Narrative medicine: my soul’s monthly nourishment

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Once a month, a handful of people gathers in a small conference room on the 14th floor of New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Baker tower for an hour-long narrative medicine group. We discuss a poem or prose piece, sometimes about medicine sometimes not, then write a reflection to a related prompt. The composition of the group varies by who can come that day: librarian, doctor, social worker, medical student, chaplain. Just like our job titles, our experience with interpreting literature, with writing, and with life itself, varies. But that’s exactly what makes the group so rich. With my crazy clerkship schedule, I can’t always make it. But I know when I do, I will leave feeling refreshed, fed. Here is the poem we read last week, along with my written reflection.

“In a landscape of having to repeat”

In a landscape of having to repeat.
Noticing that she does, that he does and so on.
The underlying cause is as absent as rain.
Yet one remembers rain even in its absence and an attendant quiet.
If illusion descends or the very word you’ve been looking for.
He remembers looking at the photograph,
green and gray squares, undefined.
How perfectly ordinary someone says looking at the same thing or
I’d like to get to the bottom of that one.
When it is raining it is raining for all time and then it isn’t
and when she looked at him, as he remembers it, the landscape moved closer
than ever and she did and now he can hardly remember what it was like.
— Martha Ronk, 2004

Prompt: Write about a time you remember looking at a photograph.

When do memories begin? I think I remember being there, tell people I do. Sitting on my pink bicycle in a Minnie Mouse bathing suit, our golden retriever Jake-a-pup reclining on the lawn in the foreground. Flying high on the swingset in my dark blue jeans and the white T-shirt with the pretty blue flowers. Hanging upside down on said swingset, my face flushed red and my eyes half closed. Blowing out candles on the green-frosted caterpillar cake that my mom baked. But are they really memories? Or just pictures in a photo album?