How loud does someone’s life’s calling have to be? Does it have to boom like ear-splitting thunder? Can it be acknowledged through a whisper as quiet as a newborn’s sigh? Maybe it can simply be heard in the everyday conversation of someone who loves his work and wants to communicate to others the joy he has found in knowing that each and every day he is doing exactly what he was put on this earth to do.

At some point in our journey through life, each of us will feel compelled to stop for a minute and think about our existence on this planet. Each of us will have to take self-inventory of the good and the bad in our lives, the obstacles we triumphantly overcame and the ones we had to accept and work around. The laborer will have to do it; the coach will have to do it; so will the billionaire, the doctor, the teacher, the actor and the nurse. Hopefully, we will reflect on many more good things than bad, because experience will have taught us that even the smallest drop of oil can taint the bluest of oceans.

For some of us, pursuing our life’s calling does not involve taking the easy road. For those of us who have chosen the profession of nursing, our calling lies in the task of making better the day-to-day existence of others. The handshakes and smiles given and received, the care and concern of patients and families help smooth the road and build a solid foundation of support that strengthens both the caregiver and the ones he cares for.

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The times in which we live have yet to fully accept the path of the black male nurse. He must do his part to prove to his family, his patients and himself that the modern black man truly knows compassion. He must continue to put his best foot forward, chancing the pain of bruised and broken toes.

Touching Lives, One by One

The child with terminal cancer looks up at the nurse at his bedside and surely he does not know what paths have brought them together to meet this way. This child expects nothing but the best care his nurse can offer, and through focus and belief in what he does, that’s all the nurse can give. The family’s tears that seem to have drained them dry and the scarce laughter that seems to be as hard to find as a cure for this cruel disease are all shared by their nurse. Their experiences are not the same, but a quiet understanding passes between them through sincere eye contact and the exchange of warm hugs.

The teenager recovering from knee surgery needs a sympathetic ear to hear his stories from Friday night’s game. He wants so badly to tell someone how he should have gone long and cut outside instead of into the grasp of that merciless linebacker. This young man needs reassurance that his dream of being a star athlete has not died. He knows his parents love and support him, but he needs to hear it from the black man at his bedside who has stimulated his curiosity with this career choice. After sharing laughs and tales of past experiences, the boy sleeps and the nurse again takes pride in his gift of comfort.

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Then there is the elderly black man in the nursing home who greets his nurse every morning with a handshake and a wink of wisdom. The struggle of his past is validated by this young man, and the struggle of his morning activities—dressing, eating, walking—is eased by the care he receives from his black male nurse. In this young man, still early in his life’s journey, he sees his son, he sees hope and he sees what was often barely visible in the past: compassion. The day that lies ahead for this elderly man is busy and tiring at times. But he knows that at the end of this day he will rest with a chest full of well-earned air and a heart full of gratefulness for the care he received.

At the end of the shift, the nurse and his coworkers gather at the nurses’ station for reflection on the day’s tasks. Everyone’s story deserves undivided attention in order to ensure cohesiveness on this day and many more days to come. He appreciates the respect of his peers and he can’t help but reflect on the journey that has brought him to work with such wonderful people. He swells with pride, knowing that day in and day out he is truly making a difference in the lives of his fellow human beings.

How loud does someone’s life’s calling have to be? Not loud at all. Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be expressed with words. Its strength lies in its reserved quietness. Its power is communicated through a humble yet effective existence that transcends pain and offers a hand to ease suffering. It is a calm that lends itself to others, a peace too powerful to be beaten down. It is as simple as looking into a patient’s eyes and realizing that this is the reason why this black male nurse chose to heed his life’s great call.

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Benjamin Green Jr., RN, graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) School of Nursing in 1997. He is currently employed as a staff nurse at the VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

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