When I started research for PURE GRIT—I wanted to know one thing. How did these women survive combat and prison camp? What kept them going for three long years never knowing if they would see their loved ones again? How did they keep hope alive?
I discovered the different nurses had various ways of keeping their spirits up and coping with the challenges that came on almost a daily basis. But one thing they all had in common was a greater purpose.
They were strong, independent, adventurous women, but they were also caregivers. Their mission was to treat the wounded and sick, to save lives if they could and to bestow comfort on the dying. When they were captured POW and separated from the wounded soldiers in their care, they set up a hospital and cared for civilians in the prison camp who needed medical attention.
This purpose helped sustain the women. Though weak from hunger and diseased from malnutrition, they got up each morning and reported for duty.
Army Nurse Eunice Young wrote in her diary, “Our chief concern is food. People are actually dying of starvation….Haven’t the energy to write much for days…but we have to keep going to take care of the others.”
In November 1944, Navy Nurse Edwina Todd wrote that the hospital staff worried because they no long had strength to push the gurney used to move patients. “…carpenters were no longer able to make coffins, the grave-diggers to dig graves, the nurses literally pulled themselves up the stairs…When you bent to rub a patient’s back you wondered if you could straighten up again. You fell down a couple of times en-route to and from work.”
Navy Nurse Margaret Nash said, “We kept busy all the time and we didn’t have time to think about ourselves.”
I’m not a caregiver type and I doubt I will face the hardship duty these women did. But I have learned from them. They’ve inspired me to give thought to my own purpose. Not just broad overarching ideals like “make the world a better place” or “be loving and kind.” These nurses got down to the nitty-gritty of their mission, dealing with bodily fluids, sores that wouldn’t heal, children that cried and begged for food, and at one point, rats chewing on the dead bodies no one was strong enough to bury.
Working on a tough revision pales in comparison. On the other hand, writing well means cultivating difficult habits, like confronting what others shy from. Being still in a world of cacophony. Seeing the brokenness in a human life and letting it touch me.
It’s no good comparing another’s purpose. Each of ours will bring enough challenge to last a lifetime. But knowing your particular purpose and believing it is meant for you, will help keep hope alive in the tough times.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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