When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Famous Giant Hospital summer before last, I described my adventures to my father a couple of times during telephone conversations.
"I could never do that," he would say.
"Of course you could," I said. "You just show up."
During this past year, I have acknowledged that there was more to it than just showing up and that, indeed, my father could not do what I did.
Several years ago, my daughter asked me, "How do you know so much about other people?"
"I ask," I said.
I'm not particularly nosy. Today, for instance, I asked someone how her family was doing, since she had said last week that there were problems. I have no idea what the problems are and no need to know. But when someone is in my care -- a legal client, a student, a patient, a parishoner -- I am not afraid to ask.
People want to share who they are. A client wants to tell you how she discovered her husband's infidelity. A student wants someone to know that he is gay. A patient wants to say that she no longer believes in God. A parishoner wants to talk about the wife who died and left him with a small child.
I don't know why it is difficult for some people to hear the stories of others, but I know from my father, and from many others like him, that it is. I don't know why I can hear them, but I can. It doesn't much scare me that life is hard and confusing, that solutions are elusive, that loss is pervasive. (It scares me some.) I don't like any of those realities, but they don't motivate me to pretend that things are not what they are, and they don't intimidate or silence me.
In the past couple of weeks I have had occasion to learn something about the misconceptions that people tend to have about suicide. The people in possession of those misconceptions will soon be pastors. In one case, there is nothing I can do, but in another, there is.
It seems that in addition to hearing stories I will be telling them.
Today we heard a terrific sermon in chapel. The gist of it was that God may ask us to feed people when we have nothing but five loaves and two fishes. Do things for people. Help people. Be present to people.
I do not have five loaves and two fishes. I have more like a soggy crust. I can absorb the things people share with me and I can communicate them to others, perhaps at times and in ways that will on occasion make a difference.
That's it. My soggy crust.
At least I don't have to figure out to how fillet a fish.