During on-call nights at the hospital, I used to try to get a few hours' sleep. Yes, there were all-nighters, which yielded (maybe not surprisingly) some of my most enduring memories of hospital ministry, but given the choice I would generally try to nap between midnight or so and five a.m. And usually, during the nights when I was trying to sleep a little, during the darkest part of the night the pager would go off.
If I close my eyes now, I can re-inhabit the way that felt: waking up and turning on the swing-arm lamp, fumbling for paper and pencil to jot down the extension, then picking up the phone to return the call. "Hi," I would say. "I'm Rachel, the chaplain on duty tonight. I just got a page. What's going on?" And then the nurse at the other end of the line would fill me in, and I would tug my clothes back on and re-pin my kippah to my head and walk out into the nighttime halls.
Yesterday I was, after a manner of speaking, asleep. The end of the year can be a difficult time for a lot of us: maybe Christmas is stressful, or we fear we can't live up to Christmas memories of old, or we don't celebrate it and feel alien(ated) as a result. Maybe there are end-of-year deadlines. Maybe there's financial stress. Maybe we're remembering loved ones who are gone, and missing them keenly. Me, I spent most of yesterday feeling caught between rabbinic school obligations and familial obligations, and stewing about it.
And then the call came. There has been a death in our extended community, and I've been called to do the funeral. I was so firmly in school-and-stress headspace that it took me a moment to parse this news, but when the words penetrated it felt like light cutting through heavy fog. All of my little frustrations fell away.
It's hard to explain this sensation, like something in me clicks into place. This is part of what I love about ministry: it calls me to be my best self. It wakes me up. There's no answer I can give besides hineni, "Here I am." Awake and ready.
A Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it; wishing you joy in this holiday of light and hope.