C.P.E., Starbucks, and the need for control

While interning as a hospice chaplain (C.P.E.), one of the requirements for ordination, I also worked at Starbucks to earn a little money. This made for some interesting days and nights. Often I would go straight from the bed of a dying person to having to handle customers that were less than ideal.

One day I was visiting a younger man who was dying of cancer. He was declining in health and was scared. He thought an emergency room could help him, but through conversations with his doctor and nurses, I learned that only medication could be adjusted, nothing could in fact be done. I had to tell him that the reason for his decline was because he was dying. It was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with someone. When I left his room I went straight to Starbucks to start my shift.

Most people that came into my store were great people. I developed relationships with some of them. It was especially great to get to know the parents, kids, grandparents, that all came into the same store.

When I had left my young cancer patient I went to work making coffee. There was a man who came in and was particularly agitated because we did not have vanilla powder at the bar. As usual, I would apologize, explained that we had some on order, and that it should be here the next time he came in. This, however, was not good enough for him. Well, considering the day I had, I had no sympathy left in me. It soon did not become about the vanilla powder at all, but about having power over another. I remained professional but unwilling to cower. He ended up calling the regional manager about this “incident.” I had nothing to fear because I did nothing wrong.

It’s interesting how having to sit with people who are dying and then hearing people complain about vanilla powder puts life into perspective. Both my cancer patient and my customer both wanted to have control over their lives. And both had no control whatsoever.

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Filed under Ministry Reflections, Personal

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