The Sick Child I by Edvard Munch, 1896, lithograph, Bergen Kunstmuseum

The Original Beauty

Part V of The Religious Sense at Work series: the witness of a pediatric home care nurse

The Religious Sense at Work is a weekly limited series that explores the way our communal reading of The Religious Sense informs and illuminates our experience of work.

The School of Community work this year has been pivotal in generating a new awareness in living and thus also in working. The invitation to observe myself in action, to pay attention to the way I move, I do things, I react, I look at reality, has been surprisingly revelatory. It has been humbling to recognize how I am full of biases, preconceptions, and reductions. I have been surprised to recognize the roots of my infinite desire and the need for meaning that originally informs my every action, even when I am not fully aware of it. Many times, this work has been unsettling and even painful. This work has required me to break the schemes I typically hide behind to avoid the strikes of reality – definitions about myself, others, and about reality (this is what makes a “good” wife, mother, friend, nurse, job, etc.). This conversion from the “idea” of me to the discovery of the truth of me is happening through the grace of the work on The Religious Sense, and through some specific friendships, and it is changing the way I live everything, including work.

I work as a home care pediatric nurse. I take care of two patients at their homes during the week and a few weekends a month. I work in a respite home for kids with disabilities. The kids (or young adults) I work for typically have chronic diseases that make them sick enough to need a nurse but stable enough to be allowed to live in their home.

The time I spend with my patients is mostly dedicated to tasks that can be considered boring and repetitive. The core of my job is to keep my patients stable as long as possible. I am required to strictly follow their daily plan: treatments, medications, and general care. The romantic idea of taking care of a needy child clashes against the simple and unexciting reality of long daily shifts where I mostly change diapers, give baths, administer medications and treatments, and make sure that everything is as it should be. However, the experience I live is much more than a repetition of tasks.

When I risk myself, that is, my heart with all its infinite desires, I am more open to receiving the reality in front of me and paying attention to all the details. In my work, this has very concrete consequences. I become more “tuned” to reality itself and, therefore, I move in a more effective way, recognizing my patient’s needs and finding creative ways to answer them. I find myself more present, engaged, and resourceful, even using my nursing knowledge in a better way! At the same time, I am also freer to recognize my limits and my mistakes and to ask for help when needed. New “evidences” emerge as well, pointing clearly to the fact that my patients are not defined by their diseases, even from a professional point of view. I am also pointed to the fact that it is possible to live a relationship that is fully human, meaningful, and joyful even when there is no verbal communication or no apparent intellectual connection. When my heart is open, moments of grace happen and my patients become part of the journey to discover What and Who fulfills my heart. Communion and unity with them happen, because the relationship with them becomes a space of joy and pure love. It becomes a place of hope. In the precise instances in which I cannot take away their physical pain, the experience of a Love that is not defeated by suffering fills the heart with a beauty and a hope that is certain.

I also see how the relationship with my patients’ families becomes truer and deeper. Lives are changed when a serious disability enters into the family dynamic and many questions emerge, such as: “What is the meaning of these lives and their suffering?”, “Why such an undeserved pain?”, “Will they ever be happy and fulfilled?”, “Can they experience love?”, “Will this parent be able to live life fully, be happy and at peace again?” All these questions challenge the habitual knowledge of what a successful, accomplished life is. Facing these dramatic circumstances, and the apparent negation of everything that a human being desires, the “I” is broken open in a very raw way and the search for answers is acute. The seeming hopelessness of the situation brings out the intense need for hope. The seeming lack of reasons for such unjustified suffering brings out the need for a meaning. Their radical needs are exactly the same as mine, so their questions become mine too. It has been an incredible opportunity to absorb their cry and commune with them along the journey and to experience, always anew, that the answer to those questions happens. I always pray to be a witness of what is happening in my heart so that they can be part of that too.

When I live in this position, there is no day that ends without gratitude. While I am working, I often stop and look at myself wondering where my deep sense of peace, joy, satisfaction, and freedom comes from. Most of the time I am not doing anything noticeable other than being present. So, it must be that in the space between my open heart and the reality in front of it, Jesus restores the original Beauty. I often get to the end of the shift where it seems that nothing has happened whereas, in specific and concrete moments, what is essential to live has happened, filling my heart and therefore a portion of the world.

In the work on The Religious Sense, I discovered something new: that my “I” is often different from the ideas I have about myself, and so is reality. Growing up in CL, I know well that I am made for the infinite and I am made of infinite desires, but it is something different to start to feel this, perceiving it in all its power. From a generic thought or afterthought about myself, the true structure of my “I” has become a more present, acute, and dramatic awareness. To live with all that in the open, not censored or boxed in schemes that I have built, can be raw, unpredictable, and certainly intense, but I am finding that the only way I can live is to be fully present in the reality I am given. If I am not aware of what my heart carries within, of what it is made for, I cannot be open to recognizing it and receiving it in the encounter with the concrete reality that continuously calls me.

Ilaria, Kensington, MD