Monday, January 30, 2017
Word of the Week - 152
My maternal grandmother was a battlefield nurse in World War I. When, in her 60s, she became ill she was admitted to the Veteran's Hospital in West Los Angeles. Long before freeways went from Pasadena to those far reaches, my father drove our family over one night a week so my mother and I could visit her. Dressed in my Easter suit, I passed for the minimum age allowed to call on patients. On one of our visits, she was not in her bed nor anywhere to be found around the ward. No once could tell us where she might be. We were apprehensive, as she was nearly blind and had recently lost a leg to diabetes. We waited beside her bed as they screened a movie for the women. I think it was something with Elvis Presley.
Eventually an attendant wheeled her back and I'm sure we hissed our questions at her, trying not to talk over the movie. Where have you been? We were so worried. Etc. Her calm response was, "I've been out cheering up the sick people."
I think of her often, as I knew her and as the young Gertrude Holden of Boston, sailing to France after graduating nursing school at what was then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. In addition to "cheering up the sick people," she was known to have said on numerous occasions, "It isn't Boston but it IS Massachusetts," both of which I have borrowed and quoted all my adult life, probably to the annoyance of those who have listened to me the most.
The thought of her, of her ability to find something of value in what to many of us would seem worthless, the model she was that told me no matter what, if we draw breath we have something to offer others, helps me at times when I begin to sag or doubt. If we are without words, we can listen. We can offer a hand to hold. We can refuse to be discouraged. We can whistle, we can sing, we can be very clear about what matters most, about what is our truth.
I know that hospital ward, which once felt so cavernous, which I would swear reached into distant and shadowy corners on our night visits, would no longer appear so large. I remember the relief my mom and I felt as we caught sight of her, seeming to return again from the battlefields, from very far away, her face, her spirit beaming. I hope some of her lives on in me.