Friday, June 18, 2010

Grading the US side, 2-2 against Slovenia

Agree? Disagree?

Tim Howard, Goalkeeper: B. As with the England match, the goals allowed by Howard had nothing to do with him and everything to do with breakdowns in the States’ central defense (specifically Oguchi Onyewu), leaving Howard stunned by the first and absolutely exposed by the second. Howard did make several key plays to keep his side in the match, and showed strong instincts time and again in leaving his line.

Steve Cherundolo, Right Back: B+. Not quite the factor he was in the England match, but Slovenia really hammered their attack down Cherundolo’s wing, and he gamely responded time and time again. Was not as present in the attack as he was with England, but still managed to force his mark, Milivoje Novakovic, to draw a yellow card.

Oguchi Onyewu, Center Back: C-. Even as good as Gooch has been playing in the second half of both matches, all three goals given up by the U.S. can be partially blamed on him. Against Slovenia, Gooch gave Valter Birsa far too much space and time to tee up the first goal, and he was the defender who kept Zlatan Lubijankic onside for the second goal. The problem is, Maurice Edu wasn’t a whole lot better in central defense, being more of a midfielder himself.

Jay DeMerit, Center Back: B+. As with England, DeMerit did his job well, winning headers and making a few crucial tackles to kill Slovenian attacks. Gave Slovenia a bit of a scare in the first half with a wicked header from the top of the penalty area.

Carlos Bocanegra, Left Back: B-. A slightly more sound performance from Boca in this match—it should be telling that many of the most dangerous Slovenian attacks were coming down Cherundolo’s wing and not Bocanegra’s. Boca also gave the Slovenian defense fits on set plays—Suler was actually resorting to putting Boca in a headlock on a couple of them.

Michael Bradley, Defensive Midfield: A. His goal might be the most aesthetically pleasing goal we’ve seen all tournament, which is ironic, as Bradley isn’t known for playing pretty soccer. But Altidore heads it into space for him, and Bradley volleys it to bury it past Samir Handanovic. Bradley seemed to be much more comfortable in distribution than against England, though his partnership with Jose Torres was not as strong. My vote for Man of the Match.

Jose Torres, Defensive Midfield: D. Torres did not live up to his billing today as a more technically gifted alternative to Rico Clark. Aside from one impressive free kick attempt that forced a good save from Handanovic, Torres contributed little and had problems defending, giving up gobs of turnovers. Look for Maurice Edu to take his turn against Algeria ib the game of musical chairs that is the non-Michael-Bradley slot in the American defensive midfield.

Landon Donovan, Attacking Midfield: A-. Less effective early on, Landon waited almost a split second too long on his goal, but he still came through magnificently for the U.S. by starting the second half off as strong as possible. Generally gave good service off of set pieces.

Clint Dempsey, Attacking Midfield/Striker: C+. Came close to getting booked or sent off in the opening seconds of the match, and I’m not sure he ever quite settled down. He was a non-factor for much of the game, and we didn’t hear much from him even after he moved up to striker when Feilhaber came on for Findley.

Jozy Altidore, Striker: B+. Was invisible for the first 12-13 minutes, but afterwards frustrated the Slovenian defense on several occasions, causing them to foul him pretty hard multiple times. Excellent heading assist on Bradley’s goal.

Robbie Findley, Striker: C. Even though I have come to appreciate Findley’s speed, oh how I still pine for Charlie Davies on the pitch. Findley was adept at finding dangerous opportunities, and fairly inept at making anything of them. He didn’t deserve his yellow card, but nonetheless, that means we won’t see him against Algeria, which in the grand scheme of things is not the worst thing to happen to the U.S.

Substitutes:

Benny Feilhaber, Midfielder: B-. The U.S. side enjoyed a net improvement with Feilhaber on for Findley, but he didn’t provide the same spark that Dempsey is capable of. After the Slovenians adjusted, we seldom heard from Feilhaber over the course of the second half.

