Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Extremely Quick Update

Just a quick update to say that the feis went well. I had forgotten how HUGE some Mid-American feiseanna can be, but despite feeling a little overwhelmed I think I played well and I certainly enjoyed myself.

This is a very busy week - not only is it our last week of regular CPE (next week is our presentation of our final unit evaluations), but the Jesuit community I live with is moving into a new house. With luck I'll have time to write sometime this week, but it's doubtful. I work the overnight on Friday, so there'll probably be something then.

Final note: I'll be in Cleveland from March 10th - 19th, for anyone who is interested!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What did I do????

I went out to dinner on Monday night with Gary Healy, formerly of Riverdance, who teaches with the Norton-Healy school of Irish dance here in Chicago. Gary is chairing the 2006 Oireachtas (the Mid-American Regional Irish dancing championships held over Thanksgiving weekend each year). Well, over a burger and Guinness he asked me to play the Oireachtas again this year.

And I said YES.

What was I thinking? As some of you will recall, the last Oireachtas was traumatic. I felt so out of place, so disoriented, and had a very hard time being back in such a high-pressure situation. I never ruled out playing for smaller feiseanna, but I certainly did not think that I'd ever return to any major competitions. As I recall, in fact, I think my sense at the time was that I would content myself with just playing for the "little kids" while leaving the more prestigious competitions to the musicians who are able to play more frequently than I am able.

I was shocked that I said yes, that I would answer this invitation in the affirmative. It's tough to leave the comfort zone of low-intensity, low-pressure feiseanna and enter the high-pressure championship competitions. But it seems to me that I could not not say yes. Because at the end of the day, I am an Irish musician, a feis musician, and one who has found great life and joy in playing for Irish dancers. Though it is hard sometimes to admit it, I do have a skill that people have expressed a need for and a skill which, when plied, brings me life abundant. Playing music is not just something I do, it's the someone that I am: I am a musician. At the end of the day, I am proud to say that the blood of my tradition runs through my instruments and the reels and jigs echo deep within my soul. So I will play because I must play, because were I not to do so I would be denying a very large and very sacred part of who I am.

But at 9:48 in the morning, with my Einstein's coffee in hand, another thought occurs to me (in addition to how delicious Vanilla Hazelnut coffee is). Each of us is called wholly and fully in life, a call that takes full accounting of our strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the tunes I play for the dancers are now old and not as fancy as many of the musicians...but I play on time, I have a decent variety, and I do try my best. I am certainly not the fanciest or technically proficient accordion player, but I do the best that I am able. Sure, I am intimidated by the other musicians who are so much better than I am, but I do take consolation and courage in realizing that I have something to add to the tradition, that I have a place in flow of music and that I have a note to contribute to the song.

I guess what I am getting at - as I extrovert at the keyboard - is that each of us is called into service through our great loves and joys. My call to play music parallels my call to be a Jesuit - I want to provide the music and spiritual nourishment that frees people to dance, to fall in love with the tradition and in falling in love, to fall more deeply in love with themselves, each other, and their creator. My skills as a musician - and as a human - are radically limited! I own this. But I cannot not respond, I cannot not try, because it is who I am. The fear that assaults me and intimidates me will not have the last word because, and the end of the day, I can do nothing more than play my tunes because it is who I am. I am what I do...I am a musician....I am a Jesuit...I am a sinful co-laborer who tries and fails and tries again. I am in love with a tradition, a Tradition, so much larger than me and one which seems to call for my contribution, which calls for all of our contributions.

