Friday, June 29, 2007

The Clinic

(Originally posted December, 2005).

Yesterday was my last day of work at my clinic. The last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about when I first started to work there. I had just been forced out of my job with the Presbyterians, I was depressed, and I was a wreck. I was hurting badly. I did not want to be at the clinic, I still wanted to be doing my "old job." And so I kept to myself and did not get close to anyone, or reach out.

I was not happy.

Somewhere along the line, though, I realized that life is too short to spend 8 hours a day unhappy. So I began to pray. I prayed that God would help me find some meaning in my work. And God challenged me by making it clear that I needed to be comfortable ministering to the most marginalized, the people I was afraid of -- mentally ill, unwashed, verbally inappropriate.

So I worked on that for a while. And that was a great gift, to be able to set aside my fear, and physically touch people with kindness, which perhaps they did not receive anywhere else. I came to understand that if I am going to be in ministry, I must be able to minister to those whom I fear. Otherwise I am in the wrong line of work. I think this is one way of living like Christ.

But still, I would not get close to my co-workers. I realize now, of course, that this would make it easy to leave when the time came. But I often took my frustration out on them, (some of them), and finally I had to face myself and realize I was not really being the person I know I can be. So I prayed again. And then I was surrounded by people who would not let me hide, who drew me out, and who I eventually began to love.

They are good people. They do amazing work, for and on behalf of people the rest of the country would like to forget, the most marginalized of our society, the poor, the undocumented, the mentally ill, the addicts. They treat them with respect and kindness, advocate for them, heal them. They do amazing things with ever-shrinking budgets. In a very real way, this beautiful little clinic in the heart of a struggling, unique, and working-class neighborhood, is a safe haven for those who have little safety elsewhere.

Almost 5 years ago, I interviewed for the job on a beautiful, sunny, clear spring day. When I drove home that day, I could see Mt. Hood in all its glowing splendor. I felt good, and that I could work at this job for a little while as I figured out what to do with my life.

Yesterday, the day was again beautiful and clear and sunny, although cold. As I drove home, on the same road as the day I interviewed, Mt. Hood was again pulsing right off the horizon in front of me. I was, as they say, rejoicing exceedingly with great joy. I was blessed to have the time I did at my little clinic, and I am so thankful.

I will miss:
-Looking out the break-room window at the West Hills while eating my lunch. Even if the sun was smothered by clouds and rain, the view was peaceful and helped rejuvenate me.

-Kim's smile as she'd pick up her lunch and move it off "my" table when I'd come in.

-The deep compassion in Karen's eyes that helped me to know she understood my pain and my struggle, even while playing her supervisor role and nudging me towards my better self.

-Cradling a newborn baby.

-Laughing with patients.

-Ora's fierce advocacy for her patients.

-Children spontaneously reaching out for hugs.

-Hearing the hearbeat of an as-yet unborn baby.

-The Cool Nurse, especially (among other things) our sarcastic notes to each other during staff meetings (sorry, Wilma!).

-The Intrepid Band of Gigglers (you know who you are, and you know why I love you).

-Wilma (the clinic manager), leading everybody in singing Happy Birthday at staff meetings.

-Peter's manic goofiness during chart review.

-Lori's back scratches.

-Being present with people in times of great sadness, or fear, or joy. (Actually I will probably still be doing this was good practice).

Yes, this was good practice -- for being human, for being present, for being in ministry, for being, hopefully, at times, my best self. A good place to be.

I am very thankful.