Maurice Edu, Midfielder/Center Back: B+. Edu made a few dicey plays on defense, but came through in a huge way for the U.S. on a goal that was inexplicably disallowed (the official FIFA line was that Edu committed a foul on the play, but watch replays of the goal, and you’ll see he had a clean run into the ball). Deserved to be the surprise hero for the U.S.

Herculez Gomez, Striker: B. I try to bury my keeper-induced prejudice against strikers for Gomez, just because I love his story and because he offers such wonderful quotes at times. A great guy who I wish the KC Wizards had kept onto…er, Gomez had one half-chance when he volleyed a shot just wide of Handanovic’s net, but given he came on with only ten minutes left in the game, he showed he doesn’t need much time to fall into the flow of a match.

Bob Bradley, coach: A. Unlike with England, Bradley didn’t hesitate to make halftime adjustments when he saw his game plan wasn’t producing the necessary results. Moving Donovan to the right flank paid immediate dividends with the first U.S. goal, and halftime substitute Edu proved to be a force on set pieces. He earned his salary today.

Koman Coulibaly, referee: F. I didn’t rate Carlos Simon’s job as ref in the US-England match, but if I had, I would have said he did a solid job, all in all. The same cannot be said for Coulibaly, who blew two huge calls—first and foremost being Edu’s goal, and the second being Findley’s yellow card (even in real time, it didn’t look like Findley had handled the ball, much less intentionally), for which Findley will be suspended against Algeria. If FIFA lets this man ref any of the knockout stage matches, they will have shown that all the talk about improving their refs after the officiating debacles in the 2006 World Cup was all that—just talk.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Grading the US side, 1-1 against England yesterday

Here’s my take on how the US side did against England on Saturday. Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

Tim Howard, goalkeeper: A. He was blameless for English skipper Steven Gerrard’s goal—that one was on Oguchi Onyewu for pushing forward out of position towards Wayne Rooney, and on Ricardo Clark for losing Gerrard to begin with. Howard gamely gutted through, despite being bulldozed by hack English forward Emile Heskey, to make several key saves in the second half. It may be my pro-GK bias speaking, but Howard deserved being named Man of the Match.

Steve Cherundolo, right back: A-. Dolo ran circles around James Milner for the first half hour of the match, forcing an early English substitution, and was an effective presence on both offense and defense. His fairly needless yellow card for fouling Shaun Wright-Phillips prevents him from getting a straight-up A, but still the most effective field player for the US. With Jonathan Spector still not in good form, Cherundolo has to avoid getting booked again in group play.

Oguchi Onyewu, center back: B. Hats off to Gooch for being able to go the full 90 minutes, and for making some key defensive plays when Rooney finally decided to join the game, but he was caught out of position several times, resulting either in a goal (see Howard’s entry), or in Howard or Jay DeMerit being forced to save Gooch’s bacon. Also deserves lots of points for neutralizing England’s super-sub striker/traveling freak show Peter Crouch late in the game.

Jay DeMerit, center back: B+. Same with Gooch—big props to DeMerit for stifling Rooney all game, but unlike Gooch, the Watford man was seldom caught deep out of position. DeMerit didn’t make any huge mistakes aside from getting booked for a (fairly egregious) handball. Fortunately, if, God forbid, DeMerit picks up another yellow before the knockout stages, the US at least, unlike for Cherundolo, has a serviceable backup for him in Clarence Goodson.

Carlos Bocanegra, left back: C+. Bocanegra wasn’t terribly bad, but he was outpaced on a number of occasions by English winger Aaron Lennon, and he didn’t provide the same kind of threat on set pieces that we’ve come to expect from him. For being a normally consistently strong presence on the back line, Boca looked unusually nervy against England.

Ricardo Clark, defensive midfield: C-. Clark’s egregiously poor marking led to the early England goal, which might be forgivable except that clogging up the attacking midfield is supposed to be Clark’s calling card, and is plausibly why he would have gotten the starting nod over an in-form Jose Torres. Clark began to settle down after the goal, but don’t be surprised if Bradley replaces him with Torres or Maurice Edu against Slovenia.

