t show up, Mum was upset.  Afraid of all the things that could go wrong.  On the other hand, I had an awesome day riding my bike and singing Queen songs.  I figured Mouse would either show up or she wouldn’t.  Either she lives a free life going out and coming, sometimes getting stuck and needing to be found, or she doesn’t.  I choose the former too.   And like Mouse I choose to play when I can.

 

Jonah and The Divine Deep Knowing

Penned by Tori Jamison

Many call to ministry stories begin with a deep knowing or a dramatic moment of realization, followed in quick succession with the knower running fleeing church life to pursue careers in business or as far from the church as possible, diving into family or art or literally anything else, until they can’t anymore – and then they show up at seminary. My story isn’t that at all.  I heard the voice, I felt the deep knowing and my community acknowledged that they also knew I had the knowing and so off I went, confident. I graduated seminary by the skin of my teeth and running as fast as I could get from the institutional church.

images.jpgAnd I’ve been thinking about a lot about Jonah, of “gets swallowed by a whale and is still a punk while sitting in digestive juices for three days and gets his own book in the Hebrew bible” fame. See, Jonah gets this call from God to do a thing (go preach repentance to Nineveh) and he runs. Lots of commentators make a big deal out of him running the opposite direction from where he was told to go, but what I find interesting about Jonah is his confident swagger. He runs but gets on a ship and when the sea gets rough, they draw lots and blame Jonah, who asserts with no nuance who he is and the name of his god, and that they are welcome to solve the problem by throwing him into the sea. The sailors oblige, and into the sea goes Jonah… only to get swallowed by a fish. He skulks and mutters for a while, covered in digestive juices in the dark, and then the text says that he petitions his god with a prayer that amounts to “God has to save me because I have work to do that God gave me to do so get on with it, God!”

I also ran with reasons aplenty from the institutional church but not ministry. I’ve taken all kinds of jobs and calls since graduating, and have met some incredible people, been a witness to the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve seen a baby born and held hands with the dying and everything in between, and yet, l

Like Jonah, I thought that shouting my call while going my own ways was enough.

It isn’t, and I’m worn down by running- the moving every few months to this or that pulls me farther and farther away from the divine deep knowing. What I’ve been doing is in the name of the good work and justice (mental health first responder! Care for the youngest! Communities of belonging and safety for everyone! Farm and feed the world!) but I am increasingly more disconnected from a call to contextualize sacred service in a community.

I haven’t been running from everything in life and I’ve certainly grown and learned.  I came out as queer last year as undramatically as I could conjure simply by putting on Facebook that I was in a relationship with a same gender partner.

Spoiler alert -if an ancient book can be spoiled –

Jonah gets out of the fish but his swagger continues. He preaches to Nineveh and then informs God that God should make good on God’s promise to smite them. God does not, and gives a shade tree to Jonah. When the tree dies, the last words of Jonah in his book are informing God that the tree ought to still be alive, and that Jonah himself is right to be angry, even to death.

I too had my very good reasons for running, but now that I am a distance away by time, geography and circumstance, perhaps now I can reconsider a retooled return. Like Jonah, I have never doubted the deep knowing, but unlike Jonah, I do not wish to end up under a tree angry that it is not enough.

Bennies

Bennies.

Not what you are thinking though.  I am thinking healthcare and insurance benefits.  I just spent the past couple of hours signing up for them and I am the lucky one.  

Lucky because my new employer offers a whole host of benefits which include medical, dental, vision, long and short-term disability. Then there is also insurance for credit fraud, benefit plans for lawyers, pet insurance and then the pre-tax, directly from your paycheck savings account.   There were 24 different areas to pick from.  I made my picks and I will be paying 3.8% of my gross pay for insurance per month with a potential of 1.43%  of the gross in costs for healthcare.  That is about 5% of my gross.  And that is affordable access to healthcare.

This new policy  will kick into effect 90 days from my hire date and I can breathe a bit easier.  I say that with the silly notion that large employers are keeping watch at the current health care payment fluster cluck.   I will be sorry to say goodby to the current coverage I have, but I am the lucky one.

I have been covered for the last year and a half on Mass Health, the Bay States version of the Affordable Care Act,  also known as Obama Care. In graduate school I was covered under a student health plan that basically covered very little.  When I graduated I was able to get onto the public coverage and because I was still training for chaplaincy, I didn’t have an income. As in I didn’t have a job.   The coverage was basically free to me and every medical expense was covered and 99% of my medications.   I could pick up my thyroid medication and instead of a 20.00 co-pay, I paid out 1.75.  One dollar and seventy-five cents.  Less than a cup of tea.  Even my Epi-Pen was free because of Mass health and the CVS pharmacist found coupons to make up the difference.

