“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” ~ Pablo Casals.
I moved away from home at the age of eighteen. After finishing high school in Jamaica, I returned to the land of my birth to see if I could reconnect. I knew that I could happily live in Jamaica for the rest of my life, but what if I could just as easily have lived in the UK? Having left there at the age of seven, and visited in between, I didn’t know what I might be missing. So although I could have gone to nursing school in Jamaica, I applied and was accepted to go to nursing school in Manchester, in the rainy northwest of England, the city where I was born.
I didn’t have much in the way of earthly possessions, but my sister had gifted me with a cassette player (gently used of course) to keep me company. Her husband (the music lover) had made several cassettes for me, and I would often fall asleep to the sound of Bread (whatever happened to them?) or the Four Tops. One of their songs has been trapped in my head this week: ‘Sweet Sadie’, ever since I heard an interesting story on my favorite NPR station.
Sadie Alexander was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in Economics (this was a hundred years ago, in 1921) but could not get a job in her field. She went back to school and was the first woman (of any race) to earn a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked as a civil rights lawyer. But her first love was economics, and she gave many speeches regarding the unjust economic system that kept people marginalized through low paid jobs. As I listened to the story of a woman ahead of her time, I wondered how many other stories we don’t know.
In the tragedy of the condo collapse in Surfside, there must lie hundreds of stories untold, lives cut short without warning. It is a stark reminder of how fragile life is, how little control we have over events and plans.
I have recently been back in the classroom (officially I am an administrator – not my favorite job of all time!), and have had to refresh my knowledge of mental illness. Just like any other aspect of health, the more you read about a topic the more you recognize the symptoms! Nursing students are prone to self-diagnosis (nurses in general visit a physician only as a last resort – once their own treatments and interventions fail to resolve the issue!), so we have had a lot of ‘aha’ moments in class!
My favorite thing about teaching is it gives me a forum for my stories. One of the personality disorders, the histrionic personality reminded me of the time a family member had arrived at the bedside of her dying grandmother a day too late. She showed up dressed entirely in black (including a black mantilla draped over her head), and approached each of the nurses asking: ‘were you with my grandmother when she died?’ It so happened that I was, so she then asked me: ‘what were her dying words? Did she ask for me?’ I couldn’t really say, as the poor lady had been complaining of stomach pains before she died, she certainly hadn’t been whispering any last meaningful words to pass on to her granddaughter. Did I mention the visitor had traveled with her dog? Both were permitted to sit in the chapel with her dead grandmother for a while.
They say the human race has been telling stories as long as it has been alive. Carvings in cave walls show pictorial evidence of our love of story-telling. Family traditions are passed down, cultural rites and rituals provide the backdrop. History is merely the formal writing down of stories to pass on to future generations. There is so much to appreciate, to share, to learn from. Marcus Garvey said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots”. We must keep the stories alive.
I have been thinking about the stories of COVID that deserve to be told. I would love to collect some of the nursing stories, for there must be thousands to be shared. I can only imagine the stress and strain of working under pandemic conditions for days and weeks and months. I hope that those in healthcare are able to take care of themselves through it all.
The year of the pandemic has shaken many of us out of our routines. There are some who have had to radically redesign their lives, their livelihoods. It has reminded us of our ability to innovate, to be flexible, to learn to truly go with the flow. What have you been challenged to do, that you never thought you could? What have you learned to live without?
This Friday morning, I challenge you to share a story. We can all benefit from learning another way of being in this world. And celebrate the accomplishments of all those we have never heard of, who have done amazing things with their life, under far worse conditions than we can imagine. And if you can, look up Sadie Alexander, a woman ahead of her time.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!