A couple weeks ago I was in St. Louis for the American Association of Pastoral Counselors national conference. There were many people there I love, the speakers were good, it was a pretty cool hotel, my roommate was awesome. But I was so unhappy being there.
Who knows why? I’d been working hard, sleeping poorly, and I was really tired. Jeanine and Walton were in San Francisco and I’d muuuuuuch rather have been with them. AAPC is an organization in decline, and there was grief in the air. The train from the airport to downtown St. Louis runs a gauntlet of garbage more scattered, abundant, and diverse than any I have ever seen. It was raining. There was a tornado. Whatever the reasons, I spent three days feeling out of sorts and unhappy.
In the closing session, the conference chaplain asked us to get in groups of three or four and talk about our “magical moments” from the meeting. I was with Steve and Gary (my bosses in the Wake Forest Baptist Health system) and a 65-ish-year-old man named Jim. All of them found something magical to speak for, but not me. I was all muggle. I said, “I am not in a good space. I haven’t wanted to be here. I’ve put an OK face on it, but I wish I were somewhere else. I don’t have a magical moment. Sorry for being such a sourpuss, but there it is.” And they were all quite accepting and supportive.
Then the session ended, Steve and Gary left, and it was just Jim and I. I’ve known Jim for twenty years. We’ve worked on AAPC business together, I respect him, I’ve known he is a good guy. But he has an amused, detached air about him that I’ve never gotten past, and I’ve never experienced a connection with him.
The room kept emptying, but Jim and I stayed in our seats. He asked me to say more about what I had spoken earlier. I told him how I’m in a care-giving role so often I sometimes can’t find the care-receiving space in myself. How sometimes I feel there’s no place outside my home where I can relax and be nourished by the love others might be offering me. How I can’t walk into a church in Asheville where there isn’t someone there I’ve worked with in therapy and to whom I feel some degree of responsibility, and how heavy it sometimes feels to be without such a sanctuary. How being at the meeting felt less like a getaway and more like a responsibility, this one to the elders who birthed me professionally and whose legacy I felt a duty to honor and preserve as best I could.
And then this happened. Jim reached his long left arm around my shoulder and gently pulled me towards him. I leaned in to him and rested my head on his shoulder. He held me that way for a good minute, and in my no-longer-clenched belly I felt the ten thousand charms.