Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST February 15th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

29 participants convened from both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific for another cold Monday night, in which we read the poem “sorrows” by Lucille Clifton, posted below. Our first impressions and associations included: birds (“sorrows sounds like swallows”), images of bats and insects, the sound of rattles, feelings of being alone, familiar experiences of sorrows as they come and go. One participant referenced Goya’s etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” The title brought thoughts of sorrows materializing into an object, an insect, a wave. One person was reminded of Wes Wenders’ film “The Wings of Desire.” Another appreciated the poem’s line cuts, which leave readers wondering what will come next. We attended to language, noticing “sorrow is a pretty word as opposed to the word sad.” We noticed the many contradictions in the text – tensions and contention. 

We made connections between the poem’s couplets and tried to envision prayers “resonating throughout the world” and how one voice can be distinguished from all the other voices that pray for alleviation. Questions arose: Are we going to give sorrow a place, a space to be? Where is sorrow’s place?  “The constant struggle we grapple with all the time,” someone commented. One participant reported imagining sorrows “fighting for their own place in the world” even as we suppress them or “can’t embrace them.” Another talked of having conversations with outers about the challenges of “giving sorrow the right space and time” and “letting it shape us.” We acknowledged the power of sorrow and the importance of allowing ourselves to listen and feel. This part of our conversation reminded someone of Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” that welcomes all feelings.

We wrote to the prompt “Write the story of a scar.” One person read about raccoons invading a garage and the writer’s hesitation to have the animals removed and, later, seeing the raccoons footprints in the snow. Listeners understood the footprints as scars.  The second reader shared a piece about loss and the desire for the scar on her heart “not to heal over” so that she feels the loved one close when putting her hand over her heart. The third reader wrote from the perspective of a surgeon wondering about a patient’s post-surgical scar whether it would be “acceptable” in a profession with high visibility. A respondent offered that the power of a scar is as “evidence of survival.” Someone responded with an invitation to see scars “as beautiful”.

At the end of our conversation, someone asked: Why do we automatically consider scars beautiful?

As we signed off, we all shared something from this session we would bring with us into the week:

  • Scars show our history
  • Scars are beautiful things
  • Scars are badges of courage
  • Scars remind us of gentleness to be given
  • Scars are sorrow and beauty

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 Wednesday February 17th at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


sorrows by Lucille Clifton

who would believe them winged
who would believe they could be

beautiful         who would believe
they could fall so in love with mortals

that they would attach themselves
as scars attach and ride the skin


sometimes we hear them in our dreams
rattling their skulls         clicking their bony fingers

envying our crackling hair
our spice filled flesh


they have heard me beseeching
as I whispered into my own

cupped hands       enough not me again
enough       but who can distinguish

one human voice   
amid such choruses of desire

Source: Poetry (September 2007)

Wirtualne Grupy Narracyjne: Czwartek 28 maja, 18:00 CET

Dziękujemy wszystkim, którzy wzięli udział w dzisiejszej grupie narracyjnej!

Wspólnie przeczytaliśmy, zamieszczony poniżej, wiersz Philipa Levine’a „Miłosierdzie” w przekładzie Ewy Hryniewicz-Yarbrough.

Inspiracja do kreatywnego pisania brzmiała: „Opisz moment pomarańczy”.

Grupa, tak jak bohaterka wiersza, odbyła pasjonującą podróż przez Atlantyk, doświadczając na początku pracy dużego niepokoju związanego z niepewnością drogi, która ją czeka. Wypowiedzi uczestników nawiązywały do ich bardzo intymnych wspomnień. Dominowały uczucia strachu, straty, ciekawości. Relacyjnym tłem pracy grupy była więź dziecka z matką. W chwili gdy, pod postacią pomarańczy, wyłonił się obiekt nadziei, dalsza podroż przez tekst okazała się bardziej komfortowa. Grupa związała się z nim tak bardzo, że pojawił się opór przed powrotem i ponownym odczytaniem tekstu, jednak wyposażona w nadzieję zgodziła się dokonać drugiej lektury, odkrywając inne aspekty wiersza, których wcześniej nie zauważyła pomimo ich silnej aktualnie wymowy (kwarantanna). W opisanym procesie wyłoniła się inspiracja, która odsłoniła wielowymiarową istotę pomarańczy. Szczególnie wyraźny był sensualny obraz owocu. Pomarańcza stała się punktem, wokół którego nadbudowane zostały interpretacje statku, przestrzeni i celu i który otrzymał własną, uosabiającą analizę. Przestrzeń pracy była doświadczeniem transformatywnym, a smak owocu odmienił doświadczenie tekstu.

