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Everyday Acts Of Heroism

--Kozo Hattori, on Feb 5, 2015

Ann-Marie Bauer PhotoI’ve never met Anne-Marie Bauer, but within minutes of listening to her speak on this week’s Awakin Call, she felt like a sister. I suspect that the children, parents, and caretakers in the pediatric ward where she works as a nurse feel the same way. As all those who have been blessed with her presence attest, Anne-Marie embodies a compassionate care for all who come into her field.

Anne-Marie gives credit to two main role models of compassion in her life who also led her to her current path of nursing. Her mother who was a single parent of six children worked long hours as a home health aid, yet still had time to shower love on her children after an exhausting day. In addition, when Anne-Marie was 18 years old, she shadowed her aunt who was a nurse at a Neuro-ICU unit. Although many of the patients in this unit were in very critical stages or comatose, her aunt showed tremendous joy, empathy, and care for these patients that had a profound effect on young Ann-Marie.

Listening to how Anne-Marie, her mother, and her aunt sow seeds of love and compassion wherever they go made me realize that we are surrounded by heroes. Every day, countless individuals perform miraculous acts of healing and kindness that spread throughout our communities in ways both seen and unseen. In the interview, Ann-Marie unveiled how each of us can become everyday heroes in our own unique way.

Show Up

Sometimes heroes don’t necessarily do anything; they are just present. The power of presence is often overlooked. Heroism often requires us to be fully present in the face of suffering, fear, or routine.

In her daily interactions, Anne-Marie is constantly “tuning into the energy” she brings into a relationship: “What is it that you're bringing into that room? Are you bringing stress? Are you bringing in frustration? Or are you coming in with compassion and empathy? Are you checking yourself before you walk in and what are the thoughts that are in your mind?” As Audrey Lin said in a previous Awakin Call, “just your presence and the way you show up for things” can be a heroic act of kindness and service.

According to Anne-Marie meeting others with this “deep presence” opens the door to “seeing each other as equal and as experiencing this life together…there’s such aliveness and joyfulness.” Perhaps this aliveness and joyfulness sustains every day heroes through the long hours and exhaustion that often accompanies selfless service.
In regards to burnout, Anne-Marie says, “Self-compassion is key. You can't give from an empty pitcher. You always have to refill yourself and to find ways in which you can heal yourself in order to heal others.”

Don’t Forget the Small Things

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

In order to be a hero, one does not have to save the world or win a gold medal. Sometimes the greatest acts of heroism are the result of thousands of small acts that ripple out to affect millions. For example, Anne-Marie mentions the power of touch and the importance of simply giving someone a hug. “I feel that it is innate in us. We all have that healing capacity with touch.” Earlier in the call, Birju acknowledged Amma, the Hugging Saint, who has hugged over 34 million people in the course of her lifetime.

These small acts can include simply sitting with someone. Anne-Marie had a 17 year old AIDS patient who was suffering from not only physical pain, but also a fear of dying alone, so Anne-Marie just sat with her, held her hand, and asked her questions that allowed her to share her feelings. Just being there for someone can affect their thoughts, attitudes, and lives in ways we may never know.

hugging child

Another story about a small act that had long lasting effects for Anne-Marie occurred during her penultimate semester of nursing school, when she suffered intractable migraines to the point that she was going to drop out. She came home from school one day and her aunt had left the book The Little Engine That Could on the kitchen table. Her aunt told her “there is nothing that you can’t do; you just have to think you can and you will. You are limitless.” Yes, we are all limitless, especially when it comes to serving others with small acts.

Be Creative

Anne-Marie exemplifies how we all have unique talents that can serve others heroically. One of her shining qualities is creativity. “I work on a pediatric floor. So we’re constantly stretched to be creative, particularly with kids.”

Creativity combined with persistence can make a huge impact in any arena. While working in a large hospital in New York City, Anne-Marie met a lot of resistance and negative energy, so she asked her manager if parents and physicians could come together in a circle at the end of the day to acknowledge the things that went right. Some people shared and others felt too busy, so the circle fizzled.

gratitude treeUndaunted, Anne-Marie went back to her manager and said, “I know that didn’t work, but let’s see if I can try something else. How about a gratitude board?” They put up a big board were others could leave anonymous kindness notes for each other. Later she learned that the floor she had worked on became “such a happy place to be, where people were looking for excuses to do something for each other.” Proof that our creative acts of kindness can ripple out and affect countless individuals even after we are gone.

As you can see, anyone can be a hero if we show up with deep presence; focus on small acts of kindness, compassion, and service; and persistently find creative solutions to whatever problems we encounter. Every day heroes like Anne-Marie Bauer remind me of the saying, “Humankind. Be both.”