I had finished my first year at seminary and during final exam week, my mother's husband had died. A week later I began CPE at a large inner city teaching hospital. CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, is a requirement of almost all seminaries. The student spends the entire summer with a diverse group of other seminary students, providing pastoral care to an institutional population, learning from each other and from the experience of ministry itself. It is grueling.
My hospital was a Level I Trauma Center and also a Regional Spinal Cord Center. I spent every sixth night and every sixth weekend day and night at the hospital, the only chaplain in the 900-bed institution. The number of deaths was shocking and horrifying, but even more so the senseless violence of drive-by shootings that left random victims paralyzed for life. I baptized hours-old babies who would not live through the night, I called families to ask them to come in because their son/daughter had been in an accident. I witnessed a death-bed wedding one night and prayed with the widow the next morning. I finished my CPE unit late in August, with perhaps one week remaining of summer before my seminary middler year was to begin.
I was exhausted. I so needed that week to spend enjoying time with my children, two of whom in the next few months would be applying to colleges. I wanted to read, to play, to sew, to hang out.
It was not to be. The day after CPE ended, my mother's care-provider drew my attention to a lump in her neck, and much of the week was spent at medical offices. The Alzheimer disease was now compounded with a likely-fast-moving cancer.
September brought a month of learning Hebrew, 40+ hours per week. I got through it in some strange blur, though not without some tears. In the few days off from school before the semester would begin, I contacted a therapist, realizing that there were still "issues" about my mother and our relationship that needed addressing, and there wasn't much time.
Two weeks into the new semester, I had some sort of a melt down. I couldn't concentrate on my classes, I was suddenly panicky rather than proud about Tom's and Sherry's college searches, and the therapy involved revisiting extraordinarily painful times that I had thought were over for ever. Back in my blur, one morning I bumped into one of my professors from the previous year. All he said was, "How are you?" and I knew I was not good at all. He invited me in to talk, and he listened. I spoke about how overwhelmed I was, how my four classes weren't making sense, I was afraid of being unable to do my work, I didn't want to fall behind. He listened some more. And then there was a silence. Finally, he said, "What do you want to do?"
I don't know where the answer came from. I was a new quilter who had only a handful of completed projects in her portfolio, and no time whatsoever to explore any new ones. "I want to make a quilt for my daughter," I said, without thinking. In retrospect, I suppose he was referring to whether I should stumble along, reduce my courseload, or drop out of seminary. But as I said the words, I knew they were a deep truth, and somehow the way out of the blur.
Another silence. "Then do it," he said. "And do it with intentionality." We talked a little further and agreed that I'd also drop two of my courses, keep the ones I enjoyed the most, work hard at the therapy, and not worry about graduating on time.
Sherry and I went that very night to the shop to choose her fabrics, and I started cutting and piecing the next day. The top came together with few problems, and I spent the rest of the semester hand-quilting it. During semester exams, I made an appointment to show it to my professor.
Quilting with intentionality. As I stitched, thinking, pondering, praying, reflecting, body and soul were pieced back together. Slow cloth. Healing cloth. Intentionality.