Dispensing Compassion

by Barbara Duffield and the Rev. Al Snyder 

The Rev.  Al Snyder is the military chaplain for the Episcopal Diocese of  West Texas. In this capacity, he regularly visits patients in the military hospitals in San Antonio – frequently uninvited by the patients.  Barbara Duffield visited with Snyder recently and asked how he sees God at work as he makes his rounds.

The best way I know to answer is this:  Sometimes when you walk into a room, you can tell by the person’s face, even if they don’t say it, that you might as well turn around and walk out the door.  They don’t want you there, they won’t hear you, and you are just not going to accomplish anything by staying.  And still you stay. 

Then sometimes when I enter a room, the person is so angry that the minute I walk in wearing a collar I am on the receiving end of all their anger – they just vomit it all over me.  And that’s ok – they needed to do it.

But once in a while, I have the privilege of being there when someone really wants me to be, needs me to be.  I remember a young man who had lost his legs and no one could get him to talk.  I visited him several times and he was just filled with anger.  He yelled and cursed at me, and I just sat and then said I’d be back again.  After several visits, the day finally came when I went in and he didn’t yell at me.  I asked him a few questions and he didn’t respond much and so I said, “I’ll be back again in a few days,” and he said, “Chaplain, wait.” He called me back and asked why I kept coming, and that was the beginning of our relationship.

I continued to visit with him several times and then the day came that I got to the ward and the young man had been sent home for rehab; I didn’t even get to say goodbye. A year or more later, I was making rounds and a man walked up to me – on prosthetic legs – and said, “Chaplain, do you remember me?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” It was the soldier I had known. 

That was worth all the anger he had thrown my way. That young man was upright and walking – he was married and raising a family, and I was blessed to see it.  That’s when I see God at work, and the room becomes holy.

Barbara Duffield works in the diocesan communications department. She is a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Universal CityTX. Reach her at barbara.duffield@dwtx.org.

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From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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