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Sunday, November 8, 2009

On widows, Mother Theresa, the nursing process, Homer Simpson, and Mr. Spock

Last week I was teaching the nursing process to a group of brand new nursing students. The ‘nursing process’ has become, I believe, the most studied and elaborated upon event in nursing, especially when you realize that when all boiled down, it is simply common sense problem solving. Anyway, like most decision making frameworks, the nursing process has us move through stages of data gathering, analysis, problem identification, action, and evaluation. Through much of these stages we are directing and moving with our patient through their history and seeking to read their future needs, risks, and other wellness concerns. As I was reflecting on my class, I wondered if I had been able to instill in these new nurses the essence, or art, of nursing that allows us to authentically move with our patients through this process: the ability to engage with them. This ability to engage with another is more than a learned skill; it is a choice to invest in truly being present with another. Inherent in this engagement is a tiny but profound leap of faith that we can, in truth, unite with another in the present moment.

The choice to take that leap of faith and to invest in another is a wonderful gift to give and to receive. We recognize this when we receive it as well as when we take that leap of faith into the present moment of another and join with them. The authenticity of that encounter goes beyond skilled history taking and therapeutic conversation.

Who are our mentors in this? They range from every background and educational level and from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Speaking of the sublime, we witness in Mother Theresa’s work and writing a life committed to living in the present and engaging with every person that God brought to her door—and there were a lot of them! In her book, A Simple Path, she notes that a life of engagement requires an inner sanctum of connection to God, not simply as a retreat, but as a source for others to experience peace in the present moment.  She speaks of meeting with people who "hungered and thirsted for this silent place" … stating that “I knew that once they came into an atmosphere of some kind of silence, they would just fall into a peaceful state.”

On the ridiculous side of the scale, Homer Simpson is utterly incapable of foreseeing consequences so blithely lives in the moment, unaware of the chaos enveloping him until the ensuing wave threatens to knock him to kingdom come. In spite of driving everyone crazy, Homer manages to connect with others largely due to his utter inability to see anyone as beneath him (even Ned Flanders becomes his best friend). So perhaps Homer Simpson teaches us that there is something about our attitude toward others that may impede our ability to engage in the present moment with another.

Mr. Spock. Now it is common knowledge that Mr. Spock can, through a mind meld, connect with anyone at anytime, but can a Vulcan ever truly live in the present moment? I propose that it would be highly illogical to live in the present when future concerns can be rationally predicted and overcome by disciplined attention to reason. If Mr. Spock were a nurse, it would be easy to identify his patients. They would all be curled up in the fetal position shivering in psychological trauma from a simple history taking assessment. From Mr. Spock we learn that perhaps our ability to engage in the present moment involves mutuality and receptivity from the other before it can be authentic and non-damaging …

Today’s Scripture readings included the story of Elijah and the widow from Zarephath (IKings 17). As you will recall, the widow and her son are near starving with so many others in the region due to drought and poverty. The widow has a small amount of flour and oil left—just enough for one meal. She has no hope beyond this bit of flour and oil, so is preparing to cook her and her son’s last bit of bread. Along comes Elijah He is new to town, but she recognizes him as a prophet when he asks her for a drink and then further presumes to ask her to cook him some food. Elijah, hears her situation, and responds to her emotion, “do not be afraid,” as well as to her base-level  concerns. He says to go ahead and make him some bread first before she makes it for herself and her son, stating that God will ensure that her flour pot and oil pitcher will have enough in them every day until the drought is over. Somehow, in that quick interchange, Elijah is able to make an authentic connection and through this present-moment-meeting, the widow is able to make a leap of faith. As a result, she gets to enjoy the peace and joy of each morning finding flour and oil and setting out bread for her son every day.

Could the widow have made that incredible sacrifice of her last meal if Elijah hadn’t engaged with her, hearing and addressing her fear and clarifying her concerns? I don’t know. I do know that I want to able to emulate the widow’s leap of faith when Elijah comes to my door—but I sure hope that my Elijah will have the initiative and commitment to meet me in my present moment and address my fears. Further, I hope that when I am Elijah to my students, my patients, and others, that I am able to do the same.

May Shalom infiltrate our present moment.

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