Here, too, do we see the limitations of the English language. "I am Catholic." "I am Irish." "I am afraid." In the first two expressions, these are permanent existential states which inform me and help to define me as the man I am. Yet the third seems to have the same cache as the first two, which is terribly problematic! The spiritual malaise that afflicts so many seems to be that they are paralyzed by fear, that their very being in life is defined by fear. In Spanish, I find such clarity when to express the English "I am afraid" they say, "Yo Tengo Miedo" or "I have fear." Here fear is not something that defines, but something that is had, something that is owned and possessed. To "have fear" allows you to keep it close to you, allows you to examine it, but to "have fear" also gives you agency in preventing fear from defining you. As much as I am not defined by any of my possessions, so too am I not defined by my fear. Yes, I acknowledge it but it is still external, added-on, and though often healthy and important, it does not define me as the person that I am.

A friend wrote to me saying that he wanted to enter religious life and concluded a sentence with, "but I am afraid." As far as I can tell, many of us resist making commitments of any sort because of this - marriage, new job, new school, new instrument, etc.. I pray that my friend resists being defined and controlled by his fear. I pray that he surmounts the difficulties posed by it and takes ownership of it. I pray that he can say realistically that "I have fear" but "I am not afraid" and that he hold his fear, allowing it to inform his decision making, but that he be "in love" enough to make the decision that sets his heart aflame. There are too many out there who live in and muddle through lives of dreary banality controlled by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the darkness that stretches before them. Fear of failure. Fear of fear. Fear. A single word that exercises such power! I pray that my friend gasp for breath and push, push the fear t his fingertips that I might grasp it. And in control of it, find control of himself so that he can be led by the light that shines in his heart rather than by the darkness that clouds his life. For him, as for all of us, in finding and exposing our fear, we find and expose our greatest freedom...a freedom from fear, a freedom for what we are being called toward.

So those are my thoughts for today. I'm jacked-up on my 20-oz coffee and protein bar (which make a delicious combo, by the way) and I'm looking forward to my evening at the hospital. I guess my musings are as much for me as for anyone else and if you derive assistance from them, I am glad that I "am not afraid" to make a public spectacle of my self! And if they don't help you, that's okay, too. I have no fear...at least not of that!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Moaning

Actually, there's not much to moan about. After a (blessedly) un-eventful on-call on Friday, I spent two days at the Villa house in Michigan City. Understandably I slept much of Saturday morning, then watched television for several hours before taking another nap. Then we celebrated Mass, had a beer, and then went to dinner. To round out the evening, we enjoyed some brownies and ice cream while watching "Hustle and Flow." I slept in on Sunday and returned to Oak Park where I caught up on paperwork.

Today has been good so far. Not much happening, really. I'm about to head into "group" in a few moments, so I am sorting out all of my feelings [yes, that's the plural! I have *many* feelings now] and discerning what I want to share with my fellow group members. Tonight I'm having dinner with a friend at a local Irish pub (at 8:30) which is good because it'll give me a few hours to work on a ton of writing I have to do for my "final evaluation" for CPE this quarter.

So that's the update. I'd like to give a special shot-out to Joe who has published two very nice comments on my blog. It's nice to see new names and to hear from people when they appreciate what you've written. When I have time, Joe, I'll be sure to spend more time reading your site and posting in kind.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mid-Shift Post

Well, I've been here for six hours already. Six hours and nothing has happened! We've had one trauma and, while I do not wish to minimize the patient's suffering, that's been the extent of our evening's action. I reckon this is a good thing (people are well) but it does make for a boring evening. In fact, I'll probably grab some z's in a few minutes.

I suspect part of the cause for the dearth of action is the bitter temperature - it's presently 4-degrees Farenheit with a wind chill of -14. Perhaps such frigid temperatures keep people indoors. Regardless of the reasons, though, it's pretty quiet here and apart from my usual rounds of visits, nothing exciting has really happened.

It is still early, of course, and if anything major happens I'll probably write about it. I'm going to leave the hospital at 7:00 am and drive to Michigan City for two days of relaxation on the beach...in sub-zero wind chill weather. It's the villa used by the Chicago province Jesuits and this is my community's turn to use it, so I'll avail myself of the opportunity. In reality it's just a different bed to sleep in all day (since I need to make up for what sleep I don't get tonight!) although I imagine we'll go out for a nice dinner tomorrow.

