Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, August 30, 2013

A chaplain's visit that made a difference .... to me, the chaplain!

"NZ men don't express feelings" - "Yeah we do but differently."

On Thursday I went and visited a man who has cancer and he says it is terminal. We have been comparing our "prostate treatment" experiences for some months now, but recently he learned his cancer had spread. I have been his workplace chaplain for 19 years but this time I called at his home. I knocked on the door wondering what you say to a man in his position. "Dave!" he said, "You better come in." He ushered me into his lounge. He is a bachelor so everything around the house is neat but very pragmatic, good basic living with no fancy bits. I sat down and I simply said, "What happened? Tell me what happened since I saw you last."  He told me his experience of losing his voice, the subsequent diagnosis and the treatment they are giving him. "What are they saying?" I asked. "I am on my way out." he replied in a matter of a fact way. "I am sorry. ... stinkin' cancer, there is no telling is there? I am sorry Fred." (not his real name) "Yes" he said,  ... silence ... "That's the way it is." ... silence... Now women would say we don't express our feelings.  Counsellors may suggest that I should have been asking, "How do you feel about that?" or some such question, drawing out his feelings.  If I did I suspect he would have said sarcastically, "Oh I'm over the moon! How do you expect me to feel? What a stupid question!"  I did not ask such a question. The silences were a companionable silence. It was as if words were inadequate to express what was going on.  In that silence I suspect both he and I knew our anger, our sorrow and our friendship for one another. If I spoke I would have cheapened the moment.  (I recalled a number of years ago when a close friend of his died. I was told about it and went to where he was leaning against a fence.  Then I asked what happened. He told me about discovering her in her bath dead. "Oh I really am sorry. She was special to you!" I said. "Yes!" he said, "I am sorry too." and we just stood leaning on a rail in silence... aching sorrow and friendship passing between us in the silence. It is like that between him and I. He claims to be an atheist but we "get" each other. We are quite blunt in our conversations.) We got talking about the things he was doing and he reminded me that the last time I had seen him he was buying a new computer. "How's it going?" I asked. "I can't sort out my email!" he said. "You could sort it out for me!" We are both fairly computer illiterate but over the years I had helped him with some of his computer stuff. We went into his spare room and cranked up his flash new computer. He showed me what he was doing and we tried different options. "There must be a help number?" I said. I got onto google and found a number. He brought in the phone and said, "I'll dial the number, you talk! You know what you're doing." We did. It was a bit of a comedy. Two computer illiterate old men and this voice on the end of the phone working out his email. When we finished he shoved a bit of paper in front of me.. "Now write it out! The steps..." I did and had him go through them. "Easy!" he declared, "Thank you! I'm glad you came." "You'll be around for a while yet won't you?" I asked. "Oh yes I think so." he said. "That's good. You have 95 emails to catch up on so I'll leave you to it." "Yes" he said, and talked about some of the emails. "I'll keep in touch and call from time to time just to make sure you are behaving." I said, and we said our goodbyes. I wanted to assure him that even though he was no longer at his workplace I will still be traveling his journey with him. Of course this is a very abbreviated version of our interactions.  
The thing that got me was that before I visited him I was grumpy. I had been doing some plumbing around the Church. I was annoyed about not getting my MRI results. I had been feeling the familiar frustrations of ministry and of trying to get on top of Night Shelter tasks. But some how after I visited this friend, a crusty old bachelor with cancer, - somehow his blunt friendship made me feel better about myself, ministry and life in general. Its a funny old life.

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