Michael Bradley, defensive midfield: B. Bradley did exactly what was expected of him—disrupt the English attack, shepherd the ball out of the defensive half of the pitch, and to help cover whenever Cherundolo would go marauding up the right wing in attack. Bradley wasn’t flashy, but he helped make Frank Lampard a non-factor in the game, which constitutes a good day’s work for any holding midfielder.

Clint Dempsey, attacking midfield: A-. His goal will be remembered more for who gave it up and how (Robert Green’s howler on that shot should make any World Cup blooper reel) rather than for who scored it. Nevertheless, Dempsey showed impressive footwork to tee up that shot as well as for other plays throughout the game. He faded a bit towards the end, as England began pouring more and more players into the midfield and up front.

Landon Donovan, attacking midfield: B+. He didn’t have his way with English left back Ashley Cole quite like he did for Everton in the EPL, but Donovan was still a strong attacking presence in the first half (which in turn kept Cole from being much of an attacking presence himself) and gave good service off of set pieces. He was a little less present in the second half, plus, since he’s Donovan, more is expected of him, hence the lower grade than Dempsey.

Jozy Altidore, striker: B. Jozy was robbed of a potential go-ahead goal by the woodwork (and by a terrific save by English keeper Green), and even as Donovan began to disappear in the second half, Altidore stepped up to the challenge. But given the way he was walking off the pitch when he got substituted for, I’m worried that his sprained ankle is flaring up.

Robbie Findley, striker: B-. Like most people, I wondered what Bob Bradley was smoking when he kept Robbie Findley on the team at Brian Ching’s expense, but Findley is slowly starting to win me over. He made no real opportunities for himself, but he persistently made life difficult for Ledley King and especially Jamie Carragher in the center of England’s defense (and honestly, Carragher probably should have been sent off for either his late, studs-up challenge which he got a yellow for, or as a second yellow for taking down Findley deep in the England end on a 1-on-1—on the replay it looked like his elbow got in on Findley near the jaw). Like Cherundolo, Findley gets docked for picking up a relatively needless yellow card.

Subs:

Edson Buddle, striker: C+. Buddle wasn’t in long enough to make much of an impact, and compared to the speedy Findley, wasn’t really heard from in the 15 minutes or so he was on the pitch. If the goal for Bradley was to play for the win rather than a draw, Buddle didn’t help. But if the goal was to prevent Findley from earning a second yellow and a send-off, then why not substitute him for a midfielder?

Stuart Holden, midfielder: N/A. Holden came on with less than five minutes to go in regulation time, hardly enough time to make much of an impression. Helped shore up the wing with Dempsey starting to fade.

Bob Bradley, coach: B+. Bradley has a rep for being fairly predictable to coach against, but in this game, his steadfastness stood in stark, beneficial contrast to Fabio Capello’s two early substitutions. The only major complaint I have of Bradley was his waiting until the 78th minute to finally make his first substitution, and then for that substitution to be a forward for another forward (Edson Buddle for Findley). Given how England was pressuring the US defense at that point, I was hoping we might see Edu instead, and for the US to simply play for the draw over the final 12 minutes.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

God of All

It is worth taking the time to dust off my more neglected blog for a post in honor of today, Armenian Holocaust Remembrance Day. In past years, I have written poetry for this day, but this year, I have copied and pasted below a sermon I preached some time ago, along with a brief commentary on recent events. It is dedicated to the memory of the 1.5 million men, women, and children who lost their lives in the Armenian Holocaust. As of this writing, the Armenian Holocaust's status as genocide is denied by the governments of both the Republic of Turkey and the United States of America.

Speak truth to power.

Eric Atcheson
San Francisco, CA
April 24, 2010--Armenian Holocaust Remembrance Day

Author's note:

On Thursday, March 4, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, per the consensus of most qualified historians, voted 23-22 for the American federal government to officially recognize the Armenian Holocaust of the First World War as genocide. In a move disheartening to me and many other diasporic Armenian-Americans, the Obama White House subsequently pressed for this issue to not ever be brought before the full House for a vote.