G'night! (For Now)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Pre-Shift Post

Well, I'm now all nicely showered and sweet smelling: Jean Paul Gaultier, to be precise. Why am I wearing my finest "Marvin the Martian" tie and reeking of over-priced toilet water? Because I'm working the overnight shift!

As it seems to be my habit, I'll probably post sometime in the dead of night. While you are slumbering peacefully dreaming of sugarplums (what is a sugarplum, by the way) and happy fairies, I'll be roaming the floors of the hospital, an ever-vigilent sentinel in search of souls in need of soothing. (If I keep up with such descriptions, I'd sound more like one of the X-Men and less like a chaplain).

In other news, there's not much to report. It was a very busy week at the hospital and I was glad to be able to sleep in this morning. On Wednesday I worked at the Stritch School of Medicine's Auction for those students participating in medical immersion trips this summer. It was great fun and the students did a marvelous job with the auction, choosing an Olympic theme this year. The Jesuits with whom I live even chipped in several prizes, including "Dessert and Cigars with Jack O'Callaghan", "Picnic with the Jesuits", and "Dinner with Dr./Fr. Myles Sheehan." There were many wonderful prizes - trips to exotic locations, iPods, lamps, necklaces, art, etc.. I placed the winning bid for a wine basket, the contents of which I have just sampled and enjoy very much (Francis Coppola wine).

There's really not much else to report of a personal nature. I'm playing the Norton-Healy feis next weekend, which ought to be fun. The following weekend I'm heading off to Detroit with another Jesuit who is going to be attending a retirement dinner for a former colleague, so we'll be staying at the novitiate. The week following that (we're now up to March 10th) will find me back in Cleveland where I'll be for nine days. I could have gone to Cancun, to Miami Beach, and yet I choose Cleveland. At least I'll be able to teach music and relax away from the hospital setting.

So, as you can see the next month or so are pretty well filled. I'll mourn having to leave this part of my Jesuit training because I'm enjoying it so much. It's nice to be relatively autonomous and to feel that I have personal agency in regard to my day-to-day decisions, something that is by necessity missing at the novitiate. I also appreciate the wholly non-institutional style of life I enjoy in this community - I don't like large, impersonal buildings where someone cooks for me; I prefer, instead, a true "home" where we cook for each other and eat at one table, with the food placed in its center rather than in a serving line where we have to queue up to serve ourselves from chafing dishes.

Whew! Got that off of my chest. As difficult as this is sometimes, I find that I love this ministry and this part of my formation to be the best and most life-giving that I've experienced.

Okay, I need to think about "First Dinner" which will likely be Chipotle. I say "First Dinner" because around midnight I'll have "Second Dinner" which will be an oh-so-delicious Protein bar.

More to come!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Back to the Daily Grind

After a wonderful trip to Nashville for their fifth feis (I've played four out of the five, having missed last year) I now return to 'CPE World'. I just wanted to put a quick post letting people know that I had a good time at the feis and, while it's not relaxing in the "oh, I'm so refreshed and relaxed" sort of way, it does refresh the spirit to spend time with others who love their Irish cultural heritage and find a way of expressing it through music and dance.

Shot out to Rosemary, Jacki, and Wendy!!

Today begins week seven of CPE. That means 21 group session which is about 73-75 hours of sharing feelings. While my "wheel o'feelings" has certainly expanded, I find the best part of my education (as I have indicated before) comes through direct contact with patients, families, and staff.
I'll try to write more this week. I'm leaving in several minutes that I might spend an hour in the gym, go to our Monday morning staff prayer/meeting, and then I'll go and visit patients until Mass at noon. After that I do a few more visits and this week - if my memory serves me correctly - we will be talking about our families during group. The WHOLE family - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.. Mine will be an epic presentation akin to Roots.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Discovery

This last month has been one of great personal discovery. My new-found love of Dunkin Donuts notwithstanding, I have found an even greater discovery: There is an EINSTEIN'S BAGELS just ONE MILE FROM MY HOUSE!!!!

