Inspiration’s furnace – my July 2020 #YearOfTheNurseAndMidwife #NurseBloggers2020 blogpost

The millennium centre in Cardiff is a particularly impressive building. Every step of it’s design has been thought through in forensic detail and even the slate used comes from 6 different quarries, each situated in North Wales.

Poet Gwyneth Lewis wrote the now famous words that adorn the outside of the building; words that pierce the Cardiff Bay skyline, each letter 6ft high, shining through the specially treated glass. The Welsh is not a literal translation of the English: “Creu Gwir fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen” Lewis gives the translation as “Creating truth like glass from inspiration’s furnace”.

Lewis chose not to simply translate the English words from the Welsh. She wanted the English words to be distinct and have their own statement. The English reads “In these Stones Horizons Sing” – she says they literally do sing; now in their current resting place they hold the echoes of countless performances. Those stones that once lay across Wales, weave history together in celebration of the arts and the rich culture that we are part of.

The 6 quarries are not far away really from the small village of Llanycil. With a little imagination and poetic license, we may even ask if some of them heard the cries of a little baby girl born in 1789; did they know of the grief just 5 years later when that little one’s mother died? Betsi Cadwaladr is that little girl I’m talking about. She grew up near Bala, in a small village. Her father was a Methodist Minister and we know some of her story in those early years. How she got fed up working as a maid and went to Liverpool and eventually stumbled across the opportunity to travel. She was to return and leave several times over the course of her life to her homeland but hers was a life of adventure.

We are told that during her time traveling she was drawn to the sick and injured. However, it was many years before she completed her nurse training at St Thomas and, at the age of 65, she joined the military nursing service. Her plan? To go to the Crimea. However, Florence Nightingale quickly put a stop to that plan and instead she went to Turkey. They famously clashed, but eventually Florence Nightingale did give her credit for her work and accepted that she had made a valuable contribution to elevating the standards in her hospital. She was certainly tenacious and determined to give a high standard of care and change the poor practices she saw around her. She had an eye for detail and a plan. One that would see reforms and better care. She was a nurse and she lived her passion.

Betsi Cadwaladr is just one of the nurses who has left a legacy that inspires. Maybe think of a nurse from the past that inspires you. Which of their qualities, their character and their work do you want to carry forward; and what do you think is best admired and appreciated from the distant position of the future? For not everything belongs in the here and now. What would the stones have sung as they passed by and went about their day to day work?

So back to the furnace… a furnace burns all the rubbish but leaves the precious metals and even those it melts. When we look at the past – at the precious fragments of our nursing history I am drawn to wonder what is set to last. If we put them into “inspiration’s furnace” what will come out and, more to the point, in what form? For a furnace doesn’t just purify and melt… what comes out takes on a new form. A form that is designed for a future use.

I think this month I will think about some of these ideas and think what will come out when I throw these qualities into inspiration’s furnace. And I wonder what form they will take as I take them into the future. We have so much that is rich from what has come before us and we have our own stories to live out and write during this part of history. Right now, we’re literally living it! Maybe I’ll blog about it sometime.

I’d love to hear what you think.

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