If you’re like me, when somebody says something like, “One person can change the world”, I think of the big names.
There are the bad big names: Hitler. Stalin. Atilla the Hun. Pol Pot.
There are the good big names, like Siddhartha (aka The Buddha); Martin Luther King. Beethoven.
I never see myself in that group.
The list of women who changed the world is a lot smaller. Catherine the Great. Queen Elizabeth I. Marie Curie.
Even with these, I never see myself in their ranks.
For some reason, I’m always drawn to the ones whose impact is softer (though still profound.) Florence Nightingale. Mother Theresa. Anne Frank.
Their attraction is subtle. These women did not start out in positions of power and influence. They did not seek out fame and glory. They were not ‘more special’ than other people.
They did what was in their hearts. Even when it got hard, even when they felt alone, they did what they cared about. They did the work that called to them.
Last week at our hospice volunteer meeting, we watched a film called PIONEERS OF HOSPICE: Changing the Face of Dying.
I thought it would be boring, but I was wrong. It was compelling on many levels.
The biggest was that the modern hospice movement really did start with one person.
And it wasn’t a physician. It wasn’t a social scientist. It wasn’t someone with power and influence.
It was a nurse.
Cicely Saunders, considered the founder of modern hospice and palliative care, says it wasn’t the doctors who started it. After all, they were trained to cure and save patients. They were actually taught to distance themselves from the dying.
It was nurses who were on the front lines of patient care.
It was they who saw the needless pain and suffering. Not just the physical pain, but emotional, social, financial and spiritual pain. “Who will care for my family when I’m gone?” “Will anything remain of me?”
Saunders saw the dying as people, separate from their disease or condition. She saw there was much to be done to support them, and to manage their pain.
She also saw there was much they could teach us about living.
She quickly realized her role as a nurse, and a social worker, would limit how much influence she could have. She understood that being a physician herself would empower her. She returned to school, and became a doctor.
Interestingly, although there is a profound spiritual side to hospice care, and though she is a devout Christian herself, Saunders deliberately did not link Christian faith to hospice. She felt it would close doors. She wanted the doors to be wide open.
Cicely Saunders and others have something to teach all of us, in our art and in our lives:
Follow the work that calls to you.
Do what needs to be done.
If you need more influence, figure out what will work, and pursue it.
Don’t seek fame for fame’s sake. Fame is not necessary to do important work in the world. In fact, it can distract and deflect you to your purpose. Never lose sight of where your energy is truly needed.
You will have doubts, and setbacks, and hard times. There may be sadness and loss.
But wouldn’t you rather experience those things in the context of doing the work you love? Doing the work that is important to you?
First do no harm. Hospice takes that oath further.
When the possibility for cure and recovery has past, there is still hope.
There is hope for comfort. There is hope for healing. There is hope for solace. Perhaps even for reconciliation and forgiveness. There is hope for gratitude. There is hope for a legacy.
There is always hope for love, and for peace.
Do the work that gives you peace in your heart. As our modern world rages around us, with delights and terrors, with war and reality TV, with distractions and isolation, create the work that comes from your own unique self.
Don’t judge it. Celebrate it!
Be fierce in service of your art.