Today, I met a nurse who has been in nursing since 1962. She has worked in emergency rooms, and specialty units in hospitals, and has loved her job her whole life. She’s skilled, reassuring, funny, and a wonderful care-giver. I know, because she was my nurse. She has been discouraged of late, because she is finding that new forms of technology have become harder for her to learn. She’s had many opportunities to retire, she said, but she doesn’t want to, because she loves her work. She loves the caring aspect of her calling. However, lately, she said she feels that she has to spend so much time with the computer, now, when she is working with a patient, that she can’t give the person quality care. It’s that dilemma that is frustrating her so much, she’s actually been thinking about retiring. She said all this as she deftly gave me care, inserting needles here and there, taking vital signs, recording data, moving around the room with grace, speaking calmly and distinctly, even when she was voicing her computer frustrations. When some of the younger nurses came by the area, they all spoke with her; she knew each of them by name, discussed their questions quickly, and thoroughly, and then went on with her treatment of me. They come to her because of her experience and wisdom, and like me, they each benefitted from her thoughtful, bright attention, and each felt better for having talked with her, as I did.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Martin Buber’s understanding of authentic existence happening in the place where one stands. The nurse I met today seems to me to be one of those people–someone who is living authentically from the place where she stands. She is so much herself, and so gracious in her treatment of the people and things that come across her path that those who encounter her feel more awake. That sense of being “fully alive,” is one of my measures for this mysterious notion of “authentic existence.” Buber, having introduced the notion of living fully “here where one stands,” goes on to say: “no encounter with a being or a thing in the course of our life lacks a hidden significance. The people we live with or meet with, the animals that help us with our farm work, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it toward its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they in ours, then we shall ourselves be debarred from true, fulfilled existence.” Buber’s statement is in keeping with my understanding of what Luther calls vocation: our relationship to those beings and things which call us into service, faith active in love of neighbor and love of God. The neighbor is the person you find in the place where you are standing. God is found in the place where you are standing. Our vocations happen, present themselves, in the places where we stand, in our “genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part.” My nurse, today, is a person who participated fully in her relationships to the beings (me, in this case), and things (the tools and instruments of medicine), which presented themselves to her. She certainly is someone who carried spiritual significance to those around her, including me. As I left, she asked me to please say a prayer for her and for her unhappy relationship with her computer. We laughed, because I know exactly how she feels. But I will pray for her, in gratitude that there are people like her, fully alive, computer or no computer.
(Martin Buber quotes are from the essay “Here Where One Stands”).