President's Notes: Walking Each Other Home
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Posted by: Nadia Tamez-Robledo
By Jeff Watson, DNP, RN-BC, NEA-BC, NE-BC, CRRN
When I was a much younger man, over the Christmas holidays in the early 1970s, we moved to a new town. With the new environment and the new schedule, both of my parents instructed me to walk my sister home every day after school. I remember the words that reinforced how important this new routine was, “She’ll be lost, and she needs you to find the way home.”
And so I did as I was told because I was, even from a young age, a chronic rule follower. Every day after school, I walked her home. SO, what was central to the conversations of a fourth grader and first grader? Glue usually: Elmer’s Glue. She was always telling me that she was out of glue because she would rub glue on her hands and let it dry to make glue handprints — she loved glue handprints. Young artists always make for exciting company.
For years, my sister and I walked each other home. Eventually, we found others — friends our age, with whom we would now walk. While glue stopped being the topic of discussion, at least for me and my new friend, Paul, there was different glue in the mix — glue that was forming human bonds.
The experiences of adolescence — of fitting in or more often, not fitting in—are frequently painful, particularly when they occur on the verge of young adulthood. They become less so when they find common ground with others who suffer. The truths Paul and I shared as we walked home together forged strong, perhaps impenetrable, bonds. We were in the process of becoming ourselves, growing into the reality of who we were destined to be. As we walked together, we know that we were fated to stand outside the ring of social norms because ultimately we would accept those boundaries and try hard to avoid being branded, as we were pushed further and further into the margins. You see, different doesn’t fit. However, different will find different — and when that happens, they walk each other home.
One day we stopped walking, we began driving. What freedom! We drove, and we drove around the same three-mile stretch of town. Whether behind the wheel or riding shotgun, we were still walking each other home. By this time, others who were different joined us—and somehow, we found new ways to walk home … together.
Time passed, and life journeys separated us. Paul became an advertiser and me, a nurse. Yet that bond from that tenacious glue was still there — holding us together. Even after long stretches of time apart, we resumed a comfortable gait and recalled how easy it was to walk each other home.
And then one day, I spotted a change, a new companion in our group — the virus. We cried and talked about new things, about T-cells, pneumonia, other infections, and the skin cancer that would ultimately betray Paul and tell an unjust yet stereotypical story about him to the outside world. And we continued to walk each other home.
For months I watched. The virus changed Paul. It pulled him away into a new group of those who were different. The most marginalized of the marginalized — all of them with a common companion, but all of them seeming to walk alone.
As life would have it, the day came when I found myself walking alone. I thought Paul might have been lost, perhaps even hidden. Then, slowly, the cold wash of final separation settled over me. Lost? Hidden? No … home.
It’s been more than 40 years since my parents’ instructions to me, and I find their words still echo in my mind, “She’ll be lost, and she needs you to find the way home.” What I treasure now, more than ever, is that when I know someone’s story, I become a guardian of that story and a companion for the remainder of the journey.
What I’ve learned is that we routinely use labels as a method to artificially separate ourselves. When we use labels that identify others as different, those labels generate an automatic stereotype, notwithstanding intent. What is amazing is that we, as nurse, have volumes of stories that illuminate the depth and breadth of the human experience. When those stories are told, they have the potential to shatter labels and open the windows to a society filled with greater understanding.
We are all keepers of the stories of joy, pain, love, and hope, and thus keepers of others — this is what we do as nurses. It is those stories that will transform our profession and benefit those we serve. We are the largest healthcare workforce in Texas, and yet we struggle, at times, to find out voice. The voice we so anxiously search for is often found in the telling of our stories.
Each story is wonderfully unique, and each one a required component in helping others understand what it is that we bring to the passage called life. Our stories are the narrative of the professional Registered Nurse embedded in the greater chronicle of humanity. They are the glue that holds us together, and without them, we will surely be lost.
Tell your stories. Shatter the labels. Walk home, together.