Sunday, July 26, 2009

full-time jobs

Today I attended my first "All-Parish Meeting." The purpose was mainly to ratify a new budget in which we cut almost all beneficence in order to be able to pay our priest half of what the OCA stipulates for our area. Father David has supplemented this income by farming for the last 22 years (or rather, this income has poorly supplemented his farming.) But during the last eight months he has been recuperating from serious back surgery, which makes priestly offices exhausting and farming entirely impossible. Unfortunately, St. Stephen's is a very small parish and has never been able to offer a priest full-time pay with their tithes. As Father David was very careful to point out, there is no such thing as a part-time priest, no matter what he is paid. Holy Week's more-than-daily services aside, there is no day of the week or time of day when he can remove his cassock (figuratively) and cease praying.

I thought of Elizabeth when he spoke of this, because a midwife submits herself to a similar yoke. While she is concerned daily with preserving the sanctity of other women's families, stepping lightly amidst their beliefs and concerns, the sign on her own door is never flipped to "Closed." Her religious convictions are frequently called into question, she must always answer her phone, and no time of the night is sacred. (In fact, since uterine activity is highest at night, it seems that she must fall asleep under the assumption that she will be awoken.) When I called Elizabeth's house at the beginning of my internship, I asked her 13-year-old son when she usually worked: "Pretty much all the time."

Through all of this the midwife must strike a balance between detachment and investment in her clients' lives. She is a professional, and must protect her business, especially in states such as Indiana where she must practice under-the-radar. This may mean refusing to give care to certain women who appear at-risk of complication. Additionally, clients can become very dependent on the midwife for emotional support long after the birth, which is outside the scope of her practice. On the other hand, as I spoke of in my last post, the midwife's standard of care requires the ability to see each patient as a whole person with feelings, beliefs, hopes, a history, and a soul, rather than as a chart or a walking lawsuit. It seems to me that she must begin to love every woman she cares for. How she does it, I don't know.

I'd like to know for myself even though I will never be a priest and perhaps never a midwife. How far does one offer oneself to others? Is it ever at the expense of one's own soul? Is there a boundary at all? At one time you could have found me at Christian Doormats Anonymous, but now I think I should strive to err in that direction rather than not. I've been swinging between those two extremes most of my life. Father Dave and Elizabeth are a good picture of the mean.

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