Monday, April 12, 2010

Essence of Care.....

I can't resist commenting on the Lift Game installed in North Wing of St Thomas's Hospital, a scene from which is captured in the picture opposite. Devised and crafted by Tim Hunkin, the game bears some resemblance to an end-of-the-pier amusement game, you put a coin in the slot, choose from one of three flashing buttons, and your reward (if you punched the right button) is a tableau from hospital life (see picture), enacted as one of three lift-doors opens randomly to reveal a member of staff, delivering a service to an old dear on a trolley.

The old dear (I'm conscious as I write of the possible political incorrectness of such a term) sits up on the trolley when the designated service arrives, gazes at it or submits to it reflectively, nods his or her head in solemn approbation, then sinks back on to his/her trolley, ready to be wheeled passively by the solemn porter to the next assignment. It's mesmerising......and great fun.

When we aspiring chaplains go to St Tommy's for our course, we've started to tarry by the Lift Game and use our loose change to gamble on seeing who pops out of the lift to attend to the old dear. Of course if you push the wrong button, and the old dear has been manoevred to the 'wrong' (non-opening) lift door by the long-suffering porter, the 'wrong' door opens to display something less dynamic. a thin old thing standing erect but forlorn and unattended, wearing a nightshirt, attached to an intravenous drip on a stand, and quivering like a recently struck tuning fork. Disconcertingly pathetic. I don't know whether the top-to-toe vibration was contrived, or whether it was just an unintended mechanical effect. But it unsettled even me, inured as I am by years of nursing to the suffering of others (I jest).

The lift game, despite its power to disconcert, is great fun, and we spent a happy ten minutes feeding it coins, and laughing like kids at the fun of being wrong-footed by the machine, and whoping with pleasure when we banged the right button and got a prize. This is heralded by a cheerfully raucous pealing of the lift bell as the lift 'arrives', the doors open, and the tableau is set in motion.

I "Googled" the Lift Game and got Tim's email address to send him a word of appreciation: it's worth reading his account of how the Lift Game came to be; how much effort he put into getting it right; what obstacles he had to overcome; and how much it still demands from him by way of attention. If you go by the game yourself, think of Tim - he's a craftsman, and something of a genius; maybe something of a bodhisattva too.

The little figures Tim has crafted, although apparantly simple and stylised, seem to me to carry some extraordinary quality of sensibility, of responsiveness, and of care. I think it is this essence of care that Tim has captured (through his observation of people at work) that calls forth my own emotional response - of concern, but also of joy - and, I would surmise, a variety of emotional responses in others. I think this work deserves wider recognition, and there might well be more of it.

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The course itself is going well, and I'm enjoying it. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into planning it so that the content is balanced, and so that - all things considered - the participants have an opportunity to meet the objectives, which are by no means modest. One of the sessions at our last meeting invited us to work in small groups to develop our thinking about what setting up a chaplaincy service might involve. To invest this task with a bit of dynamism, we were asked to think about how our new chaplaincy service might respond to an early challenge.

Wwe were three, and we conjectured that we were setting up a chaplaincy service to the UK Space Agency, whose mission was to put on astronaut on Mars. The agency employed at least 1,600 people, one of whom was the astronaut. The urgency that confronted us was a sudden and inexplicable spike in sick-absence amongst the staff. Where did we fit in? What might we contribute to the agency? And how would that work out in practice?

This was great fun, but it did challenge us in many ways, and at many levels, including the level of dharma-practice. I got a lot out of it, and so - I think - did my collaborators. After a while the several small groups (all of which had their own different scenarios) met to compare notes and share experience with each other and with Keith Munnings and Chris Blomeley, the facilitators.
It's a moot point whether we succeeded in bringing an effective spiritual or pastoral ministry to our 'organisations', but I for one will feel better equipped in future to join others in doing so.

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I've been pressing on with the new zhen zuang energy-work, and I'm now in my third month of daily practice, with encouraging results. I feel more integrated, look and feel better, and look forward to the practice happily each day. More details can be found at George Draffan's website, well worth a visit I reckon.

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