Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST April 6th 2020

Dear Participants,

We want to start by acknowledging that we all just experienced something very difficult. Despite our efforts to increase security over the last few days, obviously we were unsuccessful, and what we feared would happen, did. We share your horror and we need to extend apologies and solidarity in acknowledging the hateful act we experienced today. 

We will be pausing all of our upcoming sessions while we explore new options to make our meetings more secure. As we hope most of you know, creating the safest spaces possible is of utmost priority for us. We worry a lot about this new virtual world we find ourselves in now, and while we very much want to continue to do this work with you — we feel how vital it is in this moment — we also want to do it as securely as we can.

Please check back on our blog in the coming week with updates on our new course of action — rest assured we will be working to get back up and running, in some form, as soon as possible. 

In the meantime, although we had to cut the session short, we want to share the prompt we had planned on using following our discussion of this session’s text – “The Mailman” by Nazim Hikmet. The prompt was: “Write a letter you’d like to deliver.” When you can and if you wish, please take a few minutes to write to this prompt. We encourage you, as well, to post what you write below. 

The full text we read in our session is posted below. So many of you shared such wonderful things in response to the poem; we all looked to the different ways in which the mailman carries his messages of hope “in the bag of my heart,” “heaven is in my bag,” and “a mailman bears all manner of pain.” We also spoke about the presence of landscape as a place in which life occurs, and how everything seems to be packaged into this landscape. We discussed the sense of motion and travel (carrying news, crossing the Bering Strait), the different metaphors of what the mailman carries, both the political and the deeply personal dimensions of the poem as well as the construction of the city and the different perception from within and outside of it. Our participants pointed to the parallels between the challenges of the mailman and those of healthcare professionals delivering news to patients and families – a context that resonates with so many of us, especially during this difficult time. 

In our session today, we read about a mailman’s travels and deliveries. We are determined that our message and work continues to reach you.


The Narrative Medicine Team

The Mailman, Nazim Hikmet  from Hungarian travel notes
Author(s): NAZIM HIKMET, Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk
Source: The American Poetry Review, Vol. 23, No. 2 (MARCH/APRIL 1994), pp. 38-39
Published by: Old City Publishing, Inc.

Whether at dawn or in the middle of the night,
I've carried people news
– of other people, the world, and my country,
of trees, the birds and the beasts –
in the bag of my heart.
I've been a poet,
which is a kind of mailman.
As a child, I wanted to be a mailman,
not via poetry or anything
but literally – a real mail carrier.
In geography books and Jules Verne's novels
my colored pencils drew a thousand different pictures
of the same mailman– Nazim.
Here, I'm driving a dogsled
over ice,
canned goods and mail packets
glint in the Arctic twilight:
I'm crossing the Bering Strait.
Or here, under the shadow of heavy clouds on the steppe,
I'm handing out mail to soldiers and drinking kefir.
Or here, on the humming asphalt of a big city,
I bring only good news
and hope.
Or I'm in the desert, under the stars,
a little girl lies burning up with fever,
and there's a knock on the door at midnight:
The little girl opens her big blue eyes:
her father will come home from prison tomorrow.
I was the one who found that house in the snowstorm
and gave the neighbor girl the telegram.
As a child, I wanted to be a mailman.
But it's a difficult art in my Turkey.
In that beautiful country
a mailman bears all manner of pain in telegrams
and line on line of grief in letters.
As a child, I wanted to be a mailman.
I got my wish in Hungary at fifty.
Spring is in my bag, letters full of the Danube's shimmer,
the twitter of birds,
and the smell of fresh grass –
letters from the children of Budapest
to children in Moscow.
Heaven is in my bag . . .
One envelope
"Memet, Nazim Hikmet's son,
Back in Moscow I'll deliver the letters
to their addresses one by one.
Only Memet's letter I can't deliver
or even send.
Nazim's son,
highwaymen block the roads –
your letter can't get through.

Narrative Medicine Book Club, April 6, 2020

This quote made me think about the many ways we’ve seen populations of people around the world respond to our plague, swiftly or not-so-swiftly accepting “the idea of the disease.” In today’s pages Camus continues to explore the beginning stages of the way this is hitting Oran — shops and offices close, and “many people, …reduced to inactivity, …filled the streets and cafés.” They go to the movies! And the grocer who “stockpiled supplies so he could sell them at a large profit,” found with tins of food under his bed when they took him to the hospital. We have all been seeing behaviors that echo these (as well, of course, as behavior that is in effect the opposite). I was touched too by the conversation with the journalist who is now trapped in Oran, separated from the woman he loves — “‘I wasn’t put on this earth to make reports; but perhaps I was put on earth to live with a woman.'” We are all also experiencing now, for better and worse, the ways our moment is forcing us to wrestle with what really matters; also how difficult it can be to grasp these things, even if we can recognize what they are.

FOR TOMORROW: Read next 7 pages, up to the end of the paragraph that begins “Outside the rain…”