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It’s surprising how a chaplain’s visit
will resemble a Shakespearean script,|
artifice shaping the entire event
when one steps on a hospital unit.

Like a thespian’s stage, this medical setting
attempts to suggest memories of home
with a pair of chairs and a floral print
despite IVs and stretchers claiming otherwise

and everyone is costumed for their role:
doctors in lab coats, nurses in blue scrubs,
patients in gowns or street clothes without belts
and the chaplain in his knit cardigan.

When we sit next to end-tables to talk
conversations don’t follow social norms,
that back-and-forth banter from coffee-shops.
No, instead the care-seeker takes the lead,

encouraged to speak in soliloquies,
prolonged reflections that explore the self,
usually with tragedy: a sickness,
a childhood rape, a death of a father,

while my task, Horatio to Hamlet,
is to serve as a dignifying ear,
curious as I listen to the spoken text
about what moves or penned this character.

Sometimes I voice a paraphrasing line
or comment to inspire further discourse
but I must not wander from witnessing
the real person seated before me;

all these structures here acting to mirror
the soul to itself to be known –
what both reveals
and heals.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Nathaniel A. Schmidt

Nathaniel A. Schmidt is a chaplain in the Christian Reformed Church and holds degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin University, and The University of Illinois, Springfield. His first collection of poems, An Evensong, is available from Wipf and Stock. He lives with his librarian wife, Lydia, and their daughter in Norton Shores, MI, meaning life is a perpetual story-time.

One Comment

  • Gretchen says:

    Beautiful. I’ve been companioning with people in my training in Spiritual Direction, and this phrase resonates:
    “all these structures here acting to mirror
    the soul to itself to be known –
    what both reveals
    and heals.”