A Letter: A Healing Experience Through the Power of Narrative
The world is a different place since we last blogged.
COVID-19 has hit us with loss, grief, and endless questions that are accompanied by uncertain answers. In the blink of an eye, the children we teach have physically become distant from us. Yet, through handwritten letters, phone calls, and virtual meetings, where they run up close to the webcam, eagerly sharing their favorite artifacts from home, they also seem strangely close. It is a complicated time.
And yet, teaching continues and learning endures.
I will take this moment to say a simple thank you, on the eve of Teacher Appreciation week. Teachers, your persistence, compassion, and love for this work is noticed and so deeply appreciated, now more than ever. You’ve been asked to do an incredible thing – to reimagine teaching and learning in a context that is unfamiliar to so many of us. You did not cower at the responsibility, nor did you crumble under the pressure. You’ve risen to the occasion, as those of us in the field knew you would. You have worked tirelessly to provide a warm, academically-rich, as-close-to-normal-as-possible space for children. You are succeeding in this work, and also, it doesn’t mean it has been easy.
What is it that you are doing for yourselves as you work tirelessly to support so many?
I’ve asked myself this same question over the last couple of months, and wherever possible, I’ve used it as a guide. This led me to a workshop called, Narrative Medicine. I didn’t know anything about the topic, but both words caught my attention. What I experienced, in this short 30-minute gathering, was the healing power of reading, writing, sharing, and hearing stories.
What I am growing to understand is that Narrative Medicine, pioneered by Rita Charon, is a healing tool for healthcare clinicians and patients. Through the reading, writing, sharing, and hearing of stories, healthcare workers and patients have the space to process their own experiences, receive others’ experiences, and practice empathy.
As I engaged in the workshop I thought about its connection to education. Something that seemed essential to Narrative Medicine was the time spent listening to, reflecting on, and sharing of personal stories. I began to wonder, “How much time are children being given to do this kind of work - the work that exists at the intersection of literacy and healing?”
Here's what the Narrative Medicine workshop consisted of:
We began by reading aloud Mary Oliver’s One Hundred White-Sided Dolphins on a Summer Day, each participant taking one stanza.
We each verbally reflected on what stood out to us. We shared about an image that came to mind, the way the text made the shape of a rolling wave, the shift in stanza four, and Oliver’s descriptive language.
We spent 20 minutes independently writing and reflecting on the prompt, “How am I connecting to the poem in the context of my current situation?”
We ended by sharing and listening to what each other had written.
Here's what I wrote:
Then in our little boat…
I’ve felt that sometimes I am in the little boat. It all seems so big in comparison. I am safe, yet my safety is destructible, come bigger wave or unnoticed hole. It’s a small little boat. Are there enough lifejackets for all?
We sailed through the brisk cheerful day…
This idea of returning and re-entering is on my mind. Who gets to sail through? Who gets left behind? Is it as simple as a pause and resume? Is what’s coming next brisk and cheerful? Was it ever really brisk and cheerful to begin with?
It wasn’t until I read, listened, wrote, and shared what I had written that I realized how much I was holding in, and that others shared these similar feelings. All it took was a poem, space, people to share the experience with, and a simple prompt.
So, again I ask, “What is it that you are doing for yourselves right now as you work tirelessly to support so many?” and “How much time are children being given to do this kind of work?” Perhaps, the answer to both questions is more reading, writing, sharing, and hearing stories.
In the spirit of healing, fueling ourselves through the power of literacy, and sharing, I leave you with two poems that have brought me breath and light during this time: WASH YOUR HANDS by Dori Midnight and The Miracle of Morning by Amanda Gorman.