|Tom Gombarcik of the Materials Management Department, plays classical guitar at the Midday Meditation program.|
One day a month, the world slows down for 30 minutes in a small, serene nook of the All Children's Hospital universe.
The daily pressures of the job and life pause briefly inside the chapel. Amid a soothing mix of live music and calming words from Chaplain David Pitt, employees from all parts of the hospital savor a chance to reflect and rejuvenate - and caregivers can enjoy some precious time to take care of themselves.
This is the half hour known as Midday Meditation, a program the chaplain began a year ago and one that regularly draws a cross-section of staffers who fill the room just off the bustling lobby - to pray, meditate, contemplate or simply give themselves a restful break from the onrushing developments of the day.
David held the first such gathering during Thanksgiving week in 2011, and those who attended seemed thankful for the opportunity to slow down and build themselves back up, even for a just a half hour.
"This is a safe, peaceful place for people," he says. "It's a service designed for whoever can come, whenever they can walk in. They can stay for just for five minutes or for the full half hour. It doesn't matter. The idea is to create a space for anyone - if you're going to pray to Jesus, that's fine; if you're doing yoga, that's fine. It's whatever people need to do to connect with God or their higher power - and hopefully to come away feeling uplifted."
It has been a difficult few hours before last week's 12:30-1 p.m. event. A young boy, seriously injured in a car accident, has been rushed to the Emergency Center. And elsewhere in the hospital. Dr. Michael Gallant has just finished a particularly challenging plastic surgery on a youngster. But shortly after noon, he walks into the near empty chapel and sits down - not on one of the beautiful wooden bench seats but in front of an electronic piano by the front of the room.
"It's been a rough morning," says the Julliard-trained musician, letting the hands that just worked so skillfully in the O.R. create a flowing accompaniment on the keyboard.
His chords embellish a fine, finger-picked version of "Gloria In Excelsis Deo" by Tom Gombarcik of the Materials Management Department, setting a fitting mood for the "Songs of the Season" theme for this month's service.
Several other musicians have arrived as well - employee ombudsman Janet Winder, an accomplished singer; new ACH music therapist Kelly Tyrrell, who will sing and play guitar; and professional saxophonist Rick Cronce, married to nurse supervisor Jane Mitchell. The music will range from soft and introspective to upbeat and energetic, reflecting a full spectrum of emotions.
And as 12:30 nears, people begin to filter into the chapel's cozy confines, with tabletops appointed both with a manger scene and Menorah. Sunlight streams in through a large stained glass window, and the steady blur of figures on the other side of the pane can be seen walking to and from the hospital.
People walk in and quietly take their seats, greeted by Tom's instrumentals "What Child Is This?" and "The First Noel." Dr. Gallant joins in, then takes his own improvised solo before and nods to Tom to take over the melody. After several minutes, the music ends and David steps to the front of the room. He thanks the musicians for offering their time and talents, and addresses the packed room.
"We'll have quiet moments and moments when you smile...," he begins.
"And you can smile during the quiet moments," interjects Dr. Gallant, causing a wave of laughter in the audience.
Then comes the first of several short readings, something called "Quiet Spaces," a prayer about wanting to learn to live and appreciate the moment, rather than always rushing and thinking of what lies ahead. The words serve as a gentle reminder to relax and fully experience what is to follow:
"...Remind me that tomorrow will take care of itself and that today is all I have. Let me enjoy my journey today. Wash away all thoughts of what I'd rather be doing or where I'd rather be at his moment. Take away the urge to push time forward. Help me to sit back and to simply be."
The performers underscore the message with an array of music that helps keep the 20 or so audience members fixed in the moment.
Tom plays an evocative acoustic rendition of "Silent Night." He's followed by Janet, a singer in her church's contemporary praise band. Accompanied by Dr. Gallant's flowing piano lines, she puts her heart and lovely voice into a Josh Grobin song named "Thankful" ("it's up to us to be the change / and even though this world needs to much more / there's so much to be thankful for.")
Rick, who has just returned from playing in London, changes the mood with three holiday classics showcasing fine sax and keyboard work: "White Christmas," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
When he's finished, David returns with thoughts about transitions - both in this holiday season and the challenges awaiting everyone when they leave the service and return to their work.
"I find we're always transitioning working in the hospital here," he says. "In life we transition. Last week was Hanukkah, a celebration and time of giving. We celebrate next Christmas, a time of giving and family and joy.
"And we transition as soon as we walk out of here to the world you're going to: for some, it's a bedside; for some it's the OR, for some it's healing with families where it isn't about joy and happiness and peace. It's about fear and anxiety. We know that in this moment we feel safe. We feel blessed and thankful for so many things."
His talk soon shifts back to music - now with Kelly backing herself on guitar as she sings "Oh Holy Night" with a warm, engaging voice.
Time seems to sneak up on everyone. It's suddenly only minutes until 1 p.m. David offers his thanks to everyone who participated: those who lent their musical talents, and those who lent their time simply to listen and look after themselves for a bit.
"May you be washed in peace and given what you need in this time of year and in the days to come," he says. The words are greeted with applause as people begin to file out, moving to bouncy, keyboard-and-sax versions of "Winter Wonderland "and "Jingle Bells.
Nearby, Kathy Moore, who manages Sterile Processing and is part of Perioperative services, talks about how much the Midday Meditation program means to her. She'd never paid any attention to it until Tom, who works on the basement floor with her, suggested she might enjoy it. She's been four times now and won't miss it anymore.
"It's invaluable," she says. "I don't think enough people realize or take advantage of it, because this room wouldn't be big enough if they did. This has been a crazy day. It's hectic this time of year - heavy surgery schedules, a lot going on and people seem a little more tense sometimes. But this has been 30 minutes of total peace that I so appreciate."
The sentiment is echoed by Danielle Davis, office coordinator for Dr. Gallant. "It's very soothing, a time to pray and relax and get some things off of my mind," she says. "It really meant a lot to me."
It means a lot to Dr. Gallant as well, giving him time to regroup after a rough morning with a very sick child.
"David is for everybody - he's here for the families and he's here for the staff," says the veteran surgeon. "And he's here for me and all of us."
The man who put it all together is pleased with how it all came together this day. The holiday-themed music was just right, offering a powerful and emotional interplay with the words of the day. "I even heard some people crying," David says. "It's a peaceful, quiet place. You close the door, and we really are between two worlds."
Outside the chapel, Kenneth Lawton, an environmental services worker, couldn't have been happier that he decided to stop by for the first time.
"It's inspiring to me, something that's inspiring and refreshing," Kenneth says, holding a canned energy drink. Then he looks at the can in his hand and adds: "It's like an energy drink all by itself - a real boost to get you going the rest of the day."
In the heart of the holiday season, with Christmas fast approaching, that's a special gift as staffers head back to face the day's challenges with spirits renewed.