“Hi, this is D…uh…Maria”

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Automaticity is a strange critter, and who would have ever thought I would struggle with automaticity when it comes to answering a phone.

Something I’ve learned very quickly during my on-call times in CPE is that I am just so used to, in a hospital setting, responding to a page by picking up the phone and saying, “Hi, this is Dr. Evans.”  I’ve done pretty well at catching myself…except on evening call.

Now, I do have to give myself partial credit.  The entire D word has never slipped out (yet.)  What comes out is something like, “Hi, this is D…uh…Maria.”  If my voice could be a visual, it would look like a baseball pitcher trying to avoid a balk.  It’s like you can hear the cogs in my brain suddenly grinding to a halt and going into reverse, with a little bit of smoke and sparks flying off them, and of course after it happens I start overthinking it.  Am I somehow being Freudian?  Am I really tied up in this bit of my identity?  I can become very OCD about it all.

Then the better part of my nature takes hold and shakes me by the shoulders and says, “Aw, Maria, give yourself some credit.  You are simply Pavlov’s Dog with a pager.  After all, this is a quarter-century old habit and you think you’re going to break it immediately when you are only at CPE a couple days a week?  Your ego isn’t tied up nearly as much in your identity as it is in the notion that you can break yourself of that immediately.”

Yet, tonight, for the first time, I began to get a glimpse of the power of presence that comes with the word “Chaplain,” and I feel relieved that this power of presence doesn’t come from me–and it is the same process of “It’s late and I’m tired” that allows me to appreciate it.

People call at night, whether it’s the patient, or the family members, and simply want a chaplain to talk to them or pray with them.  Let’s be real–I’m a newbie who treads very lightly and slowly, I pray awkwardly, and I speak hesitatingly to patients and families because I’m constantly cross-checking myself that I am not blurring the line between who I’m used to being in a hospital and who I’m becoming in the hospital setting in terms of ministry.  I’m used to visiting people in my home parish on communion visits, but I know them already.  Yet I’ve discovered that it is possible to walk into a room and meet someone for the first time, stumble through a prayer, and see the facial expressions of the patient and family relax and the anxiety de-escalate.  It is in that moment that I can recognize what just happened had little to nothing to do with me and pretty much everything to do with God–and I think I can lean into that one and trust it.

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