Florence Nightingale had arrived at the library in their Embley Park estate early this summer morning in 1844. She could hardly sleep the night before after asking Dr. Ward Howe, an American guest her parents were hosting, to meet with her in the library this morning. Dr. Howe had noticed how interested she was in his work with the blind, education and public healthcare for the infirm.
As the 24-year-old Florence waited, she reflected on the calling she had received from God in February 7, 1837 on those very grounds. She was 16 at the time, and was constantly nursing the sick among her family and helping the poor. Her mother was always pushing her to find a suitable match and marry well. Florence felt that social pull, but she felt no more fulfilled than when she was helping others. And on that winter morning, she felt a clear impression that she was to do an important work. But what was the work?
The minutes passed, and Florence anxiously waited for Dr. Howe to arrive. She looked at the book covers in the library. She continued to recall that pivotal time. Shortly after she felt she received her calling, her family went on a long trip to the European continent. She had hoped for guidance, but no clear answer had come. Years had passed and she didn’t feel like she had followed that calling. She wanted to be known for doing something great, but shied away from being the center of attention. So what work was she supposed to be doing?
She watched the sun rise in the sky. Her quiet reflection continued. She had always wanted to be useful and help others. She gravitated to the young and the old since they needed to be served more frequently than other people. But a young women of her class was not supposed to take care of others. Nurses were never part of her families social standing.
As she waited and continued to ponder her time helping take care of babies and elderly woman, her familiar feelings of being useful and helping others came back stronger. Deep in her heart she knew her calling, but didn’t know how to get there … or if she could?
Dr. Howe walked into the library. After thanking him for coming, Florence asked the question she needed to ask.
“Dr. Howe, do you think it would be unsuitable and unbecoming for a young Englishwoman to devote herself to works of charity in hospitals and elsewhere as Catholic sisters do? Do you think it would be a dreadful thing?”
Dr. Howe was well aware of her mother’s intentions for Florence’s future. In deed, his wife and he had talked about that very subject the night before. However, his own conscience demanded he speak the truth regardless of propriety.
“My dear Miss Florence, it would be unusual, and in England whatever is unusual is apt to be thought unsuitable; but I say to you, go forward if you have a vocation for that way of life. Act up to your inspiration, and you will find that there is never anything unbecoming or unladylike in doing your duty for the good of others. Choose, go on with it wherever it may lead you, and God be with you.”
Not knowing what to do next, Florence knew her path would be difficult at best, but this encouragement and her personal conviction for a calling she had received seven years earlier gave her strength to carry on. She redoubled her efforts to help the infirm. Eventually she would tell her parents that she wanted to study nursing rather than marry a wealthy man and show people around the grounds. She eventually would not only save thousands of lives by improving hospital conditions during the Crimean War, but she would change the future of healthcare worldwide by the systems and observations she published during and after that war.
Your vision gives you direction, if you follow it. No matter what you choose to do, you need a vision to get you there. Choose today to evaluate where you want to go, and then make sure your daily choices help you get there.
Footnote: The quote in this story comes from FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE 1820-1856 A study of her life down to the end of the Crimean War, By I. B. O’MALLEY