What it Means to Connect


by Chaplain Bernie Jorn | Dec 22, 2017

It is now late December, and once again we have entered the season of holidays and celebrations. While our traditions may vary as much as we do ourselves, they all share in the ritual of coming together—with family, friends and others we may meet. Themes found in Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and even New Year’s point to the joy we find in each other, as do other celebrations throughout the year. Yet, in almost every holiday tradition, there is a deeper meaning to renewing these bonds – something of mystery and wonder that causes us to pause. They point to something greater, even in a world that tries to pull itself apart. I had such an experience recently, in which I rediscovered this myself. I would like to share it and ask that you pardon the length.

Last Thursday I spent an afternoon at the beach, after which I prepared for the long bus ride home. The stop I chose found me in the company of three old men sitting together, arguing about, well, everything. The current topic was where to find the best crabs, with each of them claiming the greater wisdom on the subject. Though an outsider, I finally reached a point where I could not remain quiet and professed that the best crabs actually came from Maryland! “The boy is right!” one said. “The Chesapeake Bay is the only place to go for crabs!” They paused to study me for a moment, and then in unspoken unison shuffled about to make a place for me within their circle. I barely settled in when the discussion recommenced, moving through new topics of all shapes and sizes. Eventually, there did come a lull, and then one man, with a distant look in eyes said, “Y’all listen up.” All talking stopped, as his friends instinctively knew the moment had changed and it was time to be still.

Slowly and methodically the man unveiled a day from his childhood. On this day he had accompanied his father to the market at the beach, to auction off that season’s tomatoes. It was a splendid crop, considered by many to be the best. The Klan had gotten there first, however, instructing that no one bid over $20 for any tomatoes sold by a black man. When the bid for their truckload stopped at $20, his father calmly lifted him into the cab, drove over to the beach, and dumped the load into the Atlantic Ocean. Driving away he stopped before the dumbfounded crowd, announcing that if anyone wanted tomatoes that year they could swim for them! Upon ending his story there was a respectful pause and nodding of heads, and soon the next tale began. Eventually, my bus did come, and I reluctantly said goodbye to my friends, as I believe they reluctantly said so to me.

I wanted to share this because it goes to the heart of what it means to connect. What I didn’t tell you about this day, was that I had gone to the beach to mull over some very troubling news. What I also didn’t say, was that I had approached the bus stop feeling emotionally unraveled and very much alone. Yet these wonderful men, in their shifting about to make me welcome, took me out of my pain and brought me back to myself again. Not only had they welcomed me to hear their stories, but they helped me reconcile the pain I was carrying myself. (They had sensed I was hurting and asked me to share it with them.)  And perhaps the greatest gift of that moment, something which struck me only on my ride home, was that they had welcomed me even as they recalled stories of persecution by my kind. They had chosen to see character and value in my humanity, rather than assessing me by the color of my skin. That is where I found my greatest healing, and the strength to see hope in my troubled state.

In this season of togetherness, know that some people will be in need of your welcoming. For some, the holidays will bring feelings other than joy, with stories that may need to be told. Patients and families will enter Brooks, lost and scared, needing to feel safe. Look for someone in need, and be a part of what this season is truly about—the light and life that pierces into our darkness. At Brooks, we always try to remember that our patients and families may be in their greatest fear, with bodies that don’t move, minds that don’t think, and lives that are disheveled. As you encounter others this holiday season, be sure to greet them with a warm smile. Greet them with your eyes. After all, it is through our eyes, those “windows to the soul,” where we make our strongest connection. Give them the gift of trust in you.

I’ll end by wishing you a safe and joyful holiday, wherever you may be, and that you come back with some good stories of your own.

Chaplain Bernie Jorn

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