Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 2, 2020

The word “plague” is spoken for the first time in today’s pages. So interesting to see Rieux wrestling with his own consciousness, calming himself down, talking himself out of his darkest thoughts, all filtered through the narrator who knows everything that is about to happen. I’m struck by the talk of the historical plagues – that amazing list of ancient images that run through Rieux’s head – and the comparison between a “known” death and a statistic. Rieux attempting to imagine what 10k dead looks like (“five times the audience in a large theater”). “When one has fought a war, one hardly knows any more what a dead person is. And if a dead man has no significance unless one has seen him dead, a hundred million bodies spread through history are just a mist drifting through the human imagination.” This feels so very relevant to today, as more of us in today’s moment come to know the personal toll of our current plague, and see the conversation shifting back and forth between the personal and the statistical. And Rieux’s conclusion seems one that many healthcare providers are also, I imagine, finding comfort in, when they can: “This was certainty: everyday work. The rest hang by threads and imperceptible movements; one could not dwell on it.” 

FOR TOMORROW: read next 7 or so pages, ending with “…was turning her face to him.” 

Join our FIRST ZOOM CALL SUNDAY, 2pm Eastern, on the
Narrative Medicine Zoom!

Live Virtual Group Session: 7pm EST April 1st 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

Forty-nine people from around the world (Bahrain, United Kingdom, Qatar, other places typed into the chat?) gathered for an hour in Narrative Medicine’s Zoom Room to read the prologue to Planet of the Blind, Stephen Kuusito’s memoir of living with retinopathy, the result of his being placed in an over- oxygenated incubator soon after his premature birth.   

In the prologue (text posted below), readers meet Kuusito  with his dog Corky navigating Grand Central Station “a temple for Hermes…with no idea …how to find our train.” One Zoom participant responded to the renderings of a man, who is able to see “colors and shapes that seem windblown” and guides the sighted with words and images of “hemlock darknesses and sudden pools of rose-colored electric light.” A close reader drew our attention to a single word in the sentence, “There is something about us…” and considered the possible use of “aboutto reference subjects (in this case a man and his dog) or to point to what surrounds or is “about” them. Another participant noticed the many images, which the narrator conjured from nature: not only animals and hemlocks but also a gibbous moon as he walks through the vaulted railway station. One person liked that he invoked his dog’s name four times. Another mentioned the narrator’s reference to himself and Corky as two slow moving sea lions. She noted that those creatures are awkward on land but, in their element, are graceful and strong. For one reader this text evoked another text. She drew a parallel between Virgil guiding Dante and the railway employee offering to guide the memoirist.

On Zoom we had two senses: vision and hearing, yet, guided in words through the scene, we were able to feel “a breeze from Jerusalem” and a gentle touch when Kuusito decides to trust a stranger, take his elbow, and welcome readers “to the planet of the blind.”

After twenty minutes of discussion, we wrote to the prompt: “Write about your planet.”

Before inviting people to read, the facilitators asked people to respond to each other’s work as they had to the published work, not interviewing the writer or asking more of a piece than what it can furnish in four minutes of writing.

Three people read aloud and a dozen responded to their renderings of “our”planet (as one person wrote) with children playing and flowers blooming; a grocery store aisle where the narrator is afraid of the virus and afraid to talk to another shopper; and a backyard with deer and giant birds (related to dinosaurs), a planet preserved for wildlife.  

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below, to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session: Friday April 3rd at 6pm EST, with more times to be announced shortly.

As before, due to the wonderful turnout for these sessions, we encourage you to join as promptly as possible: After a ten minute grace period, we will be closing the Zoom session to preserve the integrity of the session for those joined. If you try to join past that time and are unable, we encourage you to join the next session! More times and opportunities will be announced soon.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

I’ve entered Grand Central Station with guide dog Corky, my yellow Labrador. We stand uncertain, man   and dog collecting our wits while thousands of five o’clock commuters jostle around us. Beside them,   Corky and I are in slow motion, like two sea lions. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in the ocean, and   here in this railway terminal, where pickpockets and knife artists roam the crowds, we’re moving in a   different tempo. There is something about us, the perfect poise of the dog, the uprightness of the man, I   don’t know, a spirit maybe, fresh as the gibbous moon, the moon we’ve waited for, the one with the new  light.

So this is our railway station, a temple for Hermes. We wash through the immense vault with   no idea about how to find our train or the information kiosk. And just now it doesn’t matter. None of the   turmoil or anxiety of being lost will reach us because moving is holy, the very motion is a breeze from Jerusalem.

 This blindness of mine still allows me to see colors and shapes that seem windblown; the great   terminal is supremely lovely in its swaying hemlock darknesses and sudden pools of rose-colored electric   light. We don’t know where we are, and though the world is dangerous, it’s also haunting in its beauty.   Even to a lost man with a speck of something like seeing, this minute here, just standing, taking in the air   as a living circus, this is what tears of joy are for.

 A railway employee has offered to guide me to my train. I hold his elbow gently, Corky heeling   beside us, and we descend through the tunnels under the building. I’ve decided to trust a stranger.

 Welcome to the planet of the blind.      

Kuusito, Stephen. Planet of the Blind (1998) New York: Dial Press.