As I have said in the past, I found myself finishing college, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.
I had purposefully tried on a lot of hats in my life. I had worked for a former Congressman in a law office. I worked in the pro shop at a golf course. I did a summer working for the city manager. And worked in an emergency room of a hospital. I had worked in a local church as the youth minister. And as I mentioned recently, I worked as a glorified bouncer/host at a hot night club. Doctor, lawyer, tribal chief.
Jethro Bodine, the cousin on the Beverly Hillbillies, once confessed a similar confusion to his oil-rich Uncle Jed, “I don’t know if I want to be a brain surgeon or a soda-jerk!” I reluctantly identified with that goof.
I had strategically planned my variety of experiences with the hope of clarification. All that left me thinking about a bunch of options, but no clear path. In fact, my curiosity widened the road I was looking down.
So I finished college early and had some time on my hands. I thought of the “gap year” before it had really been invented. I had been thinking about medicine or ministry, so I begged my way into a chaplaincy program at Georgia Baptist Hospital. All of the students were either in seminary or were already graduated and serving in churches. I here I come, twenty years of age, baby-faced, a college-educated “Jethro”, entering into a three month clinical training program. What could go wrong?
I could write a book about what could go wrong, including me trying to be of spiritual counsel to folks in crisis. I talked to a guy who was twice my age now the night before a surgery that could end his life. I talked to a young man who had an accident that put him in a cranial halo, where he would never walk again. I sat with a young husband you lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident. I met with a family whose mother died suddenly with a heart attack. And that was just the first day…..of course, I am exaggerating….it was my first week. Gallows humor reigns supreme in trauma wards.
Those stories are for another time. I want to tell you a lesson I learned from my clinical supervisor, a lesson I have cherished throughout my life. It’s a lesson I shared with a person that I coach who is looking to change his life’s work in the near future. It was the best I had to offer in the moment. And I hope it might be helpful to you.
My supervisor was from Memphis, and had a kind of country accent I had not heard before, though I knew a bunch of folks from Memphis, and the girl I had been dating was from there. He actually sounded like he had just been dropped off a farm truck in front of the hospital, and seemed to be rather proud of his home-grown sense, almost like he was playing up a Mark Twain persona.
Now, you have to have some sympathy for him, because he had the youngest clinical training student in the history of the planet, not to mention Georgia Baptist. He was trying to help me learn to be of value as I put on this role of chaplain, knowing that I didn’t know nothing about chaplaining! A crash course is not hurting the patients I encountered was in order. So he was teaching me not only clinical material on depression, and grief, and trauma, and anxiety, but also the basic stuff of being a human being.
I actually forget the context of this most important piece of wisdom that he passed on to me. I must have done something stupid, but his point was much more basic. And here it is:
“Galloway, you have to be smart like the cattle farmer who goes walking in the pasture. You have to remember: where you step, you stand.”
Moments of wisdom in a clinical setting do not need to be explained. Like a good joke, if you have to explain it….it ain’t that good.
I had been with my grandfather on his farm in West Georgia where there were cows. I had gone fishing with him at the lake at Dr. McCartney’s where his cows left piles of manure, affectionately known as cow patties, strewn indiscriminately in the field. You had to be careful walking, looking where you were going, otherwise you might step into a pile. I got it.
His lesson went far beyond the pasture. It extended its relevance into my relationships, into my friendships, into all areas of my life, including my choice of vocation. Where you step, you stand!
There are consequences to your decisions.
I recently had a discussion with a person who means a great deal to me. She has been struggling with the reality of a decision that she made, and the tight space she finds herself in.
It reminded me of my basic premise of human existence. We are decision makers. Deciding comes with the territory of being a human being.
Deciding means making a choice. Choice tends to be around how we spend out time, our energy, and our resources. Those decisions have consequences in the now, in the near future, and in the long-term.
Another piece of wisdom came from my colleague, Mike Murray, who drove home the point one day by reminding me that “decide” comes from the root “cide”, which means “kill”. Herbicide, insecticide, suicide, and homicide is about killing off something. Mike made his point sharply by emphasizing when we de-cide, we are killing ideas and future options. When we face the field of life, we have options in front of us, but must decide which ones to act upon, and which ones to set aside….”kill”.
I write this as a reminder of the weight of our human responsibility of choosing. Where you step, you stand.
As an old black preacher once admonished me:: Bear this in mind.
Sure enough. Blessings.