I totaled up my health care costs based on billing submitted by my providers and it came out to about 78 thousand, of which only a small fraction was paid out to the hospitals and doctors, but under contract, I was not billed.  I benefited from Mass Health profoundly.

Health maintenance is critical for me to be engaged in the larger community.   In order for me to work full-time, I have to keep self-care in the foreground.   That means that I have to put the needs of my body, mind and spirit before the needs of others.  I can not sacrifice me to serve others, I must serve myself first so that I can be there for others.   If I don’t take care of the vessel, I can not sail.

I am not unique on this. We all need to have good, not adequate, but good health coverage. By we, I mean all of us.  Good prenatal care, infant child wellness, preventative care, emergency care and end of life care, including hospice.   If we see the Dr. before the issue gets bad, or get our teeth cleaned on a regular basis or take the medications we should, then can you imagine what good would come from it.  More of us could do the work we are called to do.  More of us would take care of things before those little things become disabling.

So the issue then becomes: are we entitled to good health care?

If we look at the greater good, what is good for all of us in a society, then yes.  People do better when choices for care are available and affordable.   Society does better when the populace is healthy and can engage in the workforce.  Businesses run better when their employees are healthy. Our economy can grow when the population is healthy. Our country can focus on other issues if this one can be solved.

Looking at the costs billed from providers; hospitals, Dr.s and procedures like labs, I was shocked at the difference between the charge and what was paid out.  A blood test with a full metabolic panel was over 568.00 while the provider was paid 40.00.  It is like going to Savers and seeing a cashmere 4 ply designer sweater priced at 5.99 when you know that it retailed at over 400.00 and it probably cost 50.00 to grow, harvest, spin, dye, knit, ship, and stock at the store.

So here is the long-winded idea.  I got the sweet deal in insurance last year and now I continue with a sweet deal though my new job.   But I shouldn’t be the only one.  We should all have the ability to access affordable health care.  For the benefit of the individual and society as a whole.

 

 

I am not a preacher

imageBlizzard

Well, not really. At least not yet, there is very little wind. Certainly not huge gusts that make the trees creak.  There is heavy wet snow  and walking home tonight was lovely in a surreal kind of way.    The ambient light created from street lights, and glow from the nearby highway, gives everything a pink and orange edge.  The sun set hours ago and I swear it is so light out I took the photo without a flash.  I miss the dark deep of a North Country snow.  The stillness I crave in the storm is dispersed with sounds of cars unaccustomed to driving on greasy roads.  Just say’n.

Yet my joints don’t know the difference. My hips hurt and I am a bit gimpy. Which I expect with a good-sized Nor’easter.  Yesterday was worse than today and no amount of hot tubs, gentle stretches or over the counter meds help.  I didn’t leave the house and spent most of the day up in my studio working on a pattern draft and playing with Mouse.

Today I mustered and got myself to Church and was treated to validation of my calling.

On Fridays and Saturdays many of my preaching buddies are working on sermons and programs.  Not me. I was grateful for that yesterday.  I love to write and I love the exegesis required for a good sermon, but I don’t like preaching.  I don’t like reading scripture in front of people. Here is another secret: I don’t really like participating in a service.  It is too much like organizing a play  in which you are both the director and the actor.   Plus you gotta know the script. Which given my dyslexic way of thinking and the way the words often tumble out in the wrong way, I get anxious.  So instead of  being in the moment and getting my worship on, being totally connected, I am uneasy.

Not so when I speak extemporaneously in a AA meeting, or in a one-on-one in a hospital setting.I can pray at the bedside of the dying and the injured without notes.  I can expound ad infinitum while being authentic and I won’t remember exactly what I said, or the way I said it.  I just know that when I connect with people in that way, the spirit shows up.  I can give a testimony, tear up and get an amen.  But be the pastor in a congregation every Sunday?  Nope. Not me and not my call.

