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June 1, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
Every day I cross borders and enter unknown lands where the language, customs and religious practices are foreign to me. I am a hospital chaplain in Southeast Louisiana. I encounter many unknowns and am often left feeling inadequate and useless, but I continue to cross these borders every day.
Some days I cross the border into a patient’s room and find myself having a deeply meaningful interaction only to hear the language change to French Cajun, Vietnamese, Spanish or any other on an endless list the moment I leave the room. I wonder if that interaction was meaningful only to me?
I cross borders into the Emergency Room where the staff greets me warmly and is more and more willing to call me for more than a patient death because I am willing to cross those lines. One day, I was called because a psych patient wanted to be baptized. The staff relayed, as they rolled their eyes, that the patient thought baptism would calm the voices in the patient’s head.
I told the staff that it probably would. My comment was met with raised eyebrows, and even, “But, can YOU even do a baptism?” In Southeast Louisiana, that translates as, “But YOU aren’t a priest.” So, I explained, as I have for these many years how it is that, yes, I can perform baptisms and a host of other spiritual care sacraments.
Recently, crossing these borders has led me into patients’ rooms where there is a new diagnosis of HIV or AIDS, and the patients have had no previous idea they were ill. These crossings have felt like passages back in time to the '80s, when patients would come to hospitals in the same condition, while not much about this disease was known on either side of the border.
I am baffled, though, by what feels profoundly like this step back in time happening time and time again over the course of several months. I am left wondering how we had crossed this border so long ago and, yet, here we are in 2015 with patients struggling with and dying of this disease after we worked so hard for so long towards education, treatment and advocacy for ourselves and our patients. It feels as if we never crossed that border at all.
And so, I found myself at another border I had to cross to find some answers and support. Our Vice President of Medical Affairs always has an open door and when I knocked he told me to come in as he always does. His background is in the treatment of HIV/AIDS (during the early days) and I knew we could gather and think about this problem. I asked him why we were seeing so many newly diagnosed patients, and why they were presenting like cases from the 80s.
He breathed deeply and laced his hands on top of his head and exhaled while responding, “I’ve been waiting for someone to notice! I’ve been wondering the same thing!” We talked for a while about public awareness, the struggle then and the struggle now.
It continues to be a struggle. For me, it is a struggle to understand, to comfort, to raise awareness and, some days, a struggle to believe I am doing enough.
Despite my concerns, I continue to cross these borders – into these sometimes strange and foreign lands. What I find on the other side compels me not only to stay but to also keep crossing in hopes of offering a spiritual presence that affords each person – patient, family member and staff – assurance of the presence of the Holy now and in the difficult moments ahead.
Lynn Hyder, M.Div., BCC is a hospital chaplain in Southeast Louisiana. She previously served as a chaplain with the New Orleans Police Department and the District Attorney for Orleans Parish. Endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists, she has served churches in South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. Lynn is a member of St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, LA. She is the proud mom of Wayne.