I go to visit an elderly parishioner in hospital. On my way in, I drop by the chaplaincy base, as a matter of courtesy and because I am now on their patch — I am a man under authority, and all that — but all of the chaplains are out on their visits.
When I arrive on the ward, I coincide with ward rounds in that bay, and, on asking, am told to come back in ten minutes. I give it fifteen. The collar allows me not to have to gate-crash precious visiting hours, and I am always happy to come back if it is not convenient.
I sit down on the plastic chair next to the bed. He is having a bad day, and glad to see me. We labour together: him, to speak; me, to listen, to make out his words, or just enough of them. I am young(er) and have broad enough shoulders for such labouring; but he is not one for silence, will want to talk for as long as I am present, and less than half-an-hour will be enough for him.
Eventually, he admits to a great burden of bitterness, for something that happened in the past. This is almost invariably the burden of old age. Bitterness, the fruit of believing that you are in possession of more of the facts of a situation than, in fact, you are (which is why so many of us experience it). But bitterness is never remedied by being more fully informed. Bitterness can only be let go. I hope my presence dissolves that particular cancer a little, and empowers him just enough to loosen his grip on it. He asks me to pray for him before I go; I do so gladly, asking for the strength for this day.
On my way out of the hospital, I look in again on the chaplaincy base, and this time find the lead chaplain in. We pass a joyful time catching up, on each other and on various mutual acquaintances, before it is time to head on.