Sitting at the lab early this morning, waiting to have blood drawn, a patient more than a chaplain, I’m approached by an older woman who veers in my direction on her way to the door. “Are you Episcopal?” she says. This is a first; never have I been so precisely identified by a stranger. Usually if anything I’m taken for a Roman Catholic nun, which is fine with me, though I’ve never seen one in a dog collar. I tell her I am, and she reaches toward me, and asks me to pray for her. The warmth of her hand; the pain in her eyes. Her name is Lillian.
A minute later, still feeling that warmth, I’m informed that my collar is hanging half off; in my early departure, I’d failed to connect the back button. Which actually is an improvement over all the times I forget to put it on at all, and have to go back.
The one who points out my wardrobe malfunction also tells me that her two children have been sitting in a half-flooded house in Texas, in the cold dark, imagining some getaway when daylight comes, because the water is still rising.
I could make this a meditation on the sacredness of ordained ministry, hearing these stories, being present to pain and worry, but really, any of us could do this. Collar half off, or no collar at all. You listen, you nod, you squeeze the hand that’s placed in yours. I’ve learned to say hmmm with a hundred different intonations. If a collar is what opens the conversation, what emblem could we all wear to say, I’m here for you? Because it turns out that the beauty and the frailty of life are not opposing qualities. It’s precisely in the frailty, and our response, that the beauty is uncovered.
The warmth of her hand, the pain in her eyes. Of your kindness, if you’re so inclined, please say a prayer for Lillian today.