This may not sound like a big deal, but it's pretty huge in Ryan world. After finding it last night, I resolved to return there this morning (which I did) and purchased a delicious Java Choco Coffee and a bagel. Sadly, I seem to have lost my penchant for bagels (I prefer now Enlish Muffins) but the coffee was lovely. It's the simple things in life that keep me going...

So let's see what's new. I'm heading off to Nashville on Friday which is very exciting. This tends to be a really fun feis so I'm hoping to enjoy myself. I'm also playing the Norton-Healy feis in two weeks and, although I'm looking forward to it, it's not so climactic insofar as it's here in Chicago and I don't get to travel anywhere exotic (oh, for the good ol'days of feising!).

We've just completed the mid-unit review of CPE. Mid-Unit already! Tomorrow concludes our sixth week of group meaning that I've only four more weeks to go. As much as I love this experience, I will be the first to admit that the 3 hours and 15 minutes of group three times per week is excessive and draining. I love seeing patients - it's the best part of my job. And I learn by doing - I learned to teach by teaching, to cook by cooking, etc. And while I think reflection can inform and assist in this learning process, I don't seem to be finding such learning taking place in a way that is extremely helpful. Ah well, it's all part of the experience. Just so long as I get to visit with patients and families, I'm happy.

Here's my ministry thought for today:

In John's gospel, the first words out of Jesus' mouth are "What are you looking for?" This is a great question! Too often our temptation is to push or prod others into doing what we want them to do. This happens all the time - just think of how many parents force their kids into certain activities or, more distressing, force their children into particular majors at school. But it happens everywhere, I suspect, and it's easy for this to take place in a hospital where many people are not 'at their best.'

So what I've found helpful is to try to incarnate this question by being attentive to the desires of those I meet with each day. I listen carefully to what the person seems to desire - information, words of comfort, presence - and I seek to meet that need. It's not my place to force care upon him or her, but it is my job to seek actively the way I might best serve needs.

I'd reflect more on this, but I have to go to work. I want to get to mass and then write up my third verbatim, followed by group and then I'm on-call this evening until 9:00.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Sound of a Breaking Heart

I have for a long time been fascinated by sounds. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows that I'm a musician. Whenever I'm in a new sleeping environment - like a hotel room - I'll invariably wake up in the middle of the night and lull myself back to sleep by listening to and discerning the sources of various sounds. Even on road trips I'll close my eyes and listen to the sound of the wheels as they move across the pavement, the windshield wipers at various speeds, the radio, the hiss of air as it passes through a partially-opened window (this is all when I'm the passenger, of course).

The hospital is full of sounds. Pages for traumas blare from the overhead paging system. The rush of footsteps, the ding of the elevator, the beeps and blips of monitors, the "this is gonna pinch just a little bit" of nurses trying to calm nerves of one awaiting a blood draw, the steady beep of a flatline. There are myriad other sounds, to be sure, and there's no need to go through naming all of them.

But tonight I found a new sound...one I've probably heard before many times but hadn't discerned its sound. It takes various forms: the flatline beep, the called code, the "there's nothing more we can do", the "I'm sorry for your loss...", the "NOT MY BABY!", the raspy ventilator that can do no more good, the shattering of glass, the screech of wheels, the sound of gunshots. These are the sounds of breaking hearts, of hearts pierced by mortality and broken by the day-to-day tragedies that none of us expect but all of us face.

And how do you fix a broken heart? What do you say to a mother who has spent the last fourteen years as a single mother working two jobs to support a severely challenged child? How do you assuage her guilt when she wonders what more she could have done, what other doctor she might have seen, what would have happened if she would have acted/thought/judged/loved differently? How do you tell this mother whose heart is now attached to a respirator with a plummeting blood pressure and a poor prognosis that she did everything she could? How do you heal the heart that lives outside each of us, the heart that is the one we love, the heart whose blood is our blood, the heart whose ache and pain is our ache and pain, and whose passing we will experience as though our own organ were being torn from our chest?

