“It’s a great journey going through ChIME,” says the Rev. Jon Gale, a 2017 graduate. “I’ve been challenged more academically, such as during my six years in a doctoral program at Boston University, but I’ve never come out of a program more changed than by ChIME.” Many philosophers, going back to Lao Tzu, have described the distance from head to heart as the longest journey of all, and Jon credits ChIME with allowing him to make that descent.
“When I’m asked to choose a slice from one of three pies, I always want a slice of each,” Jon says, describing the path that has led him to study speech pathology, counseling, biology, and curriculum theory, as well as becoming an Emergency Medical Technician and an Interfaith Chaplain after retiring from a school career that included 12 years as Superintendent of Schools in Pownal and being a school principal in Waterboro, Maine. Jon now serves the town’s Fire Department as both chaplain and EMT, while volunteering two days a week with Hospice of Southern Maine. Recently he had an opportunity to conduct a funeral and a house blessing in the town. People who knew Jon mostly through his superintendent role, or his stint as a town Selectman, now see their gentle giant in his most tender role.
“Often at the end of a four-hour shift at Gosnell House in Scarborough, where many people come to die, I’m walking out into the parking lot with tears streaming down my face,” Jon says. “It is such a privilege to be able to sit with someone in their last moments. Often there’s nothing that needs to be said. I recently held the hand of a priest as he died. What a gift.”
Starting out Catholic and coming to see himself now as a “secular Buddhist,” Jon says that the ChIME faculty and fellow students gave him the spiritual companionship he needed to go deeper into his lifelong pull towards serving people. “As a Buddhist meditator, I think about my death every day,” Jon says. “However, many people coming into hospice care haven’t thought much about death before getting a terminal diagnosis. As a hospice volunteer, I can hold space for them to have their reactions and their questions. This is a powerful time for them, and my mantra is to not take their power away.”
Recently Rev. Gale also completed an 8-week training as an End of Life Doula through the University of Vermont. Based in part on the work of Canadian psychiatrist Harvey Chochinov, author of Dignity Therapy, the program includes an opportunity for the doula to ask key questions of someone nearing their end of life, record their answers, and present them with a document that they can leave to their loved ones. “Through the doula program I’ve come to see myself as a ‘dying coach,’” Jon says. As I sit with my clients I ask myself, “How am I like you?”