About 10 years ago, I read about a young man who wrote and sent a thank-you note every day for a year. He started because he lost his job, felt depressed, and wanted to remind himself that he had a lot to be thankful for. He soon learned that he got more out of saying thank you than simply counting his blessings.
In 2023, I’m taking a slightly different approach. I’m planning to publicly thank people who have had a positive impact on my life in ways they probably didn’t plan, and most likely did so without even realizing it.
A hat-tip to a public health nurse
Today’s hat-tip is to my sister, Deanna, who also happens to be a retire public nurse.
A little background first:I always admired my big-sister, Deanna. Still, while Deanna was cool, and always in style, and knew where she was going, how to get there, and why she was going, I was… Well, let’s just say, I was not any of those things.
I got on Deanna’s nerves.
Eventually, I learned to stop trying to be like Deanna and just be me. And then, Deanna got on my nerves as much as I got on hers.
Sometimes the best teachers are not the nicest teachers.
And to be fair, I never described myself as “easy.” Well, I did once, but that caused such an uproar of laughter, that I only used “easy” to describe myself as a sort of inside joke.
Enough of the background. Today I tip my hat to Deanna for putting me in my place and teaching me a lesson that I’ve never forgotten.
Years ago I volunteered at the Children’s Center. This was a residential home for children affected by AIDS. It was before the effective treatments we have today. It before Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. It was when children affected by AIDS had a tough time getting adopted or even getting placed in foster homes.
Some of the children had AIDS, some were HIV-positive, some had parents that had AIDS. One little boy lost his mother, his brother, and two siblings to AIDS. I took care of a baby who’s teen-mother only realized she was HIV-positive when her son got tested as part of his adoption screening. Most of the children had other problems, too. They might be alcohol or drug dependent from birth; they might have ADHD; they might not know enough to cry for food because their cries had never been responded to before.
I loved caring for the kids at Children’s Place. At the same time, I felt sad that my four-hour stint, once a week, seemed like so little. I got home to my own four healthy children with their normal childhood problems, with a whole new perspective. Our problems seemed so trivial in comparison.
I could not understand how a woman who knew she was HIV-positive could decide to become pregnant and bring a baby into our world. She had to know that her child faced a life of strife and pain.
“How could she do such an irresponsible thing?” I wondered aloud to Deanna.
“Not everyone is as lucky as you.”
Deanna retorted with a roll of her eyes. “You have a beautiful role model for a mother. Not everyone has that. Those mothers love their babies as much as you love yours. They just haven’t had the examples of how to love the way you have.” Deanna pressed her lips into a thin line, which signaled, ‘end of discussion.’
Deanna was not gentle with me. She was not kind. She was not even a teeny-tiny bit patient. And she was right.
I did not thank her for her wisdom. She got on my nerves with her holier-than-though, end-of-discussion attitude. It took me a while to soak in her words and realize she was right.
I did have an excellent role model who showed me how to love and care for my children and to help care for the wider community around me. Everyone doesn’t get to feel that kind of love from the cradle forward. It is important that I remember: that gives me an advantage.
I’m sure that her years in public nursing helped Deanna gain the perspective that I lacked. I’m almost positive that Deanna has no idea that her terse words from decades ago stuck with me. She changed my eagerness to judge others.
That reminds me of another lesson I learned as a side-effect:
You never know how enduring your words will be.
Deanna might have been trying to teach me a lesson; she might have been trying to put me in my place, in the most big-sister way possible; she might have just been annoyed by me. I’m willing to wager, she doesn’t even remember the incident.
As so often happens for me, the most enduring life lessons, are usually only realized later. Just like this one.
“Oh yeah. Now I get it!”
Have you ever received unwanted advice and that nonetheless, served you well? Please share by leaving a comment.