For those of you not already aware, I work in a hospital as a clinical chaplain. A colleague and I have determined that the best way to shut down a conversation among strangers, or even acquaintances, is to mention our profession.
Often, I receive comments along these lines: "Wow, that would be a tough job." (Who has an easy job?) "I don't know how you do that." (Oh, you know, just chalk it up to a dysfunctional family and lots of interesting life experiences!) "Are you just sad all the time?" (This is one of my personal favorites.) Just like anyone else, I have good days and bad days at work; the part of my job that is most troublesome is not what many might expect...it's unfinished business.
Generally speaking, I am in the hospital Monday through Friday and then, with some exceptions, away over the weekend. Let's say, for example, that I've spent a few hours of each day making connections and providing support with a patient and their family; I leave them on Friday and when I return on Monday they are gone. There is someone new in that hospital bed, a different family to support; I'll likely never hear the rest of their story.
Most of the time, thanks to superb training and heightened self-awareness, I can let all of this go; it doesn't bother me when one family leaves and another appears. But, certainly, there are cases that stick with me; these are the ones that get the wheels turning, the juices flowing, and force me to examine where/why I'm stuck.
During my 41.5 years of living, I've left a lot of loose ends: two parents and a brother, with whom I no longer communicate; a hometown (and all of my childhood/adolescent friends) I quickly escaped at age 17, never to return; relationships cultivated and terminated, with no warning; jobs suddenly abandoned; and a lot of unanswered questions.
I find myself both attracted to and repelled by my work for the same reason: the connections I fought so hard to resist in my younger years are now the ones I crave; nurturing meaningful connections, only to quickly leave them behind, now leaves me feeling worthless and empty.
What I find most interesting is that, while I struggle to forge long-term connections, the ones that stick through through the good and the bad and require a measure of vulnerability on my part, I'm an expert at love-'em-and-leave-'em; that this is one of the most important skills to have in my profession does not escape my notice.
Even when I have tough days at work, I am reminded that there's a reason I need to stick with it, refuse to run away, and confront my resistance to the unfinished business. While my affinity and talent for short-term connections allows me to excel, the work is what allows me to search deeper within myself and uncover more of the hurt that I've been hiding for so long.