I have been reading this book about Betsy Cadwaladyr, an amazing Welsh lady, who worked as a nurse in the Crimea but was never as famous as Florence Nightingale. What has struck me through reading this is how Betsy is pigeon holed as a “Balaclava Nurse” and yet she did so much more. She left home before she was 10 and hired herself out as a maid. She leaves North Wales in her teens and works as a maid, cook, lady’s maid, and more, in London. She is still under 20 when she is hired as a lady’s maid and general dogsbody on a merchant ship. She sails to Australia. New Zealand, Singapore, India, South America and more. She doesn’t just stay on board ship but takes up any opportunity to travel inland in these various countries. She is bold enough to tell her different employers what she thinks and will take no nonsense from anyone. She gets various offers of marriage but turns them down because she wants to travel. She doesn’t accept anything that distracts from her vision of traveling. She isn’t afraid of anything.
There is so much more to Betsy Cadwaladyr than being a Balaclava nurse. I am nearly 3/4 if the way through the book and Betsy is back working in London after losing lots of money and being called a liar by her merchant boss. She doesn’t put up with nonsense there even if that means she has to stop traveling. She has not yet got into nursing or gone to Crimea.
It got me wondering how many people we judge on what we see them as at a certain moment in time. For instance I love the people who attend my writing groups because meet these people who live in my town, who are often over 60, often seem set in their ways, then as they get to know each other, as they write, as they share, the tales appear of their past lives, of the amazing things they have done before getting to my dining table to write. It would be so easy to judge them as they are but that is not who they fully are.
It can be too easy to box someone, to stay they are – as in Betsy’s case – a Balaclava nurse but to miss the strength of character that got her to that point. So let us all please be careful in judging what we see at the moment – whether it is people we think we know well, people we meet in passing, people we hear about from others, and remember that everyone has a past that has got them to their present. We need to be open to hear more than what their biggest achievement is. Though I am tempted to wonder if going to nurse in the Crimea was really Betsy’s biggest achievement. Maybe it was walking out of a good employment because they were rude to her, turning down offers of marriage because she wanted more than, maybe it was saying Yes and saying No to things and following her heart. Yes that is the thing I notice most in Betsy’s story; she followed her heart each time.
So let us not judge,. Let us really listen to others when we talk with them. Let us really see what they have done. Let us also do that with ourselves. I might be here and now but I have a huge past behind me that has led me to here too.
But most importantly also let each of us be brave enough to follow our hearts and not do what we think we ought to do.