As genocide is so often predicated on the malicious construction of the other, this passage from the Gospel according to Mark, on Jesus’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, feels to me particularly relevant, as is the lesson that Jesus takes away from this anonymous woman.

In studying for this sermon, I am especially indebted to the Westminster Bible Companion commentaries on Matthew and Mark by Thomas Long and Douglas Hare respectively, as well as the New Interpreter’s Study Bible commentary on Mark by PSR’s own Mary Ann Tolbert.

If not for the fact that I stand well over six feet tall, I would have been that kid in high school who would have been shoved into lockers by all the popular kids. I played computer games, read comic books, and enthusiastically participated in both marching band and debate. Oh, sure, I tried to balance my geekiness out with lots of sports-playing, but when I started out in kindergarten, my sports of choice were ice skating, gymnastics, and jazz dance.

Now, by the time you hit, say, your mid-twenties, it is more or less socially okay to be a geek–nerds often can be better equipped to go into the occupations that confer more money and prestige upon the person, and suddenly, people of your sexual preference can appreciate that it is touching for you to show your sensitivity, such as tearing up when watching Les Miserables. But man, during high school, it is a whole different story. Even when you think you might be running with the in-crowd, you’re still out, and as soon as you think you might be hip, you’re not only square, you’re square squared. Little wonder, then, that cliques so quickly form in that holding pen of adolescent angst, for ultimately, identity is everything.

In that singular capacity, it sometimes feels like not much has really changed between the ancient Near East and the 21st-century American high school. For, just as in high school, your clique of friends can be all-important, so too in the ancient Near East were your nationality and ethnic identity of great import. Jesus at this point in Mark is still on the up and up–his fame and notoriety are growing exponentially in Galilee, and yet, he decides to make the journey away from Galilee to Tyre without any reason given by the author of Mark–in fact, right after this story ends, Jesus is on the move again, towards Decapolis. But what is most telling in the setting of the story is that Jesus did not wish for anyone to know He was there. One could easily think that this is simply par for the course for Jesus, for He has already performed a number of miracles in Mark that He asks not be mentioned to anyone. But this is different, because Jesus is asking that His very presence, before He had a chance to perform or teach, be kept secret. He is not on his home turf anymore, but even then, Jesus’s desire to remain anonymous smacks almost of a certain naivete–for, just as one would notice if a jock up and sat at the computer geek table in the high school cafeteria, so too will at least some people likely sit up and take notice if this Jewish Messiah suddenly and inexplicably enters a territory with a large Gentile population.

And this is precisely what happens. And the person who notices this Messiah’s presence is not just any Gentile, but a Syrophoencian. A parallel narrative of this story occurs in the 15th chapter of Matthew, and in that version, the woman is called a Canaanite, which would be more recognizable to us as the people who were displaced by the Israelite migration depicted in Joshua. Mark’s use of “Syrophoenician” is more precise, for Phoenicia was a part of Syria in northern Canaan, but it comes at the expense of it being more difficult to understand the sheer depth of the animosity between Jesus and this anonymous woman. Mark has a habit of not identifying details that would have been seen as superfluous by his original audience–for example, Pontius Pilate is never identified by title, only as “Pilate.” So, too, then, would Mark likely have assumed that identifying this woman as Syrophoenician would be enough to produce the necessary visceral reaction of imagining such a foreigner coming to the Israelite Messiah.

And yet, still this woman comes to Him. She comes to Jesus with her desperation and her fear, but above all else, she comes to Jesus with her deep and abiding love and loyalty to her precious daughter. There is no other reason given for why the woman would have done something so out of the ordinary–to address a foreign man without being in the company of another man, and then having the tremendous courage to rebut this foreigner in the face of what is a horrific racial slur, for, when Jesus continually makes note of how He is sent to tend to the “children,” to God’s children, there can be little doubt who He is referring to when He uses the word “dogs.”

