Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST April 13th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined the April 13th virtual live session. It was so great to be with 57 people joining in from Australia, Brazil, Canada, and across the continental USA.

Our text for the session, “Last Letter to My Son” by Nazim Hikmet, is posted below. Choosing today’s text is a gesture toward continuity with Hikmet’s “The Mailman”, which we read last Monday before needing to end our virtual session abruptly. Just as the poem’s father and son are separated, we, too, are separated over long distances and yearning to connect. Sharing the poem this evening also seemed like a mutual, simultaneous delivery of Hikmet’s precious letter.

Reading aloud, two volunteers gave voice to thoughts and feelings embedded in the poem. Closely reading for language and craft, participants pointed to the blending of darkness and light, commonalities among all beings and things,and the experience of being alone, especially now. Multiple participants noted the repetition of “but people above all” (four times in 23 lines). Others highlighted the father’s call for his son to respect where he lives, by invoking “your father’s house,” which someone suggested could refer to an earthly or a heavenly father. The facilitators were moved by the comment about grief being for “what was not dead but rather what was dying” and by someone calling today’s text “a lesson in connection.” As we moved throughout the text, we kept returning to the first word: Still. One person spoke of the various uses of “still” as “ongoing” or “motionless.”

This session’s prompt was: Write about a habit worth cultivating.

Participants’ writings included habits of journaling, keeping still, listening (as a language to convey what is not possible to put into words), looking both inward and outward, making a clearing, and fostering compassion —a suffering with — so that compassion becomes a way of walking with others.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), 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: Wednesday, April 15th at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

From “Last Letter to My Son” by Nazim Hikmet
From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, trans. Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk. NY: Persea Books, 1994 (revised 2nd ed., 2002).

                it's no fun
                                    to startle in the middle of work sometimes
or count the days
                     before falling asleep alone.
You can never have enough of the world,
                     Memet, never enough . . .
Don't live in the world as if you were renting
or here only for the summer,
but act as if it was your father's house . . .
Believe in seeds, earth, and the sea,
but people above all.
Love clouds, machines, and books,
but people above all.
                    for the withering branch,
                                    the dying star,
                                                       and the hurt animal,
                    but feel for people above all.
Rejoice in all the earth's blessings –
darkness and light,
the four seasons,
but people above all.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 13, 2020

In today’s pages we begin to explore what feels like the next inevitability of the situation as Camus is unfolding it: the existence of a blackmarket, back-alley system for getting goods and services. Rambert, who is still wanting to get to his love in Paris, teams up with Cottard, who takes him to a café to see a man who can possibly arrange for his escape. To me this scene felt inevitable; if you set a ball rolling down a hill in a certain direction, you can be sure of certain outcomes. As we spoke about yesterday in our meeting, this is how Camus’ allegory seems to stay so closely aligned with our actual moment: because it is true that in any moment of large and systematic societal crisis, these themes (of good and evil, of communication, of love and death) inevitably arise, and they play out in both predictable and unpredictable ways.  

FOR TOMORROW: Read next 7 pages (in section 9 in Part II), up to “‘Very useful,’ said the journalist, drinking in his turn.” 

Book Club halfway point thank you email!

Hello all! 

I woke up this morning just wanting to reach out to all of you to say thank you again for joining me on this book club adventure. Our meeting yesterday was such a pleasure, and I came away from it feeling so lifted up by the act of sharing conversation about this book with such smart people and good readers from all over the world, and mostly total strangers at that! It’s really an amazing thing, and I don’t take it for granted right now. So thank you. 

I know there are some on this note who actually weren’t in the meeting, either because it was locked by the time you tried to get on or for other reasons, but regardless I’m speaking to all of you because each of you is on this journey with us. For those who missed the meeting, we spoke about a range of things: Camus’ use of the word “abstraction,” and what he might or might not be saying about humanity’s search for meaning in an often meaningless world; the priest’s sermon, and the conversation between Rieux and Tarrou about belief in God and “the order of the world” being “governed by death”; the various relationships in the book so far, and also the way the characters do or do not communicate, the theme of silencing around trauma and the reduction of human speech and connection to the text of telegrams (and, in our moment, text messages and other forms); and of course the way Camus continues to track our plight while also maintaining a hold on an allegory that fundamentally wrestles with the phenomenon of evil and how to fight against it. It really was a wonderful conversation.

Also I wanted to share with you all the television series that I referenced at the end of the meeting because a couple of you have asked me about it — it’s called “A French Village” and it’s on Amazon Prime. I just watched the second episode last night and it continues to be very compelling and also to really speak to me of this book and of our moment in an interesting way. If any of you watch it, do let me know what you think! 

That’s all for now – really just wanted to send a word of thanks as we near the halfway point of the book.