Finally, years after buying it in the Florence Nightingale Museum at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, I’ve read “Suggestions for Thought,” a heavily edited version of the 800-page manuscript Nightingale wrote in her thirties. It was often a tough slog, even with the editors’ help, which accounts for my previous false starts, but I come away impressed with her intellect and views on everything from women’s place in the family (she’s bitter about it) to God, universal law and life after death.
As I writer, I was taken with her observation that, “Few, except Descartes, ever thought without a pen in their hands.” At first, I was puzzled by the reference to the philosopher, even read a bio and his “Discourse on the Method” in an effort to understand it. Maybe she’s referring to his statement that he had abandoned scholarship, “resolving to seek no knowledge except what I could find in myself or read in the great book of the world.” In another place, he says he “often found that something that seemed true when I first conceived it came to look false when I tried to write it down.”
As a nurse I, too, have spent many years studying the great book of the world but have to side with Nightingale about the value of thinking with pen in hand. Whether it’s on a post-it note, a yellow pad, the rough draft of a manuscript or an entry in this notebook, that’s where I find out what I’m thinking and (like Descartes) what’s true and what isn’t.