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Katie’s Musings: Self Care

Cassie Williams
October 13 2016

During one’s final year of the MDiv program at the Chicago Theological Seminary, one is required to spend 11 weeks doing what’s called Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE for short.  Which basically means that I spent the summer of 2015 walking into the hospital rooms of complete strangers, introduce myself, and subtly ask if there was anything I could do to help.

Spoiler alert:  there usually wasn’t.  When people are going through what is likely to be the worst times of their lives, there isn’t much anyone non-medical can actually do to help.  You can keep the coffee and tea and soda flowing, and you can show visitors to the restroom, and you can occupy the small children that accompany their frantic parents, and you can even flirt with the nighttime security guard so that he swings you a couple free cab fare passes so that the baby who has just died’s aunt and uncle can get to work the next morning…  you can do all of that.

But none of that actually makes anything better.  We eventually realized that “better” is an unrealistic expectation for any self-respecting hospital chaplain.  “Slightly less awful” was a more reasonable expectation, and so that’s what we always aimed for.  And once we realized that, walking through crisis with people became more manageable and less emotionally and physically draining.

But what we eventually REALLY learned was quite simply the importance of self-care.  Every evening after class and the hospital, I would go for a walk or a hike, my earbuds playing everything from The Civil Wars to The Turnpike Troubadours to Lady Gaga to the Invisibilia podcast, my eyes fixed on the beauty of the world around me.  It became like meditation for me, to walk off the stories and the confusions and the crisis and contemplate nature instead, the conduit by which I find God reaching out, more often than not.

I bring this up because, MY GOODNESS, we are walking through a crazy time of crisis right now!!!  If your experience of the world at the moment is anything like mine, social media and regular media and friendships and relationships have taken on a new level of crazy-making.  Seemingly innocuous conversations turn to arguments in 2.5 seconds.  Prejudice that we’d thought had long since been drown in the water of reason and sanity are catching air at the surface. It’s a socio-political minefield out there, folks!

And let me just say:  political discourse is important.  Having conversations with people we don’t fundamentally agree with is important.  That’s how connection happens, how understanding takes place.  And voting is important.  Really important.  It’s our chance to have an impact on policy and policy-makers and the tone of our involvement in the world at large.  *Insert voting PSA here*

But also and (I would argue, anyway) equally important?  Self care.  Taking a moment to step away from computer screens and constant state of crisis to take a walk.  Enjoying the crisp fall weather.  Kicking some leaves around, and throw the football with your kids.  Taking deep breaths, one after another, as you stroll through creation.  It’s not always easy to step away from really important things, like elections and the like, and you don’t have to worry, because those things aren’t going anywhere.    But I think sometimes sanity and existence requires a brief reprieve.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*deep, cleansing breaths*