11 March 2013

Keep dancing!

Last summer, my husband Greg and I traveled to northern Idaho to explore, hiking and biking some the most incredible and scenic trails in the country. We bicycled the Route of the Hiawatha, riding through tunnels that required headlamps and crossing railroad trestles so spectacular that the views took our breath away. We hiked and biked more than a hundred miles along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, where we saw moose, an elk with her baby, a vast variety of water fowl—including the amazing Great Blue Heron—and an assortment of other wildlife.

Greg and Cindy Clark
We also explored mining towns and the unique splendor of the Silver Valley. One day, we visited Coeur d’Alene’s Old Mission State Park, which contains the oldest standing building in Idaho, constructed in the mid-1800s by Jesuit missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. While visiting the mission, we discovered an amazing poem written by a Bitterroot Salish tribal elder Debra Magpie Earling. The poem, titled “We Dance,” reads in part:

We dance for our families
We dance for those who cannot dance
We dance for our babies and our elders
We dance in memory of all those who have left us and can no longer join us in the dance
So, when dancing becomes difficult, keep dancing
When your feet fall heavy on the ground—dance harder
Dance for your people, dance for all living things, and dance for yourself.

To me, the poem is a testament to the human spirit—a declaration of the ability to persevere, remain steadfast and, ultimately, succeed in the face of adversity and challenges. Not surprisingly, there are people among us—including our students—who epitomize this capacity. To illustrate, I share a story I wrote about a person who not only perseveres, but does so with humility and grace.

It was nearly midday on a bitterly cold and windy Friday, the last official day of winter break. The new semester was scheduled to begin the following week. Very soon, students would flood the campus with chatter and excitement, ready for another term of learning and moving one step closer to commencement and starting a new career. But it was Friday, and I was super-busy. It was nearly time for me to facilitate a class on civility for the new, incoming nursing students.

I was excited to meet them, get to know them, and begin our ongoing conversation about civility. I was just getting ready to head out the door, when I was greeted by a nursing student, who was entering his senior year. I’ll call him Dom (not his real name). He was on campus that day looking for information about the new background-check policy, which required all students enrolled in a particular clinical course to be fingerprinted. His knowledge about the new policy was somewhat limited and, unfortunately, so was mine. We sought advice from one of my colleagues, who informed us that the fingerprinting had to be done in a specific location. We called the office in question and were advised that students must arrive no later than 5 p.m., when the office closed for the day.

The office was about 13 miles from campus—26 miles round-trip. The temperature hovered around 10 degrees and, with the wind chill factored in, it felt below zero and was nearly unbearable. This is an important part of the story, because Dom does not own a car. In fact, he relies solely on his bicycle for transportation. I would have gladly given him a ride, but I was due in new-student orientation in less than 10 minutes. Clearly, he could not ride his bike that day, so we looked for other faculty members or students who would be able to transport Dom. With classes not in session and the campus nearly deserted, we decided that bus transportation was the best option, so we quickly logged onto the computer to look for the best route. We were still checking when it was time for me to get to class, so I said farewell to Dom and wished him well.

Later that evening, I text-messaged Dom to see how he had fared and was flabbergasted to learn he had ridden his bike to the fingerprinting office. Not finding a suitable bus route that would get him to the office on time and knowing that, without being fingerprinted, he would be unable to attend his first day of clinical, Dom muscled through the freezing temperatures and biting wind because, to do otherwise would have put him “in the hole,” so to speak, before his classes even began.

It’s a riveting example of tenacity and perseverance. What I haven’t told you is that Dom is an international student, working hard to assimilate into American society and achieve academically in an unfamiliar educational system. For Dom, as with so many other nursing students, money is tight. Sometimes, I wonder if he rode his bicycle that day because there was no bus was available, or if it was because he lacked sufficient funds to pay the fare. Whatever the reason, Dom’s story is one of determination, resolve, and an unimpeachable work ethic. A motivating lesson to be sure.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.