Don’t give up your innocence.
I was watching my daughter and one of her best friends play at the cabin over the weekend, and it brought me right back to my youth. My best friend and I spent every moment together. We laughed, we talked about boys, we made plans. We were innocent in the best possible way.
Fast forward MANY years later, I had been working as a registered nurse for a few years and I wanted to push my comfort zone. I applied for a position to work in the emergency department which was something I always wanted to do. I had spent time there as a college student and it was the most fun I had ever had at work. I couldn’t wait to start.
Now let me explain a little about the ER, in case you’ve been lucky enough to avoid much time there. Oftentimes when people come to the hospital, they are not at their finest. They don’t feel well, they are anxious, and they don’t always present themselves as their best self. In other words, people can be short-tempered, pissed off, and at times plain old mean. There are also people who use this system as a place to get their next high. Or they come in high after they had an accident or did something stupid. I’ve seen ALL KINDS in the ER, in fact I used to work with a doctor who called it Emergistan, like we were our own country with a wild, wild west culture. We were.
When I started, I was naïve, completely innocent to this world. I trusted everyone. I believed everything. I never hesitated to give the benefit of the doubt to every situation. And none of this was for lack of intelligence. In seven years of college and grad school, I had one B, my lowest grade – in environmental science, because I didn’t go most days (ya know, 8 am class)! My innocence came from growing up in a small town, with the best family and friends a girl could ask for.
I felt stupid when someone came in with a giant sob story and I walked out thinking, that poor thing, only to find out they told my partner the same story two nights before trying to get pain medication. I began to hate my innocence. I started trusting less and less. It didn’t happen overnight, I needed to reverse 30 years of thinking. But slowly, I started walking into work more and more jaded, adding more and more armor every shift.
This armor became heavier and heavier, not just as people lied, manipulated, and took advantage. Those things became almost comical. What wasn’t was the hurt that I witnessed day in and day out. People losing their babies. Rape victims. Child abuse. Gunshot victims, some who didn’t make it. Suicide. The death of a coworker and friends’ child. Telling her what little I knew over the phone. Taking care of one of the most amazing nurses I have ever known when she became chronically ill.
I left the ER shortly after that last one, to move on in my career. But I carry all those things. And I wish for the innocence of my 10-year-old self. Now, in the clinic, I don’t experience the intensity of the cases I have in the past. The armor I had built up has slowly fallen away one well-child visit at a time. As I build relationships now with patients, instead of seeing the worst and then never having follow-up, I can let go of the gravity of that other world. I will never be that naïve nurse again, but I have softened again and it feels good.
As we age, innocence becomes something that is almost despised. I felt guilt for being naïve. People are shamed for it. But I think if people returned to some of their innocence they would be better off for it. I get it, by the time we’ve been around for decades, we’ve seen our fair of shit. We’ve been through things. I’VE been through things. But I don’t want to live in those moments. I want to live in the moments of trusting, of kindness, of love. And those moments are found when we assume nothing, or even better when we assume people are doing the best they can.
Do I do this perfectly? Never. But every year of my life that goes by reminds me, I choose how I go forward. I choose if I want to embrace the 10-year-old self or the worn ER nurse. My daughter and my memories know the right way. You do too. Go back. Remember a time when you were carefree, when you lacked judgement, when you had dreams and big plans. You can. Choose happiness through innocence.