And yet, still this woman comes to Him. By this point in the Gospel, Jesus is a religious rock star. He has stilled the storm, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the five thousand, walked on water, and brought a little girl back from the dead. For some time now, Jesus has been the vessel by which God’s extraordinary nature is revealed to humankind. This is a tremendous role reversal for the Israelites to whom Jesus belongs–whereas they are used to being pushed around by their surrounding neighbors, like the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans, with perpetual states of war with peoples like the Canaanites and the Philistines, now Jesus stands here over a begging Gentile woman with all the power in the world. That bookish nerd who is used to being bullied and beat up by the other students, that person now has all the control.

And yet still, this woman comes to Him. And here is where God is, perhaps, more human than we would ever want to believe or imagine, because God is, through Jesus, exhibiting not what is best in us, but what is worst in us. We want to believe that God will watch over us, protect us, walk beside us and love us wholeheartedly as we live as God’s children in the creation, but that simply is not what happens here. What Jesus initially shows this powerless woman is not love. Instead, God, through Jesus, is forced to learn openness and inclusive, positive love from an anonymous, faceless, nameless woman, the dog who must beg for the children’s crumbs, who must beg for her daughter’s life. But as soon as God does learn this, God does right by this woman, and in so doing, we can take reassurance in the knowledge that eventually, somehow, someway, God will do, within God’s power, what is right by God’s children, not merely what is easy or convenient.

But this was a God who was not seen as a deity to be loved by the Israelite’s enemies—and yet, God learns from a people oppressed by empire and at war with Canaan to learn to love the enemies of God’s own children. And God discovers this from, of all people, a humble Gentile mother, coming to beg for healing from a God not her own, a God sworn to protect her enemies, a God whom she was probably raised to despise herself.

And yet still, this woman comes to Him. And so too may we go to God as well. Not merely because it is right that we should do so, but because a mother’s courage has given us permission to go to a God full of grace and full of love with our own desperation, our own fears and insecurities, as well as with our own love and devotion. We might still cling to the identities which divide us, from the high school cafeteria to the ethnic prejudices of long ago, but our God no longer does. A healed daughter in Tyre was one of many miracles made manifest by this universal love, and I have no doubt that there are many, many more, still waiting to be performed.

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dispatches from Gennesaret, part IV: Puka Shells

Friends,

My apologies for the month-long hiatus I took from blogging, but trust me when I say that it was for the best. August was a roller coaster of a month on a variety of fronts, but I am happy to say that I think I am out of the thick of the proverbial woods. Being surrounded by my seminary friends once more has already made quite a difference, as has been beginning my new job at First Christian Church of Concord.

On August 14, I completed my Clinical Pastoral Education internship at California Pacific. I still have a few ideas for posts to include in the Dispatches from Gennesaret series on my own personal reflections of hospital chaplaincy, and I am going back and forth about whether or not to actually write and post them. I do want to offer this, though--that part of my internship experience included my own apprehension towards pastoral identity, and that, as a hospital chaplain, complete strangers were seeing me as a Christian minister. I was not, and am not, quite used to this. Honestly, I think that part of my ego thought that it would be pretty neat to be seen as a pastor--to be viewed as that office of ordained representative ministry, to be seen as a person who has devoted their life to (what I believe to be) one of the highest vocational callings there is...and as far as hospital chaplaincy goes, ministering to the sick is a vocation of inarguably noble intent. I cannot say I am especially proud of that facet of myself, that facet that sees my future occupation as a means of acquiring respect, but it is who I am. I accept it.

That process of understanding pastoral identity included a summer-long question of whether or not I would actually wear clerical vestments while working as a chaplain, so that I might have the experience of having others readily identify my office immediately upon meeting me. This is a decision I continued to explore as I recently started my field education position as a Student Associate Minister at First Christian Church, as the senior pastor and I have decided that I will be wearing a preaching robe at Sunday worship services. But at California Pacific, I ultimately decided not to wear any vestments, in part because wearing a collar or similar non-robe vestments is not something Disciples of Christ clergy do a lot of in the United States. Plus, I began to notice that carrying around a Bible, as I often did, would, in combination with my hospital employee badge, have the same effect of outwardly identifying myself as a Christian cleric.

