Our family recently moved to the country, several miles outside of Boise, Idaho. Our new home is nestled within thousands of acres of public land, surrounded by several mountain ranges, inhabited by herds of deer, antelope and elk. Above all this marvelous splendor is a big, bold, wide-open sky, what my husband and I affectionately call The Cathedral of the Blue Dome.
During the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I hiked many miles along the hilly terrain that surrounds our property and took time to reflect on some of the pivotal events of my life and how they impacted my choice to become a nurse. Along my hiking journey, a story came to mind. It begins many years ago. I was 16 years old and working as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. An elderly man whom I will call James lived in the home. I didn’t know it at the time, but James would change the course of my life.
As a younger man, he was severely injured in a construction accident, leaving him a multiple amputee and wheelchair-bound. Later, James suffered a debilitating stroke, but he fought the good fight and refused to yield to the physical limitations of his condition. I was inspired by his spirit, tenacity and determination. The highlight of my working day was spending time with him, listening to his stories as he recounted the history of his life.
Each day was a journey into the existence of a man who loved life and feared little. He taught me to believe in goodness and kindness, and he challenged me to think big, to dream in living color. He encouraged me to make a difference in the world and to leave an indelible footprint on this earth, a footprint I would be proud to leave, one of decency, compassion and integrity. James inspired me to reach higher than I ever believed I could, to soar at 60,000 feet. Most importantly, he encouraged me to become a nurse. He loved nurses, he loved the profession and I know he loved me. As an adolescent, I gave little thought to my future, but I listened to James and his deliberations about the journey of life with its many twists and turns. I took note of his insightful lessons. They mattered deeply to me.
One day, when I arrived at work, I saw the ambulance pulling away. I knew from experience that one of the residents had died, and I wondered who it could be. The night nurse met me at the door and embraced me. Hugging me tightly, she whispered softly that James had died quietly during the night. I was devastated by the news. It was a defining moment in my life, and it made a significant impact on my future career. I decided then that I would become a nurse, that I would strive to make a difference and that I would do everything I could to leave that much discussed and highly treasured indelible footprint.
Many people like James come into our lives and influence us in ways that are deeply felt and shape the person we are; indeed, the person we are becoming. Many of these people are our role models, mentors and heroes. They challenge us every day to make an important difference in the world, to set the bar high and to “pay it forward” by becoming mentors to others, inspiring them to lead mindful and purposeful lives, lives that matter.
Each day, I challenge myself to advocate for a more just and humane world, solidly embedded in the principles of social justice, veracity and equality. I believe that each of us is called upon to serve the common good and to cultivate hope, to be reflective and contemplative when making decisions, to find quiet moments to restore and rejuvenate the spirit, to promote and celebrate the lives and accomplishments of others, and to shine the spotlight brightly on those who are a voice for the marginalized and less fortunate. In the end, it is truly what really matters.