WHY DO WE WRITE?

Originally appeared on September 16, 2012.

Nursing Stories

I attended the book signing this past August. Farther Along, written by my friend and mentor, Carol Henderson, which told the stories of thirteen mothers (she is one of them), a bakers dozen as Carol points out, who had lost children at various ages.

I was prepared to cry. I don’t do well with death of children, even adult children. Children shouldn’t die before their parents. Maybe that’s why I choose geriatrics as my specialty. Old folks die. It’s expected. No surprises. I can deal with that.

I teared up but didn’t cry and was somewhat unprepared for the humor, serenity, and lack of self-pity as the six mothers read sections from the book. But then ten years had passed since the women came together under Carol’s guidance and direction. Certainly bereavement takes time to absorb, rant and rage against, come to terms and eventually accept the grievous loss…

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IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE MUCH

Last Saturday, toward the end of a daylong workshop, Carol Henderson, our leader, gave the last prompt. Where is home?

However, knowing we only had a few minutes left, I believe we seven women wanted to share our appreciation with Carol, and with Mamie Potter who hosted the event, before we left.

That prompt fell to the floor, unnoticed.

Afterward, maybe some of the others came back to visit the prompt and, like me, to mull over its meaning. I can hear Carol say, “It means what ever you think it means.”

I’m glad I didn’t write that day about “where is home.” I’m glad I didn’t hear anyone else’s take on it. I glad I didn’t write any cerebral philosophical theory that may have moved my pen knowing I was writing for an audience.

As thoughts of home drifted into my consciousness the following week, I found myself looking for a picture I had taken of an apartment where I had lived from the age of two to twenty-two.

Back in July, 2009, I visited Summit Avenue in Jersey City with my Aunt Anna. (I have already written about her.)

When we drove by, I attempted to take a picture. There just wasn’t a moment when a passing car didn’t obstruct the house. Because of heavy traffic I needed to keep moving. As usual, parking places were scarce. I gave up after circling the block four times.

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It doesn’t look like much. It’s the house on the right, 262—the middle apartment. The gate in front of the stairs was recently added. That gate would have limited the flow of social activity that took place on the concrete steps whenever the weather cooperated. Many of my memories of home when I was growing up happened on the front steps.

On the steps:

 I listened silently at age eight to the neighborhood women as they sat on the steps and talked of childbirth, raising their family and problems with their husbands.

little kids sat while I told spooky stories until the streetlights went on and we all had to go home.

the boy next door knelt on one knee and asked me to marry him when we both were in the third grade.

I walked shoeless from July to September.

my first date gave me my first kiss when I was sixteen.

I trekked on my way to my room to sleep in the mornings after working the night shift at the Jersey City Medical Center around the block.

my husband-to-be didn’t kiss me after our first date.

I know the steps aren’t a home, but they hold pleasant remembrances of growing up.That’s as close to a definition of where is home to me.

WHY DO WE WRITE?

I attended the book signing this past August. Farther Along, written by my friend and mentor, Carol Henderson, which told the stories of thirteen mothers (she is one of them), a bakers dozen as Carol points out, who had lost children at various ages.

I was prepared to cry. I don’t do well with death of children, even adult children. Children shouldn’t die before their parents. Maybe that’s why I choose geriatrics as my specialty. Old folks die. It’s expected. No surprises. I can deal with that.

I teared up but didn’t cry and was somewhat unprepared for the humor, serenity, and lack of self-pity as the six mothers read sections from the book. But then ten years had passed since the women came together under Carol’s guidance and direction. Certainly bereavement takes time to absorb, rant and rage against, come to terms and eventually accept the grievous loss that will never be forgotten until one’s dying day.

How fortunate the women found each other and Carol. Writing their stories seems to have brought them to a better place than they would be if they hadn’t immersed themselves in writing.

Why did these women write?

Carol says in her book:

“Writing about deep and traumatic matters, as many studies now confirm, is good for our physical health. Reflective writing actually lowers pulse and blood pressure, increases T-cell production, and boosts the immune system. Writing can help us cope with chronic conditions like physical pain—and the loss of health, of dreams, and, yes, of children.”

We all write for different reasons. I am haunted by my patients. They walk around in my memory and defy me to ignore them. I need to tell their stories.

“Why do we write? To make suffering endurable. To make evil intelligible. To make justice desirable and . . . to make love possible”

Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

Why do you write?