“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ~ Maya Angelou.
My childhood was filled with all kinds of music, from hymns and gospel music; soundtracks of musicals; calypso and jazz; classical and blues; reggae and rock and roll; it wasn’t until I went to nursing school in the UK that a new friend introduced me to a few more genres. She played Irish protest songs for me, and John Denver. It was with her I first heard the classic American Pie (didn’t know what a levee was!). I never had much respect for country music until I heard it described as the white man’s blues. Once I recognized the same pain as could be heard in those Mississippi blues, I realized it came from the same place (but maybe with less soul!).
The fascinating thing about country music is that it was mined by some of the early reggae artists. Whether they heard the songs on the radio (picking up A.M. radio stations all the way from the States), or it was farm workers bringing home albums, some of that country music was reggaefied and popularized as if it was Jamaican born and bred. And somehow a reggae beat makes everything sound better!
The other day I realized how amazing the human memory is. Something triggered a memory of a co-worker who died over a decade ago. Rony was special. He was one of those young men that everybody loved. He was a people person, and after he died, we discovered that everyone felt they had a special relationship with him. Over and over again I would hear people say, ‘No, you don’t understand, Rony and me had something special’. And it was people of all ages, of all races. Born in Haiti and raised in Miami, Rony could fit into any crowd. He talked like a ‘Yardie’ when he was with Jamaicans. He was all-American with Americans. But he was a good human being. I had once lent him my Tanya Stephens CD at a time when he was having some relationship problems, and one song that stayed with him said ‘We’ve been fighting for all the wrong stuff, why can’t we fight to stay in love.’ As I thought about him, I wondered if he would have had any idea that he would die so young.
But the thing I wanted to let him know now was that death cannot remove the memories of the people we know and love. It is when we least expect it that a memory will intrude our daily routine and bring back those people as clear as if we just saw them yesterday. For some people it is music that does it. I can never hear the full-throated sound of a Welsh Male Voice Choir in four-part harmony singing those classic Welsh hymns without hearing my father joining in the tenor line (or the bass, if that was more fun!). It is comforting, for we can all be sure that even when our physical form has left this plane, there will be things that will trigger memories of us in those who love us.
For those who teach, we hope that some of our words will penetrate and remain with our students long after they have left the classroom. Although it is not always useful memories that remain. I can still remember the location of the pituitary gland (in the sella turcica of the sphenoid bone) because of the annoying nasal tones of Mr. Callahan. I haven’t used the information much in my life as a nurse, but it’s still there! But more than words or facts, sometimes we hope that what we inspire is the possibility of being passionate about our calling.
There is a saying out there now (that has been created by social media’s ‘like’ button), do it for the love, don’t do it for the ‘likes’. We often forget what first drew us into our chosen profession. Some of us were lucky, we found ourselves doing something that we loved, and even on the bad days we could find something to be joyful about. It was that way for me with nursing. I spoke of it this week to a group of student nurses who had completed the nursing program and were sat there in their clean white uniforms waiting to be pinned, holding their lamps that tied them back to Florence Nightingale.
The story that I shared with them was of the patient who gifted me with a bottle of Guinness (she had made her son bring a bottle to the ward). She thought I looked ‘peaky’ (pale and tired), and wanted me to drink it with an egg beaten into it. The bottle sat on my shelf in the nurse’s residence for a long time, a reminder that a therapeutic relationship can go two ways. It made me think of the privilege of being a nurse. In these times of crazy money, when desperate healthcare systems are shelling out big money to try to recruit those scarce nurses, it is good to remember that if you don’t do it for the love, the money will not be enough. And I can only imagine how difficult it has been for those nurses at the frontline to be able to create special moments with patients in the middle of their overworked shifts. But it is a privilege to share space with people at the best and worst moments of their life; to truly be authentically present when someone needs you to be with them, or to accept a gift from them even though they are the ones in need of care.
On this rainy Friday morning, I think it is important to acknowledge how much we need each other, to make it through some of the travails of this world. And to let others know that we will remember them, when we hear a song, or see a sunset, or feel a cool breeze.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!