I didn’t want to respond to the page. The all-caps font of a pager didn’t help: CHAPLAIN VISIT TO #### FOR JIM DOE. But it wasn’t the style of the message. It was knowing JIM DOE’s story.
The first time I met him, he had me confused with another chaplain. We are about the same age. We’re both Dr. My colleague’s white beard and my no beard, and our contrasting skin color might have prevented others from having the same confusion.
Then again, I may have missed a deeper commonality that Jim saw.
Jim and I talked. I learned about his family. He ran through a thoughtful, well-worn list of verses, including the Lord’s prayer, John 3:16, Ask and you will receive… (seek, knock), “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, God my rock and my redeemer.” There were other phrases I wish I could remember. It was, in fact, a litany that captures faith very well.
In our conversation, there were glimmers of connection. “You know what I’m saying?” I did.
Though there had been forceful interactions with other coworkers, Jim and I almost conversed.
And then I had to leave.
Several other chaplains met with him. He was in and out of the hospital.
And now this page that I had no good reason to ignore.
I waited outside his room, as he expressed frustration with another coworker simply trying to help him.
And then I went in.
I can’t tell you more of his story, but at one point, as I talked with him, I told him that I’d been worried about him. Which was a level of connection that doesn’t always happen.
The pager buzzed.
“You need to go?” he said.
“Someone just died.”
He bowed his head.
“I love you,” he said as I walked out of the room.
“I love you, too.”
I talked with one of my chaplain colleagues a couple days later, someone who had talked with Jim on one of his visits. She had felt the hesitation before visiting, too. She heard the scripture, too. She too walked away grateful for having talked with him.
As my colleague and I talked, I said, “Maybe we both saw Jesus with Jim’s clothes on when we visited. And maybe Jim saw Jesus with chaplain clothes on.”
It was, somehow, a holy space.