Jottings: Speaking of heroes
Nursing school was one exciting discovery after another. I thought this day of class would be another happy adventure. But an epiphany awaited me. An epiphany that changed the way I lived my life.
We were studying healthy behaviors in each age group across the lifespan before looking at how the sick role alters that behavior. I was to observe a group of teens gathered for a discussion group. The developmental task for teens that I was to observe was "establishing a stable identity to become a complete and productive adult." The topic was heroes of our youth. The professor, Sr. Joan, took me from the safety of observer by suggesting that I participate.
I told of my hero, Anne of Green Gables, who was little understood, but made the world glimmer with aliveness through her imagination. She loved people, trees, animals and never put anyone down. She was a scholar and had goals beyond marriage. She was not ashamed of who she was. I was proud of what I was sharing. But after my description, Sr. Joan, firmly stated, "You are NOT Anne Shirley." A roar started in my ears and my eyes burned as tears threatened. The world around Sr. Joan and me blurred. I had buried my identity in Anne's without realizing it and now I was exposed.
I was introduced to Anne when a classmate leaned across the aisle and said, "I think of you as Anne of Green Gables. You should read those books." I too was a plain freckled redhead who loved to read. And so, from preteen through my teen years, I read the Anne series yearly. The marathon reading of six books occurred over the Christmas break. My bedroom was a second story corner room with tall windows on two sides. A pot-bellied stove provided the heat. I'd pile pillows against my bedhead, fire up the stove, lock the doors against siblings, and settle into those pillows. I'd soon be walking the red roads of Prince Edward Island putting a glimmer of specialness around every circumstance Anne and I encountered. I had almost memorized every word. Now Sr. Joan was saying that a nurse must be her real self, her own "stable identity", if she is to be of help to others.
I did want to be an excellent nurse so trusted Sr. Joan's challenge. It was a slow process. I had been looking at the world through the filter of "what would Anne do?" But Anne also gave me the confidence to be curious about myself and who I really might be. I began to notice the heroes already in my life. My mom was pushing for senior housing in our small town and would not be intimidated by the discouraging lawyers and state officials. My aunt in St. Louis was founding a city-wide organization to expand possibilities for those with developmental disabilities after doctors told her to institutionalize my cousin. Heroes make us larger by their willingness to take action and I saw that I already had the stepping stones for discovering my unique self and its history.
James Baldwin said, "You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don't live the only life you have, you won't live some other life, you won't live any life at all." Sr. Joan set me on the path to live the only life I have.
I recently reread the Anne books and see how distant I am from her now. One developmental task at this age is to answer the question, "Is it okay to have been me?" And just asking the question fills me with gratitude for Anne Shirley, Sr. Joan, my nursing career and all the heroes who have enlarged my life along the way.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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