But mostly, I began to realize that I didn't want to wear a clerical collar or similar vestment because it would obscure the string of puka shells that I have worn around my neck almost every day for over five years now, ever since my younger sister Katherine gave them to me before I left for college in the summer of 2004. Earlier this year, the string snapped, and my girlfriend Libby and her father painstakingly repaired the string for me. When considering the sentimental meaning that these puka shells had for me, I felt as though I was already wearing a reverential collar of sorts--a collar acquired and repaired by two women who mean an awful lot to me.

If this conclusion only reinforces the sappy ideals of familial and romantic attachment that I am exhibiting in spite of myself, I think the point has partly been lost. I have come to believe that the signs of ministry take place in a variety of ways, and that the aura of ministry can be found wherever we take the time to see it. Behold the many ministers of God, for in them, one beholds the God Itself.

Eric

"Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the burning bush, how God said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? He is God not of the dead, but of the living!" -Mark 12:26-27

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fine dining and living it up in the city

A quick break from my summer "Dispatches from Gennesaret" series of posts to say that my family is in Berkeley for a long weekend of vacation, and that while they are here, we plan on visiting some of the finer dining establishments that the Bay Area has to offer--Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Gary Danko in San Francisco, in addition to Citizen Cake (which we went to tonight, and it was quite good--more coming later) and Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa.

This is on top of the very enjoyable experience that Libby and I had dining at Fleur de Lys a couple weeks ago (and which I still have yet to blog about--but will). July and early August is shaping up to be a time of pretty fun expansion of my culinary horizons, even though I already fancied myself (probably ridiculously) as a little bit of a foodie.

I have enjoyed eating for as long as I can remember, and to me, splurging on a nice meal is as justifiable (if not more so) a use of disposable income than anything else I can think of. When I was a kid, I mostly ate to get full and to enjoy the rather unsophisticated tastes that most kids often have (lots of sugary cereal, candy, and, well, sugar in general!). I am really looking forward to this series of what I hope will be some pretty spectacular meals with my family.

Eric

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dispatches from Gennesaret, part III: Angelfire

(PSR friends, not to be confused with Angels Fear...)

My feet pound against the hospital floor as I keep pace alongside the medical staff.

I am whispering prayers softly under my breath.

And pounding in my head is a throbbing headache that keeps time with my feet.

One day, one of the patients on my service is rushed down to the emergency room. I had just walked onto the floor to see the medical staff preparing to move the patient to the ER. I ask the patient if they would like for me to accompany them to the ER, they weakly say yes. I am suddenly and starkly aware of the trust that is being invested in me--it is one thing to talk to the chaplain in a laid-back setting of a hospital routine, it is entirely another to have him at your side as you are being brought into the ER.

On television shows, the ER is a place full of drama, attractive doctors and nurses, and of patients who either accomplish incredible come-from-behind recoveries, or die in the most heartbreaking manner. Television got it right in at least one respect--any death has the agonizing capacity to be heartbreaking. But sometimes, the similarities end there. And especially for family--in this case, the patient's father, who came down to the ER with us--it is a place for long waits, confusion, apprehension, and sometimes, outright fear.

Providing pastoral care, at this point, extends beyond both routine conversation as well as the typical existential or theological questions (ie, "Why me?") that chaplains often answer. We are there to explain what we can and to comfort where we cannot explain. I cannot tell a worried father why exactly his child is being taken in for x-rays, an echocardiogram, an MRI, or any other tests, but I can tell him that the x-ray setup is very close by, that they have not taken his child far at all, and that through it all, God's divine presence remains very much alive in the room. And through it all, I continue to give my own prayers, silently and spoken, as an offering to anyone, anything that was listening.

Days later, in the wake of this crisis, the patient referred to me as their angel. That meant a tremendous amount to me--indeed, I felt like it gave me far more credit than I deserved--and it was and is a powerful reminder of the impact clerics can have in a person's life, for both good and bad. While the word 'angel' often carries connotations of great personal virtue, I think that once you put aside that connotation, there is an interesting connection to be made. Just as angels are the ethereal go-betweens from heaven to earth, so too are chaplains--and, indeed, many of the hospital staff--go-betweens from a patient's fears to their hopes. We are go-betweens from a parent's worry to their child's physical presence. And, I am sometimes seen by patients as a go-between from divine presence to the tangible, physical, fragile creation, even though to me I am, quite simply, human.

