Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT April 14th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

Today’s narrative journey started with an excerpt from the NY Times “Opinion” essay You Can Hear the Whistle Blow a Hundred Miles by Margaret Renkl, posted below. “Tell me something about this person” opened up our discussion of the female narrator who seemed to be on a train at night, and possibly in a state of uncertainty. On the surface, “I know you think I’m making this up” and “misremembering” made us consider the narrator’s reliability, and reflect on why/if that was problematic as reader/listeners. We returned to the text and recognized what was there (a book, a light, darkness, a harmonica) as well as what wasn’t there (people gazing at phones, iPads, or laptops). This created for us a sense of nostalgic sight-and-soundtracks that evoked camp songs, train songs, and a respect for the narrator’s imagination. We avoided the temptation to “diagnose” the narrator, although “My eyes suddenly too blurred to read” made us wonder if it was a moment of fatigue, sadness, crying, longing or a combination.

Our prompt for this session was: “Describe an aching kind of sound.”

One reflection was a brief-yet-detailed cinematic journey that started with a door creaking on hinges “as old as our relationship” and then shutting, as a figure lay in the bed under the sheets. We also heard a story that started with the excitement of impending birth and moved us through the fear and anxiety of labor as we heard the long, low, unearthly moan that signifies motherhood. Another reflection explored the aching sound of a childhood memory, being in bed and hearing a distant train whistle — silence that is heavy, broken by sadness and longing; but also feeling like a warm blanket, a time now lost bringing both ache and comfort. Another writer shared a moment while “chopping veggies” that quickly felt like being “cut to pieces” by the blaring sound of a song once “ours” no longer being shared. And one reflection brought us back to our present experience in “lockdown” when a plaintive melody once familiar, is now changed forever to a sound of grief for our losses.

A closing comment in the chat apropos to Narrative Medicine pointed out that each of us is like an individual instrument adding our voice or clear notes to the music, responding to the aching sounds/voices that we hear through our Narrative Work.

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday April 19th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

When they turned off the cabin lights and my seatmate closed her eyes to sleep, I tucked my book under my arm and made my way to the club car. There the overhead lights were off, too, but a single light shone above the table at each booth. A few people were reading. One was playing a hand of solitaire. I don’t remember if nobody was talking, or if the sound of the train moving down the tracks simply masked their quiet voices. “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone.”

As I made my way to an open booth, darkness gathered outside the windows and in the corners of the car. Darkness swept across the floor and curled around the ceiling, and that’s when an old man at the far end of the car started to play a slow, sad song on the harmonica. It was the kind of music that fills a silence with longing and gives a voice to loneliness, and without needing any words at all. The aching kind of sound you would swear you could hear a hundred miles.

I know you think I’m making this up, or only misremembering myself as the tragic heroine of a movie where Willie Nelson plays a cameo role. But this part of the story I remember perfectly. Those thin, plaintive notes reached through the shadows and found me as I sat down alone, my eyes suddenly too blurred to read.

Margaret Renkl, You Can Hear the Whistle Blow a Hundred Miles, NYT April 2021

11 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT April 14th 2021

  1. Patricia D.

    The door creaked even though he closed it as gently as he could.
    The hinges were as old as their relationship.
    He glanced back, just once, to memorize her figure
    sleeping silently between crisp white sheets.
    He signed, quietly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Derek E.

      Patricia, I love your writing. I think of a time my grandma told me about how she would hear her father’s footsteps coming up the stairs at night for a week following his passing. She felt that he was coming to check on her during her grief.


    • al3793

      Patricia, there had to be something powerful in their story, if with just one glance he could memorize her sleeping figure. A few short lines and we are given sound and sight and emotions are stirred. The image of the old hinges reflecting a relationship that was not merely lengthy. There is also a rhythm to the story that says something about what might have happened during the years of its existence. Thank you. Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  2. CSG

    Every time I hear a cello play, my ears perk up. Or do they widen sideways, melt a little? Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites, in particular, transport me to an immediate soul connection with her. The house resonated and vibrated and swelled wide open. That was the music that allowed her to express her emotion, the depths and the soaring, the beauty and the complexity. It’s a good kind of ache, a welcome one. I seek it out occasionally, but when I hear it coming out of nowhere — the radio, perhaps, or a link from an article about Yo Yo Ma playing at the vaccine clinic, I melt into a warm embrace and feel close to her spirit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • al3793

      This text is so warm and intimate. I wanted to know more. I like, “a good kind of ache,” and sound “coming out of nowhere” I think of a sound that the speaker would recognize even when 100 miles away. It would fill the silence of a great distance. Thank you. Andre


  3. An aching kind of sound~~~

    Sometimes when I lie in bed at night, I hear a sound off in the distance.
    The blaring sounds of the day have been hushed,
    the birds have settled in for the night.
    The silence lays heavy upon me.

    My mind is beginning to slow itself from the pace of the day
    and then I hear the sound.
    It is a faraway sound of a train whistle moving in the darkness of the night.
    The sound brings sadness,
    a longing to my heart.
    It reminds me of my childhood home in a distant place
    where the nightly sounds of train whistles would lull me to sleep.
    A comforting sound,
    almost like a warm blanket wrapped about me.

    Now when I hear this plaintive sound in the dark of night,
    there is an aching in my heart for those times past,
    a time of innocence,
    a time of simplicity.
    I exhale slowly.
    I long for those times again,
    a time now lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • al3793

      Michele, your speaker contrasts the same sound of the present with sadness, nostalgic for the same sound of youth that soothes, comforted by a warm blanket wrapped around her. But she seems comforted in the present by the return to innocence, simplicity and slow breathing at least in memories that seem real. Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  4. al3793

    When I stand in the mountain forest among the gilded aspens and the green topped lodgepole pines and the air is still there is no sound.

    But when the wind blows just the right way and I am standing there and the branches touch and rub together they make an achy creak.

    And if the dark of night curls up around them the sound is eerie as if an old house is aching in the wind, haunted.

    And even if the wind howls constantly, the aching comes and goes as if the trees, trying to stand up to the force of the wind, can only bear the pressure
    for just so long before sending forth their crisp, clear, unmistakable, wood-wind sound.

    Liked by 1 person

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