Zapraszamy do udziału w kolejnych sesjach, których terminy podane są na polskiej podstronie Wirtualnych Grup Narracyjnych. Najbliższa grupa odbędzie się 2 czerwca (wtorek) o godzinie 18:00 – zarejestruj się już dziś.

Wszelkie pytania oraz prośby o organizację indywidualnych grup narracyjnych dla Waszych zespołów można przesyłać na adres: narrativemedicine@cumc.columbia.edu oraz humanistykamedyczna@cm.uj.edu.pl.

Do zobaczenia niebawem!

Philip Levine
Miłosierdzie

Statek, który osiemdziesiąt trzy lata temu przywiózł
moją matkę na Ellis Island, nazywał się „Miłosierdzie”.
Matka pamięta, że próbowała jeść nieobranego
banana i że po raz pierwszy widziała pomarańczę
w rękach młodego szkockiego marynarza,
który dał jej kawałek, wytarł jej usta
czerwoną chustą i nauczył ją słowa „pomarańcza”,
powtarzając je cierpliwie kilka razy.
Długa jesienna podróż, dni pociemniałe
od czarnej wody uspokajającej się z nadejściem nocy,
potem pustka jak okiem sięgnąć
i niezmierzona przestrzeń mknąca na krańce
świata. Modliła się po rosyjsku i w jidysz
o odnalezienie rodziny w Nowym Jorku, modlitwy
niewysłuchane, niezrozumiane lub może zlekceważone
przez wszystkie te moce, które przeganiały fale ciemności,
zanim się obudziła, i utrzymywały „Miłosierdzie” na wodzie,
podczas gdy ospa szalała wśród pasażerów i załogi,
dopóki zmarłych nie pochowano w morzu, odmawiając
dziwne modlitwy w niezrozumiałym dla niej języku.
„Miłosierdzie”, jak przeczytałem na pożółkłych stronach
książki, którą znalazłem w pokoju bez okien
w bibliotece na Czterdziestej Drugiej Ulicy,
stało trzydzieści jeden dni z dala od brzegu,
z powodu kwarantanny, zanim pasażerowie zeszli
na ląd. Tam kończy się ta historia. Inne statki
przypłynęły, „Tancred” z Glasgow, „Neptun”
pod duńską banderą, „Umberto IV”,
lista ciągnie się całymi stronami, listopad ustępuje
zimie, morze uderza w ten obcy brzeg.
Włoscy górnicy z Piemontu kopią
pod miastami zachodniej Pensylwanii,
by znowu odkryć ten sam koszmar,
który pozostawili w domu. Dziewięcioletnia dziewczynka
jedzie całą noc pociągiem z jedną walizką i pomarańczą.
Uczy się, że miłosierdzie jest czymś, co można jeść
i jeść, choć sok spływa po brodzie, co można
wytrzeć wierzchem dłoni i nigdy nie mieć dosyć.

(Wiersz pochodzi z tomu „Miasto marzeń”, Wydawnictwo Znak, Kraków 2013.)

***

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

Together we read “The Mercy”, a poem by Philip Levine, exquisitely translated to Polish by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough (posted below).

Our prompt for today was: “Describe a moment of the orange.”

The group, very much like the heroine of the poem, went on a fascinating journey across the Atlantic, experiencing strong anxiety at the beginning of the work that was associated with uncertainty of the road ahead. The participants’ voices referred to their very intimate memories. Childhood attachment to one’s mother was a relational background of the group’s work. At the very moment when an object of hope emerged in the figure of the orange, further journey through the text turned out to be much more comfortable. The group’s attachment to the object was so strong that a resistance to returning to the text and reading it once again appeared. However, being equipped with hope, the participants finally expressed their agreement. Thanks to that they discovered new aspects of the poem, which they did not notice before, regardless of their strong and current relevance (quarantine). In this process emerged the prompt, which revealed multidimensional essence of the orange. A sensual image of the fruit was especially visible. The orange became a point in space, around which interpretations of the ship, the space and the goal were built. Even the point itself got an personifying analysis. The space of the work was a transformative experience and the taste of the fruit changed the experience of the text.

Please join us for our next sessions: Friday May 29th, 7pm EDT (in English) and Sunday May 31st, 2pm EDT (in English), with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

If you have questions, or would like to schedule a personalized narrative medicine session for your organization or team, email us at narrativemedicine@columbia.edu.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Philip Levine
The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy."
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
"orange," saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune"
registered as Danish, "Umberto IV,"
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.
(Form P. Levine, “The Mercy”, New York (N.Y.): Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.)

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.” 


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