It was the first day of Thanksgiving break and taking it easy was the name of the game. As far as I was concerned, it might as well have been the only game in town.
That said, I decided to mosey on down to my local Walmart, hopefully undetected, in my less-than-Sunday best. I brushed my teeth and splashed a little water on my face. My hair has a mind of its own, so I didn’t even bother. It was my vacation after all.
As I made my way to the store, I saw someone I knew. Darn it! I mean, who was I kidding? I knew I would. Luckily, it was a good friend who has never been known to pass judgment on me (thank you for small favors). We both smiled and waved and stopped to exchange “hellos.” My friend is a nurse, and she was still clad in scrubs following a 12-hour shift. She didn’t even have to tell me; her eyes told the story.
She was tired, and not just in her body. She was tired in her soul. You know the kind – tired from the inside out.
My friend must have sensed the same in me because the first thing she said was, “How’s school going?” Before I could formulate an answer, she declared, “I’m ready to quit nursing! I’m so burned out. I don’t think I can do it much longer!”
In that moment, I admired her courage to actually say it aloud. There are days in teaching I feel the same way. As she rattled off a list of things that needed to be fixed in the health care industry, I felt complete empathy. Some days as an educator, I feel as if I’m trying to empty the Pacific Ocean with a teaspoon.
Then I did something I rarely do: I gave her a tight hug. I told her to go home and get some rest and enjoy the holiday.
“One more shift,” she said, “then I have a few days off.” I walked into Walmart, and as I waited at the pharmacy, I thought what it must be like to be a nurse. Think about it: Nurses keep people alive. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. They often see people at their most vulnerable. Families operating at their worst. Nurses find themselves in situations few of us can imagine. They call it trauma care for a reason. Not to mention the crazy hours and time away from their families.
I closed my eyes and whispered a little prayer for my friend right there in the middle of the medicine aisle. The next morning, my phone rang much earlier than I was prepared to answer. (I’m a texter. Text me all day long; I hate talking on the phone.)
My friend, the nurse, was on the other end.
“Miranda, if I tell you something, promise not to laugh,” she declared.
“Of course not,” I reassured her. After a brief pause, my friend told me a story I’ll never soon forget:
While working her last shift before Thanksgiving holiday, she began to care for a stroke victim. This patient couldn’t speak or move, was essentially dependent on others for his care, even for the smallest things. While wiping this patient’s lips, my friend witnessed the kind of gratitude in his eyes she hadn’t felt in such a long time. Such a small gesture, something we take for granted, was a welcomed relief for this man. For a moment, however brief, a nurse was able to bring comfort in this patient’s time of need. Without saying a word, this frail man reminded an exhausted nurse why she chose such a challenging vocation. With one look, my friend rededicated herself to a life of service. The timing could not have been more perfect. Right before her time off, she was reminded why she became a nurse. She felt compelled to share with me, and it moved me so deeply, I decided to write about it. Maybe my prayer that day next to the Nyquil really was heard.
I listened intently – grateful to be the person who got to hear such private sentiments. Perhaps, I, the tired teacher, was the one meant to hear it. A life of service isn’t easy, but it is most certainly worth it. When we find our emotional bank account empty, it is gratitude that refills it. I am grateful that my friend trusted me enough to share such a vulnerable moment.
So many of us are walking around with what feels like the weight of the world on our shoulders. The trouble is, those people who have done it so well, and for so long, are the ones most fail to notice. Be the friend to whom someone can confide. Be the one who says, “We’ll figure it out.” Be the friend who listens without judgment. Let’s give each other grace. Take the love that’s offered. It seems so obvious, but it may mean more than we ever know.
It is only when we truly care for other people that we discover our own worth. Ironic isn’t it? When we focus our attention to others, we somehow manage to find our purpose. For it is in helping others, we also help ourselves.