Friday, February 20, 2009

Paying Homage to our Mentor

Florence Nightingale was a revolutionary and well ahead of her time. We know of her numerous and purely astounding accomplishments with nursing through advocacy, reform, and the transformation of nursing into a legitimate profession. But do we truly grasp the depth of her accomplishments?

Born into an affluent family, Florence Nightingale ignored the societal norms of the time, which separated social class and disparaged nursing, and got down in the trenches to treat the poor and impoverished. In the process she addressed equality for the indigent and for women.

Claiming to have heard the voice of God on several occasions, Florence Nightingale’s calling must have been a powerful one. Father Henri J. M. Nouwen in his book, “Bread for the Journey” wrote a daily meditation entitled, “Downward Mobility.” He wrote the following:

“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.”

This certainly describes the path in life Florence Nightingale chose and the conviction to her divine calling. Florence Nightingale rejected her life of privilege and had the courage to oppose her parents’ wishes, despite their attempts to steer her away from nursing, to do what she believed she was called to do. Florence Nightingale looked for her downward mobility to transform nursing and address the injustices of society. It was action that she took or as the saying goes, “She walked the walk.”

Her true accomplishments: Not as much transforming nursing into a legitimate profession, as much as making it a vocation; not as much treating the ill for their physical needs, but the healing of their whole being; not as much her advocacy and reform for the time, but setting a precedence for all time; and maybe most of all, treating people as equal and as children of God. All because she answered her calling and of her “Downward Mobility.”

There are only a few people in the history of mankind that truly denied their very selves to embark on a journey that was ominous, perilous and denigrated to accomplish so much for the destitute, never to be repaid by worldly riches… or paid at all. Thank God nursing got one of them.

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