I believe in innate human dignity.
As a Registered Nurse for 37 years I have had the privilege of being present with many people when they were most vulnerable: at birth, at death, and crises in between. I have come to understand my patients’ courage and perseverance as dignity.
While a student nurse I drew close to a Pediatrics patient who was terminally ill at age 12. This young man lived each day with optimism and a complete lack of self-pity. His sense of humor brought strength to all of us around him. His dignity still inspires me every time I look at the Polaroid shot his mother took of us together on the ward.
Decades later, I felt honored as a Hospice nurse to enter my patients’ homes and join in caring for the terminally ill. I learned that the last months of life can be times of great blessing. As I accompanied people of all ages during this hard work of dying, I was amazed to find similarities in the death process to the labor of childbirth. The dignity of my dying patients and their caregivers reflects the noblest traits in our human spirit. I was humbled to be nearby.
Experience as a wife, mother and grandmother helped to solidify my adolescent understanding of dignity. Then came 9/11, after which I lost my innocence to fear. Fear spawned a de-personalization of those who would do us harm. The resultant loathing I carried for ‘our enemies’ distressed my spirit greatly.
Reflecting on what I believe, I recall a profound lesson I learned many years ago 6,000 miles from home. The Japanese people, who had been my father’s enemies in WW II, treated me and my infant son with respect and love as I lived among them for three years. I came to understand that people everywhere have many basic needs and desires in common. One of the strongest of these desires is that we all want what is best for our children.
That is why many of us wept when the Amish schoolgirls were murdered last year in my home state of Pennsylvania. The Amish families then attended the murderer’s funeral in the extremity of their own grief. I judge that act of faith and forgiveness to be an amazing gift- indeed, the restoration of dignity to the surviving family of a murderer.
I gain strength and hope for the future as I recall the dignity I have experienced and witnessed. I trust that this virtue will continue to be an anchor for me during the trials in my lifetime.
This I believe.
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