In the front hallway of my home, I have two treasured posters that I acquired over 30 years ago.
One poster says, “Not all women wore love beads in the sixties.” It depicts a set of military dog tags and a statue of a Vietnam-era nurse. The second poster features the beautiful Vietnam Women’s Memorial sculpture, which now has a place of honor on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The story behind the 10-year drive to create this memorial is told in "Healing Wounds: A Vietnam War Combat Nurse’s 10-Year Fight to Win Women a Place of Honor in Washington, D.C.," the powerful book by Diane Carlson Evans, an Army nurse and founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. The story alone of the fight to establish the memorial makes this book a must-read. But Evans also writes about her experiences as a 22-year-old combat nurse, the patients and colleagues she would never forget and her journey of healing, which did not begin for over a decade after she returned home from the war.
As a military nurse, her story touches me deeply. I remember the campaign for the statue. And I remember my own military service.
Evans’ book and her account of the fight for recognition also reminds me of the healing power of telling our own stories. Evans says that as she sought to heal, her therapist told her she needed to think about the past, and “to write about it, talk about it.”
Shortly after I came home from my military deployment to Afghanistan, I was asked to talk about my experiences and the lessons I learned. My first reaction was to not look back. While I was proud of the experience, I was not yet ready to process it.
I find that many nurses right now are not keen on looking back on the experiences of the last year. Some have told me, “We just need to move on and get back to normal.” Many don’t want to revisit the distress, deaths, fear and difficulties of managing their work and home lives. But I wonder: If we don’t talk about it and process it, can we truly move forward? Can our community of exceptional nurses heal? And, just as importantly, can we learn from it? We don’t really want to go back to the “old normal,” do we?
I believe there is much to be gained in coming together to understand the good can come from what we have experienced. It’s also imperative that we delineate what must never happen again.
When I finally agreed to speak about my Afghanistan experience, I found that putting together a presentation, reflecting on my experiences and, more significantly, identifying lessons for the future were healing and enlivening.
Taking these first steps to tell my story also led to a 10-year exploration of a concept you’re familiar with — All In.
Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of talking with acute and critical care nurses all over the United States about their experiences this past year that were unlike any others. In these conversations I often encourage them to recount their stories and begin to create their future by filling in the phrase I’ve shared with you before:
This phrase is drawn from the wisdom of Roshi Joan Halifax, who spoke of wise hope, the idea that a “hopeful person sees the truth of uncertainty and the possibility that anything can happen, including the best.” It is through this uncertainty that we are called upon to act in the service of a hopeful future, toward healing and growth.
I see wise hope running through Evans’ book and in the motto of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial: “A Legacy of Healing and Hope.” Wise hope is also captured in your own powerful words — the words you have shared with me:
As I finish my term as AACN president, I encourage you to honor your experiences, to continue to share your stories, and to come together to engage in healing and wise hope.
This Is Our Moment — and I remain All In. I hope you do too.
I look forward to reading your stories, thoughts and ideas. Please send them to me at OurMoment@aacn.org.