People arrive at noon. Most know the drill. Come in quietly, take a seat in the circle, and start writing, in response to the written prompt or about whatever is on your mind.
I write the opening prompt on the white board:
“Quarantine. It sounds like a medieval concept because it is. Invented in the mid-1300s to stop the bubonic plague, the word derives from the Italian for “40 days,” the time used to isolate potential carriers. Although the practice of quarantine has been reformed over the centuries, pitfalls remain.” – The New York Times
We meet in the UNC Hospitals Chapel at noon Tuesdays (first floor, main hospital). It’s a restorative writing session, free and open to the public. That means not just anyone in the hospital—doctors, staff, patients, and caregivers—but also folks from the larger community, town and beyond.
The hour is a gift of time – to sit quietly and reflect on the page – respite from work or worry or grief, and a chance, if one wishes, to explore the “hard stuff” deep within oneself.
There are lap desks for everyone. After the first writing period, I invite people to read. Some do. Some don’t. No pressure.
I write, too. In response to the quarantine prompt, I begin with a list:
1.The first thing that marches across my mind is quarantine for the bereaved. It’s what I wanted when my son died, to be sequestered, from civilization, alone with my gargantuan grief that was too big for this world. I could tell I frightened others. Perhaps they thought they might catch something from me. I wished for that yellow plastic tape you see at crime scenes. This area is sealed off, the scene of a grotesque accident, truth, the evidence.
2. In China the grief stricken wear white, or used to, and were given a cane to lean on for 27 months, to help them through the deadening days.
3. I think of my friend who lived, quarantined, waiting for her immune system to die and to see if the bone marrow transplant worked to create a fresh one. She was in her early 20s. Her friends, fresh out of college, were ducking into Starbucks for coffee or Ann Taylor for new interview suits. They were busy starting their adult lives. She was marooned in a solitary, sterile hospital room, wearing a “johnnie” open at her back. She recovered. Now, we meet for coffee, work together.
4. And as we write a medical crisis in West Africa has us on high alert ...
The timer sounds, indicating the writing time is over. Several people read. One woman writes about wishing she could quarantine herself from herself. Her narrative is funny in places. We all laugh. Someone else writes about being shut off from one another’s touch when we need each other the most. A man reads about an elderly aunt who recalled, as a child, being “quarantined” in her family’s above-shop apartment. No one told her why. She wasn’t sick. Many decades later she still chafed at the memory.
After everyone who wants to has read, I give another prompt, a light poem called “Rummage Sale.” More writing and more reading. The hour always passes fast, too fast.
In commemoration of National Grief Week and Grief Day at UNC Hospitals, several of us from the group are giving a reading from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the Conference Room of the UNC Hospitals’ Comprehensive Cancer Resource Center.
Do come hear some stories and reflections, and enjoy a snack.
And do join us Tuesdays at noon if you can. Did you know studies have shown that writing about deep important matters is good for your health? Yes. Restorative writing lowers pulse rate, blood pressure, and boosts immunity. Further, the writer often experiences healing shifts in perspective.
Tuesday’s reading, and the Tuesday writing workshops, are sponsored by UNC Medical Center’s Bereavement Support Services, Project Compassion, and Door to Door. Questions? Contact my co-leader, Heidi Gessner, at 919-966-0716 or Heidi.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol Henderson is an author, writing teacher and workshop leader. Contact her at email@example.com