Lessons from Charlotte

One of my favorite stories is EB White‘s Charlotte’s Web. I found myself reading it again recently and even though I know how it ends, I find myself crying every time. By the standards of nursing school, I realize Charlotte’s Web is not tough academic stuff. In that moment, however, my brain enjoyed a break from the rice cakes of professional literature to savor the mind candy of a good book. Charlotte’s Web isn’t really such a simple story, though, is it? Among the many things I love about it are the woven in principles of self-esteem, courage, identity, loss, and new beginnings. I love Charlotte and her firm yet empathetic ways and Wilbur as he timidly discovers self-worth and the value of friendship. My favorite, however, has always been the hyper verbal goose prone to clang associations. The plot and the characters in Charlotte’s Web, while based in a simple enough tale, truly are a case study in chronic illness and psychology.

A scene from the end of the book came to mind in our leadership class during a conversation about choosing a focus for IP and practice specialties. As I looked around the room at faces and personalities I’ve grown to love over the past three years, I saw a hypothetical image of Charlotte’s babies as they all floated away. They wave goodbye to Wilbur as they are carried off by the breeze, sailing away to start their lives wherever the currents would lead them. Soon enough, that will be the Ashland campus class of 2013. For the last three terms our class has been broken into smaller groups but for NUR412, Leadership and Outcomes Management, we have come back together as a whole class learning to be the innovators of the future of nursing. During that time, I sense there has been a change in the group dynamic. While it is fun to see one another again, the senior year focus is more about closing our chapter as a student and growing into professionals of our own right. We have started the process of becoming colleagues, not classmates. At this point in the program, the focus is not the group, but instead the future of our nursing careers and lives. While it is sad, I think this is a good thing. This is what nursing school prepares us for.

Glancing around the room I envision the paths my fellow classmates and I will follow. I can’t wait to see the directions life will blow us as we begin to build our career web of networks. For some perhaps the words “ER”, “OB”, or “Psych Nurse” is spelled out in big bold letters. For others “CCU”, “ICU”, “NICU”, may be more fitting. Some may venture out of the hospital setting altogether and find their paths in the community and in the schools. Others will pursue graduate degrees, “FNP”, “DNP”, or “MSN” written boldly behind their names. We all have the capability to become the leaders and providers of tomorrow, initiating the changes that improve the future of health care. I think of the potential and the great things the people in our class will do and see and it makes me smile.

Charlotte’s Web ends with a simple line. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both (White, 1952).” For me, the beauty of Charlotte and the brilliance behind the story is that one small spider and a group of good friends forever changed a life through compassionate and skillful action. As I stared at a class full of compassionate and skillful potential nurses, with futures only the sky can limit, I imagine I feel a little bit like Wilbur right now. I will miss the way things were, but also look forward to what the future holds.

White, E. (1952). Charlotte’s web. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

3 responses to “Lessons from Charlotte

  1. Thank you, Elizabeth for your insightful writing regarding Charlotte’s Web and the lessons learned. This was always one of my favorite books as a kid, and made me cry too. It will be interesting 125 years from now, to look back and see how the training provided our students — as it continues to evolve — prepares for future generations in healthcare.

  2. While the book is sad, I love how it ends on a hopeful note, with Charlotte’s children. There could be 125 great-great grand-spiders by now! What a gem of a book.

  3. Thanks for this Lesson from Charlotte. I’m in my final year of nursing school at the Portland campus. I’m not exactly sure how many miles apart our campuses are, but at least 125.
    I, too, wonder where my classmates and I will land, but I know that whichever path we take, we will touch many lives along the way.

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