Melanie, our Priest at St. Paul’s has the gift.   Today she did a baptism and when she was pouring from the silver (historic) pitcher to the font, she stopped abruptly and exclaimed “Wait! This isn’t water.  This is the wine!” Talk about being baptized into the blood of Jesus, which would have totally  ruined the beautiful baptismal dress of the candidate. She then got the correct silver pitcher, but the water was too hot.  Trying to make sure the water wasn’t too cold, which might have produced a cry of anger, someone had brought the water to a boil and it was still scalding hot.  Melanie then called for colder water and several folks scrambled to get some.  She was able to turn a potential disaster into an epic win for the preacher.

And I got to be present instead of being anxious and it didn’t matter that my hips were killing me and that I was chilled and kept my coat on during the service or that I had my clunky blizzard boots on.  I was reminded that I had a Sunday of friends and worship and that my gifts of ministry are just that; mine.  Different from what is sometimes expected, but valid all the same.

I was hoping to go into work tomorrow, yup was looking forward to it, but got an email that we will have a snow day.  Whoop Whoop.  Here’s hoping we actually get some decent snow.

 

 

How do you tell a Mob Boss to quit smoking?

imgres .

I had a great conversation with Mum yesterday.  We were talking about politics and ethics and social justice. We talked about those that reach out to everybody and those that for what ever reason, push those that are different away.

And that lead to a bunch of family stories most I knew and this new one I had never heard. Grandaddy was a surgeon here in Boston and was one of the first in the world to successfully open the chest cavity to do either lung or heart surgery.  His main thing was lungs and he was one of the first to connect the effects of smoking to lung disease.  Mum said that when President Eisenhower had his heart attack, Grandaddy was flown out to Denver as part of the medical team.  That story did not surprise me, I grew up hearing stories about some of his patients that were heads of state, famous actors and the like.  These were pre-Hippa days, and often the family would receive gifts from “grateful patients”.

That was a category.

Pointing to a crate of oranges, “Hey Mamie, where did this come from? ” Or looking at the delivery of giant flower arrangements, “who sent these?”  “A grateful patient Dearie, a grateful patient.”

The story I didn’t know was about that time when he operated on big time Crime Boss Raymond Patriarca and there were detailed cars parked outside of the house for a week or so.  Mum said the cars were FBI or CIA.  I am not so sure about that.  “We had to lock the doors, and we never locked the doors” said Mum.  “We couldn’t go anywhere until it was over”.

What was the issue?  “Well I guess there would have been an issue if Patriarca didn’t make it off the table.  It was life and death you know.” Mum quipped.

I guess he didn’t discriminate.  He treated everyone about he same.  Gave me lecture upon lecture about smoking and I am sure he gave that same lecture to the Mob Boss.

This is what I know about Grandaddy. He was a diehard Republican who I argued with during the Ronny Ray-gun years. At family dinners, we would get going about it until Mamie felt it was going nowhere and would say, “My, the battleships are a lovely shade of gray this year”.  He taught me to fish, to gut that fish on the spot, to chop wood and to how to stack it.  He told me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.  He once sent me a letter at camp impressing upon me how important communication was.  He had his secretary type it for him.  I wish I had kept that letter.   He was human like the rest of us.

What I did see was that he pumped his own gas, but he drove a Saab.  He talked to the guy behind the Dunkin Donuts counter with the same intent as international guests at his table.  He impressed upon me to never think less of someone doing manual labor, for we all should do what we can with the gifts we are given.  If he had to go out at night, he often wore his PJs under his suit because he liked to get his sleep.

He was a product of his generation, born in 1901 and in Peru Nebraska.  He was motivated to do something after watching the fall out from the 1918 flu.  and the Great White Plague.    He didn’t get everything right, but he did instill the notion that one should find their purpose and do it. His was fighting Lung disease.  He literally saved lives, and from what I remember and what I have learned, he never checked to see what the patient’s background was; religious, economic, political or otherwise before he operated.  We all bleed red.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall then he lectured the Boss about quitting smoking.  He could not help to give that lecture to anyone at anytime. He was asked to speak at my 6th grade graduation and I was mortified when he gave the no smoking lecture to the whole school.  I picked up smoking because it was so rebelous.  He once hauled me into his clinic and took a chest r-ray just to scare me.  I didn’t work, I was hooked anyhow.  I smoked ciggs off and on for years and still dream of them.  But I smile now when I see how his efforts in the early days paid off and for the most part, people understand the risk of smoking.

I guess he knew that the addiciton of smoking does not discriminate, neither does lung disease.  It does not care if you are rich or poor, black or while, Christian or Mulim, gay or straight.  He did the work he was wall called to do Mob Boss or not.