But on this day, I don't think about any of that. I walk to and fro, trying to make sure nobody is alone for very long. I try to offer peace where there is dread. I try to bring presence where there is unknowingness. And I pray.

And I pray.

After the doctor arrives once again, the patient gently tells me they are ready for me to go. I say good-bye, withdraw from the ER, and close my eyes as I allow everything that has just happened to wash over me and be taken in. When I return home, I immediately take 800 milligrams of ibuprofen and collapse onto my bed, painfully, mercifully, imperfectly, wonderfully human.

After about thirty minutes, the pills begin to take effect. I start drifting off to sleep.

And I pray.

Eric

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dispatches from Gennesaret, part II: Dark Moon Rising

A number of days ago, I served my first 24-hour shift as the on-call chaplain for the California Pacific Medical Center system. This meant that during the day, I would refer pages for a chaplain to the chaplain of that particular ward, and at night, I would be the only chaplain on duty and could respond to any page personally. The day was not particularly arduous, I simply passed referrals on to my fellow interns, residents, and staff chaplains. Some detective work and malfunctioning phone hijinks ensued, but nothing terribly dramatic.

That night, however, two patients died on my service. One of the two died in the evening, the other died in the middle of the night. Both times I was paged, and both times I spent a couple hours with the families. After all was said and done, I got less than four hours of sleep that night. It had taken a toll on me, if in no other way but in terms of sheer physical exhaustion.

In the days that followed, however, I wrestled with myself on how much the deaths of these two people should affect me. On a fundamental level, I feel like it should affect me because I bore witness to the extreme pain of their families in the immediate wake of such a loss. John Donne once wrote, "Because I am involved in (hu)mankind, any man's death diminishes me," and on a gut level, I connect so much to that statement. This experience had to affect me, how could it not?

But I also began to tell myself that on a certain level, I needed to be able to emotionally separate myself from what had happened. I remembered an episode of Scrubs in which Dr. Cox, in explaining how another doctor was breaking bad news to a family, said of the doctor, "He's going to tell them the patient died, he's going to say that he is sorry, and then he is going to go back to work. Do you think anyone else in that room is going back to work today?" I still went to work the next day after my night on-call, and I still ministered to the patients I normally worked with on the dialysis ward.

I've been told by friends who talk to me about their problems that part of the reason they come to me is because they think I (generally) keep a pretty level head and can offer objective advice when I need to. I would like to think that is so. But I also have realized that I have a bit of a ways to go in being able to sort out just how much I can, should, or am able to allow my instances of crisis ministry to affect me (and even this presumes that I have some degree of control over it).

And, in reflecting back on that night and how I can most constructively make meaning out of what happened, I remembered the passage from Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays With Morrie" that I read to my intern cohort in seminar on the day of my on-call. In it, Albom writes about an Arctic First Nation Peoples tribe that believes that the moon is capable to receiving the souls of dying organisms before sending those souls back to earth in the bodies of new living things, and that sometimes, the moon is so filled with the souls of the world that it disappears from view on the nights of the new moon. But, as Albom writes, the moon always returns.

June 22 marked the night of the new moon for the month of June, the first new moon after my night on call. I would like to think that at some point in time, whether on the night of the 22nd or on any other night, there was indeed something greater than us, greater than anything we ever knew, waiting to welcome these souls with open and loving arms. I would like to think that there will remain the connection I made to the families of the dead, likely sustained only by the fragile threads of memory. And I would like to think that when I expire, I will be welcomed into the moon, into the heavens, into whatever awaits me, as the world continues on, as the sun rises and sets, and as the flowers continue to bloom.

The following night, June 23, marked my next night on call. A shadow of the moon was visible through the city lights and the rolling fog.

I was never paged that night.

Eric