Saturday, November 19, 2016

how will you tell your story?

This week’s post presents a brief excerpt from my novel, The Bandaged Place. It goes without saying that this scene is fictional, but it could just as easily be part of a memoir, it is that authentic. It connects the reader with a moment she may have experienced in her own life--when she had to share bad news with friends, when she needed their support, when she knew how hard it would be for them to come to grips with her predicament. The fact that it is fictional does not diminish its impact, suggesting there is more than one way to tell a story.
In this scene, the protagonist, a physician, has just told her two closest friends she has been diagnosed with breast cancer:

          My kitchen is as silent and as still as any place on the face of Earth has ever been—the deepest cave, the holiest shrine, the eye of the storm. I have just finished explaining to Sophia and Barb why I need them here today. It’s one thing to sit at your desk with a patient and break the news to her, “You have breast cancer.” It’s another thing entirely when you are seated at your own kitchen table with your best friends, saying to them, “I have breast cancer.”
          They’re sitting across from me stunned, expressionless, struggling in vain to access whatever words they need to say to me right now. But there are no words for this. Silence reigns.
          I am tracing the pattern of the grain in the wood on the tabletop. Sophia is looking out the window, her chin resting on her hand, gazing as far away as possible. Barb is staring at me, searching for some sign, some indication that would explain how she missed it, as though she should have known something was wrong. And I am having second thoughts as I watch both of them wrestle with this—as I watch everything change for them—knowing what I just unleashed in their lives.
          I break the silence, “Well?”
          Sophia slowly turns her attention back to the present. “Well what?”
          “Well, what’s going through your heads?”
          Barb turns to Sophia for help with this one.
          “Me?” Sophia sits forward and braces herself as if she’s preparing for turbulence, in full upright and locked position. “If it were my decision, Kate, I’d have them both off. And I wouldn’t bother with reconstruction. I mean, what purpose under heaven do they serve anymore?” She waves her hand as if she were scooting the dog away. “That’s what I think.” She sits back as if the voice-of-reason has spoken. Clearly, she doesn’t understand.
          Barb stares at my chest as though the answer is scrawled in capital letters across the front of my sweater. True to form, she sums it all up, “You know what I think? I think you’re lucky they’re both pretty small.”
          Sophia closes her eyes and wags her head. “You’re impossible.”
          I have to giggle. I can’t help it. Barb would come up with something like that. Why is it, I wonder, that the worse you feel, the better bad jokes sound—silly, stupid, crude—as far from reality as you can get?
          “When I was ten,” I tell them, “I went crying to my mother because I had this little sore bump on my rib, right about here.” I point to my heart. “Mimi had just died and I knew that she had breast cancer so I was convinced that I’d caught it from her. At ten! I was so sure of it—so scared—I waited a month before I said anything. And by then it was even bigger so I was certain I was doomed. But Mother just smiled and told me, ‘It’s part of growing up, is all. It’s perfectly natural.’”
          “That was natural,” Barb quips. “This is not.”
          Nor is it fair. Nor is it even conceivable.
The fact is that scenes like this unfold all the time in real life. If you’ve ever shared bad news with your closest friends, you know how hard it can be.

The point is that each of us has a story to tell. If you write, you can translate what you experience, think and feel into a memoir. But if what has happened is too painful or too difficult to chronicle, try wrapping it up in a story or a poem. If you are an artist, you may be able to express yourself better on the canvas. If you compose, in your music. If you act, on stage.

There is more than one way to tell a story, but tell it you must. Which way is right for you?





Saturday, November 5, 2016

a needy character

I've been off the grid for a couple of weeks because I've been downsizing and moving. This process taught me a couple of things I'd like to share with you.

I learned to ask for help…putting furniture together, setting up a new internet server, installing electrical fixtures, lifting and carrying…the list goes on.

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But, asking for help isn’t easy for me. I don’t like to inconvenience people or burden them when they already have more to do than they can handle. I feel better about myself when I know I can manage on my own. And, I’m never sure who to call. Who’s reliable? Honest? Thorough? Nevertheless, because I’m pretty helpless when it comes to hi-tech changes and to mechanical and electrical upgrades, I had to ask for help.

Then it struck me.
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For over thirty years, I met day after day with people who had turned to me for help. I was a healer, a pillar of hope for them.

If you’re a health care provider, you know what I’m talking about. Our patients’ health and well-being are at stake. Sometimes their survival is in our hands. They come to us with heart disease, cancer, broken bones, depression…unable to care for themselves. They need the help of an expert, someone who is careful, compassionate and wise, but they don’t always know who to turn to. Imagine what it must be like for the woman who discovers a lump in her breast. For the parent whose child can’t breathe. For the trucker having dizzy spells. Imagine not knowing what to do or who to call. Who you can trust. Who you can depend upon.

When I moved I was anxious about calling for help just to install a kitchen fixture, assemble a desk and repair an appliance, trivial matters compared to one’s health. Nevertheless, it was a huge relief when family members, friends, and friends of friends responded promptly. Every single one of them was happy to lend a hand. Total strangers treated me with respect and kindness.

I would consider myself a success as a physician if I could be as cheerful, as skilled, as attentive and as considerate as the people who helped me when I needed them this week—the plumber, the electrician, my new neighbors. My friends. My family. All of them ordinary people acting with extraordinary character.  

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