I am a frequent flyer. Of course, right now, I am not flying anywhere, at all. That is one of the great gifts of this pandemic for me. Flying is necessary for me as a bishop, much more than I ever suspected when I took it on. Once exciting, most plane travel has lost all of its glamor. Over the years I have gotten much calmer about flying. Not a whole lot rattles me. My wife, who does not fly near as much, is always indignant about this. In all my flying I have had tense moments, worried ones. But after going through enough of it, you begin to calm, or at least I do.
Here is what I do. I watch the crew. If the crew is calm, I am calm. If they can laugh through the thunderstorm and turbulence we are going through, so can I. By the same token, if they start to look worried, frantic, concerned, I pay a little more attention. This has worked for me.
And so now, in this most current turbulence, and in the midst of what I believe to be failed leadership in many important parts of our common life, I have decided that I am going to look to one person to be my leader through this crisis, one person I am going to heed, or give the highest attention to, as I consider my role, my actions, my strategy for these days.
That’s right. The nurse is my leader right now. Doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter where they head to work each day, as long as they head to work today, to somewhere. Like I watch a flight crew, I am watching them, listening to them, and literally feeding them. My wife and I have been regularly giving to a GoFund me page that is sending regular meals to front line medical professionals. It started with a $25000 goal and is now nearing $350000.
Go Fund Mefor meals for Front line workers.
This is the week of the Nurse, national nurses day just a few days back. Nurses were celebrated like we never have before, as well they should be.
I have lived with a nurse all my life. Literally. My paternal grandmother was a nurse, my mother is a nurse, my wife is a nurse, and teaches to prepare nurses now.
So many of our elected leaders are saying they are making “data driven” decisions. And I believe they believe that AND I also do not totally trust it. Some of the data seems to be the Dow Jones, or the hate mail in their email box about them “taking away my personal freedom” or their 401(k) plan. Or it might be the party line. There is way too much “party saving” going on, on both sides, than on human saving. I hate to be cynical, but right now, about this, I am. But not when it comes to the nurses, and really, let that word be a metaphorical captive of any front line worker, respiratory therapists, doctors, EMTs, fireman, policeman, grocery workers, delivery workers.
But the nurse, the people who have become not only caregivers, but families, who are not only providing medical care, but now counseling, grief response, last rites, connectors, holding up Ipads and Iphones as people say goodbye to someone they have loved and known their entire life, these are my leaders. It is not enough that nurses, and others on the front lines, have to work their physical bodies to exhaustion on our behalf, but now they are also having to hold the emotions of all those who are connected to the sick. They have, overnight, had to become counselors, pastors, social workers. No one else looks this virus, our enemy right now, in the face, like nurses.
And with all of that, some of our leaders have the gall to suggest that nurses “don’t really know what they are talking about” when they give us the score. I believe they do, more than anyone.
Somebody asked me the other day this very question. Who are you looking to for your information as you lead and direct? And without batting an eye I said, out loud, “nurses”.
When they are nervous, I am nervous. When they are concerned, I am concerned. When they are frustrated, I am frustrated. When they call on us to please stay home and help them help us, I am going to do it, and I am going to facilitate all in my charge to do it too.
I want to get “back” like everyone does. But I would like to get “back” with as many of our fellow humans as we can when we do. Getting “back” is going to take while, and in a way, we will never be “back” but as we make moves toward that, regardless of the sacrifice, I hope we will decide who our real leaders are going to be. I have mine. The Nurse.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.