“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.”~Viktor E. Frankl.
I am a Mancunian by birth. That means that I know that the correct pronunciation of the city’s name is Manchister, with the emphasis on the first syllable. I lived there until I was 7 years old, then returned there after high school and went to nursing school at the hospital where many of the victims of the latest cruel act were taken. My niece is a pediatric nurse at that same hospital. I have many fond memories of my time in Manchester. I ate cheesecake for the first time on a trip to the city center (downtown). I made lifelong friends who took me on a ‘pub crawl’ and taught me other crucial things about British life. At the time I was more Jamaican than English, despite my blonde hair and blue eyes. My accent was (still is) able to switch back and forth between patois and English, with confusing lapses either way.
There are times in life when we wonder about big decisions we have made. How different would my life have been had I stayed in England? Who would I be today? For sure I would have had different children, for a different man! But how would my career path have changed? Would I have accomplished more? Or less?
When we look back at our life we can see places along the way where one decision made a huge difference in the way our life turned out. It may have been a relationship; a migration or an educational choice. It may have been an opportunity that presented itself that we took advantage of on a whim, not carefully thought out but fruitful nonetheless. It may have been a terrible experience at the time that changed the course of our life for the better.
But the decisions that have major impact on our lives may not appear to be huge at the time. And all of our choices are not clear cut, not an either/or situation (the term ‘binary’ has become popular recently). Sometimes it is only in hindsight we recognize that we did something to change our life’s path. The poet Robert Frost wrote about two roads in a wood, that he chose the ‘road less travelled’. But sometimes we are not even aware there is another path, another choice.
The other day one of my sons asked me if I thought I would ever go back and live in England. And to be honest there have been times in my life when I have toyed with the idea. The majority of my siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews live there. Whenever I visit (especially when I visit Wales) I can only imagine what it is like to live within the sight of the green mountains; to experience the changes in season; to be a part of a culture which is so different from the US. I have often (still do) thought about going to live in Jamaica – again, the beautiful mountains, the abundance of color, the culture, the music, the people.
Realism dictates many of our life choices. We are committed to bills and lifestyles and family ties. It is lovely to wander the world but we are usually tethered to one particular spot that makes the most sense for all of the aspects of our lives. We have jobs, kids, grandkids, a house payment, all of those things that give us security along with obligations.
As I was thinking about Frost’s poem, I realized that our choices are not so much about which path we choose, but are more to do with how we choose to live the path we are on. Sometimes we change our life drastically, move to a new city or change our job, and realize we are just as dissatisfied in our new reality. Viktor Frankl, who survived life in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote that “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Many years ago I had to confront a situation that was making me very unhappy. I realized that I did not have the ability to make, or the right to expect another person to change for me. I had a choice. I could choose whether to accept the person as he was, or I could remove myself from the situation. But there is a third path, and that is the path of growth. We can choose to change the way we react to a situation.
This week as I was thinking about the first responders and healthcare staff that would be helping the victims of the latest expression of a diseased society, I read a story of another nurse. One who has just won a $3m lawsuit for wrongful termination from her job of many decades. Apparently she was an outspoken and active critic of a healthcare system that saw patient care tasks as time sensitive procedures; that kept expecting nurses to be as productive as line-workers in a factory. When this nurse was not able to complete her tasks efficiently they suggested that her age (59) was slowing her down. When she stayed after work to complete her documentation, they wrote her up. But she persisted. She lobbied her State legislature for better staffing to permit nurses to give quality care. She was active in her nursing organizations. She continued to put her patients first, rather than satisfy the quotas and productivity aims of her bosses. And so she was fired, and fought for 3 years before winning the lawsuit.
How many of us are brave enough to take on a healthcare organization? How many of us are willing to disrupt the system, are disposed to risk our paycheck and our lifestyle to prove a point? Most of us ‘go with the flow’ even when we know it is morally wrong, because it is easier, or we have too much to lose.
On this Friday morning I hope you choose to live your best life, whichever path you are on. I hope you are making a difference in this world, wherever in the world you live. And I hope that even if you cannot change your situation, you can change the way you live it.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!