Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

That's the question Wallace asked me on Saturday morning. I'll have to explain this one a bit.

Every year, the graduating class of the local osteopathic medical school selects one basic science faculty member and one clinical faculty member to place their doctoral hoods over their heads and on their shoulders at the graduation ceremony. It is a special honor because it the class' way of saying, "We want to be like you." This year makes the sixth time in my career I have been asked to perform this act. I find myself humbled each time I am chosen, because there are plenty of days I don't want to be like me when/if I ever grow up! Also, the class is a class of D.O.'s (doctors of osteopathy) and they end up asking lil' ol' M.D. me to carry out this honor and deep down inside I keep thinking they should be asking a D.O. in order to be more "politically correct." But I always accept this honor gratefully and enjoy the moment, just the same.

We call this "hooding" the graduates and the person doing the honor is a "hooder". Sounds a little gangsta-oid, but what the heck.

I had to laugh at Wallace's phraseology. "Dude!" I replied. "I'm just hooding them. Consecration is YOUR schtick."

His answer, was, "No, you ARE consecrating them. You are laying on hands to bring them into a long and ancient tradition, and there is power in that."

This answer stuck in my head all throughout the ceremony that morning. What I first thought was a funny blooper on his part turned out to be absolutely true. It is a form of "apostolic succession" although we really don't know who gets the title of "first physician." It is similar to baptism or confirmation in that it unites us into a "community of believers." Physicians take an oath that says they will treat their colleagues as brothers and sisters, similar to when we recite the Baptismal Covenant, and state a standard of ethical behavior in the oath similar to when we recite the Nicene or Apostle's Creed.

Every commencement, there is always one graduate who steals my heart. This year it was a young man I'll call S. The best way I can describe S.'s medical school career is to say, "It's been quite a trip." I first became acquainted with him because he had been in academic difficulty. I have been teaching medical students for almost two decades now, and I know a certain subset of "academic difficulty." This subset consists of young people who are so smart, they have cruised through school with little effort until they hit medical school. They literally have NEVER failed academically in their lives--ever. A single mild failure puts them in a tailspin b/c they have no coping mechanisms. They drive this failure inward and hatchet their own self esteem. Then add family pressures, life crises, and self-flagellation to the mix, and their failures start to compound.

Suddenly the powers that be and even their own classmates label them. They are lepers, mistakes, "should have never let him/her in" people. I could tell early on S. was this kind of student. We spent a lot of time together working through this. This was not easy for me, because I realized that part of how I had to bring him forward in this was that I had to be vulnerable enough to share some of my OWN failures in life and medicine, so he could see that his journey was not a solo flight. I felt like I was trying to take the wheel of a jumbo jet that was careening to the ground. But somehow he started leveling out. He started to get a few more faculty types in his corner--even the dean--who saved him from dismissal despite the Promotion Board's recommendation to dismiss him.

His second chance was his salvation, and he used it wisely. I knew that within this person was a young doctor capable of great empathy and compassion for his future patients, and the stick-to-it-ive-ness to go the distance to figure out difficult diagnoses, mysterious illnesses, and the subtleties of the things that are not "textbook" in clinical medicine. S. graduated on Saturday, and it was my absolute delight to be one of the first people to shake his hand and say "Congratulations, Doctor."

I was prepared for the joy of this moment, but not quite prepared for the intensity of it. He grabbed me onstage in front of a packed auditorium and hugged me like there was no tomorrow--a hug that was so long, under any other circumstance I would have been embarrassed, but I thought, "Aw, screw 'em all. I'm gonna hug this boy as long as it takes." I could feel my shoulder getting wet--whether it was sweat or tears, I don't care. As he squeezed me near in two, I whispered in his ear, "You will never know just how truly proud I am of you. Never forget this moment."

In that moment, I felt the power of my own confirmation when the Bishop laid hands on me. In that moment, I was given a little glimpse of what Wallace must feel sometimes in being a priest, what all priests and clergy must feel at certain times. I felt like the moment transcended time and space and all earthly boundaries. Every year, at commencement, there is a moment and a graduate that I will take to my deathbed as an unforgettable memory. It is how I hope I am welcomed by God when I enter His heavenly kingdom. Wallace was right--it may be secular, but it is a form of "consecration" and a window into our own connection with God.

8 comments:

Whoa! Kirk! How powerful! You made me cry. Thanks be to God for those wonderful grace-filled moments. Thanks be to God for your wisdom and vision to see the potential in S. and help him along. I am especially impressed by your willingness to be vulnerable and to share your own shortcomings for the purpose of encouraging him to go on.

A lovely post, to be sure.

What a beautiful, beautiful story. Thank you for posting it.

Thanks for a great vision of what it's like to be welcomed home...

Kirk, This was wonderful! My own father went to pre-med and medical school late in life (after WWII) partly on the G.I. Bill and partly on my mother's hard work with many people throwing up all kinds of roadblocks. Along the way, there were a few great men and women such as you who gave him encouragement at the times when he was at his lowest ebb. Those positive individuals who gave of themselves meant more to him than I can possibly express and had an immeasurable impact on his life, and thereby, to all of our lives in this family.

You are a beautiful, beautiful man, Kirk, and the "consecration" is not secular at all but is as holy as the consecration of any other minister of God. If those with the gift of healing are not truly priests of God, who then can lay claim to the title?

The truth emerges from what appeared a misstatement. We are called to be a priestly people. Some are called to be catalysts to help all live out their priestly calling. Consecration, initiation, and so much more are clearly involved here. You are clearly living out your priestly calling in this way. Glad you could share the grace of that process and this moment. Blessings on all.

Oh my- what a post. This just took my heart.

What power, what grace. I loved what you said about apostolic succession, confirmation and so much more.

Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful and moving story.

Thank you so much for sharing this.

I'm so glad MP flagged this post---just beautiful.

I graduated my first group of EFM students yesterday, and I got a very small glimpse of what you must have felt. My students are mostly retired people who are already deeply involved in ministry---but they have put in hundreds of hours to deepen their knowledge and their faith. It was a wonderful thing to know that I had a part in that...

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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