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Chaplain’s Corner: “An Honorable Man”

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, East Granby, Conn. -- It wasn't his photographic memory. It wasn't his innate power to lead. It wasn't his intelligence or skill. Those were the reasons I chose to apply for the program he was leading. Those things made his opinion valuable to me.

It was the fact that he chose me and valued me.

And I wanted to learn everything he had to teach. But I don't actually remember him teaching much. He made us work! Eight hours in the hospital and then another four or six hours at home: reading, reports, and detailed patient information and evaluations. (There was also the single-spaced 21-page autobiography that we had to read to the rest of the group, followed by a no-holds-barred question and answer session. (But that is another story.)

All eight of us were quickly exhausted and stressed. Then the stress started showing up as physical symptoms. Everyone has a weak physical link. He wanted us each to know what our own weak link was. (That knowledge really helps with self-care when stressors are high. The weak link acts as an early warning system.)

Digestive systems were the first to go for most of the group. That happened within the first two weeks. Then there were sleep issues for some. One intern developed chest pains. (He checked out fine, medically.) I was the last person without symptoms. And because I'm a guy, I was probably feeling pretty good about myself. That is almost an admission. : )

Then my left cheek went numb and I lost the hearing in my left ear. Apparently, my weak link is neurological. Oops.

We all thought he would teach us to be hospital chaplains. But he had no interest in that plan. He needed us to BE hospital chaplains. The first day of instruction was like this:

"You are adults. You are in seminary. You have your assigned rooms. Before you enter a room, stand outside and ask yourself what you have to offer the patient within. If you cannot answer that question clearly and well, then GO HOME. I can't use you and you are no good to the patient."

I learned a lot that summer because he did not coddle. Frankly, he kicked my ass.
He pushed me. He helped me to develop a sane estimate of my own ability. He taught me to raise my self-expectations. And he did it with a great sense of humor! Those lessons have been invaluable to me ever since. Don was REAL in a way that few people are. He modeled a clear sense of mission, a clear sense of self, and a selfless passion for people.

It all happened in ten weeks. That's just how life is.

His impact on my life is wildly disproportionate to the time we spent working together. He was a dad in my life. I love him for it. And I will always remember him kindly.