I baptized a teenager tonight. A teenager whose life's history has been one narrated by his doting mother who has loved him past the "he has about five years to live" prognostication delivered eight years ago. A teenager who has never played ball, kissed a girl, played an instrument, failed a test, or smoked a cigarette. I baptized this boy tonight and I commended him to the arms of Jesus and my prayer was selfish: it was that Jesus would carry this child home and that he would love this boy half as well as his mother has loved him. And her prayer? She just wants Jesus to tell her baby how much he loves him...she wants Jesus to tell her son this daily, hourly, every moment.

And what can I say? What can I do? Can I do anything? I can hold her hand and tell her that it's obvious that she loves her son. I can stare into her eyes and tell her that he will be loved for all eternity, that his lifetime of suffering is nearing completion. That soon there will be no more seizures, no tests, no six-month hospital stays. And she knows this. She tells me that this is what she wants.

So the 'whfft' of tissues pulled from a box, the sniffles of choked-back tears, the snap of latex gloves, the muted moan of despair, the silent prayer offered by a mother who seeks respite for her son...this is the sound of a heart breaking. A heart wounded because she had the courage to love her son, to pour her life's blood into another human being, to give of herself such that now she aches as her son nears death.

I pray for her this night. I pray for her and for all persons whose hearts will bleed out before the sun rises in the East tomorrow morning. And tomorrow morning I will go home and go to bed. And at some point I will wake up and look at the clock and think, "Boy, I can sleep for another few hours." And at that point I will lie back and close my eyes and my ears will search my surroundings listening, straining, to hear ambient noise. And what sound will my ears detect and what will its source be? Will it be an ambulance siren or the clap of thunder or the sound of someone slipping on the ice? And will this sound be attended - like so many sounds we take for granted every day - by the sound of a breaking heart?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mid-Day Post

So I'm presently killing time as I wait to head off to work. I'm working a split shift today - 12:30 until 9:30 - and the only saving grace to the whole day is that I get to spend it with patients. On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of each week I spend 3 hours and 15 minutes in "group" where we process our feelings and thoughts and it is this processing that accounts for so much of the 'education' in clinical pastoral education (CPE). I don't mind it, really, but I will admit that I don't especially like sitting in a room for hours at a time.

So here's the plan for the next few weeks: I'm working the overnight on Saturday (4pm Saturday - 8am Sunday). This means that I have Friday off (yeah!) and that I'll have Sunday to rest (yipee!). I work all five days next week, and then I'm heading to Nashville on Friday evening to play the Nashville Feis. This is their fifth feis, I think, and I was lucky enough to play the first three. As one very much receptive to Southern Hospitality, I look forward to playing for this feis and spending time with many dance teachers and musicians I've not seen for a very long time.

I think I posted this already, but I'm too lazy to re-read my entries so I'll post it here. I will be making my First Vows on August 13th, 2006 in Detroit. (It's Michele's birthday, too, so it can be a double celebration). Since it's mostly my family who reads this blog, I'm issuing this as your invitation...though I don't suspect many in the Hagan family have a choice to come or not as Grandma has already begun making plans for the event. Hopefully some of the Irish dancing people will be able to make it (Anne Hall!) but we'll have to wait and see about that.

My new favorite taste treat is the Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla Coffee with cream and sugar. I'm finding that DD's coffee has a smoky, almost acrid aftertaste when consumed with no additives but, with the addition of cream (fat) and sugar (empty carbs) it is wholly transformed in a delicious concoction. The other flavors are nice, too, but French Vanilla wins out in my book. In fact, I think I'm going to stop blogging right now and go and buy one with the gift certificates my Uncle Jack gave me for Christmas.

Have a good day!