empathy

THIS IS THE REAL POWER OF STORYTELLING: HEALING, SOLACE AND BRINGING PEOPLE HOME

Illustration by Paula Bonet

Illustration by Paula Bonet

What I loved about my profession is the Stethoscope.

Since my childhood I was fascinated seeing and using the ‘stethoscope’. I used to wait for the day to meet Dr. Mayee for my monthly check up, who I remember was such a delightful and kind lady. As a reward for the proper behaviour other children waited to put their hands inside the candy jar. But Dr.Mayee knew that, I will wait for something different, yes the ‘stethoscope’. The whole process of plugging it in my ears and listening to the internal sounds of my body, especially the heart, thrilled me so much. “Now, do you hear the sound “lab, dub” asked Dr.Mayee, I replied, ‘nope, this time I hear ‘burp, murp, bit different from last time”. She smiled and asked “And what was that you heard last time?” I replied “hop-cop hop -cop”. Dr. Mayee and my mum had a good laugh that left me baffled because I did hear burp murp, hop-cop. “Your kido is very creative, she might become a writer, painter oṛ…..” said Dr. Mayee. But my mother vehemently protested, “No, Dr.Mayee, she is definitely going to be a doctor”. I heard the “lab, dab, lab, dab” sound at that moment. It was weird that I would hear “lab, dab” sound whenever I am caught red handed by my parents for licking ice cream from the fridge or when I took chocolates without my parent’s permission. So I had a deal with my heart that when I do something not right, it should “lab, dab” me, just as Dr. Mayee and mother said. That was way back when I was 5 year old. Well I was just 5 and I had a liberty to imagine the most impossible thing, somehow we lose that liberty and rationalise (I would say condition) our thoughts when we grow up. So, I was never a naughty kid and have been an obedient child to my parents. I have always listened to my parents, my teachers and my mentors and always got A’s in my school and college projects. My teachers and mentors till date remember me as a hard working, determined, sincere and honest student.

Well, I did grow up to become a doctor with the ‘stethoscope’ hanging around my neck, but just as Dr.Mayee predicted, yes, with a touch of creativity.

When I was in fifth grade my grandmother took me to children’s home and old age home to spend some quality time during my holidays or sometimes even during weekends. My grandma is an open minded person who has always encouraged me to stand up with my opinions. She was my best buddy. We used to have endless talks about any random things. My grandma knew that I used to hate movies. ‘It is full of drama, grandma. I would have ended the story in a different way’ I used to tell her. Once she laughed and said “well, why don’t, you be the director of the movie then”. Whenever I watched movies, I always used to get frustrated that why the certain character or protagonist is over analysing or over dramatizing the situation. As my grandmother used to tell me, ‘you hate it because you detach from dramas, you don’t like complications and you like to keep it simple’. I used to ask her during those stressful years when I and my parents were at loggerhead to choose my subjects in college and university, “whether life can be simple and less complicated too” and she would reply, “why not, if you choose to keep it simple and listen to your heart, who will stop you”. It was my grandma who encouraged me to search for that element within me, which I belonged to.

Illustration by Alex Konahin

Illustration by Alex Konahin

As a social service project in school I started reading out or did storytelling session with children and old age people in these homes where my grandma took me during the holidays. What started as a mere school project to get better grades, later, had become my obsession. I developed an inkling for storytelling. In each storytelling session I could hear my heart’s frequency in line with that of an acoustic guitar. For me the sessions were like the sound of the guitar’s strings when plucked, I can feel the sound reverberates and is transmitted in the surrounding and produces a vibration in alignment with my body; right from my head to toe. Sometime hitting a low note of 27.5 Hz and the highest vibration at 4,186 Hz of piano, as I have heard from the musicians. I survived my teenage years with extra pocket money as I managed to get part time job with my skill in the neighbourhood libraries or in some kid’s birthday parties. I kept my passion alive throughout. Indeed, I had become the director of my stories. It was only later in my life that I realized that the element within me which I belonged to is the Storyteller!

So now at my work place, apart from being doctor I was also known as the story teller in the hospital. I loved reading children’s book or telling stories to both children and elderly patients in the hospital. I strangely do carry an animated and creative way of reciting stories. I knew I am the favourite and popular among the children, children’s parents and among the older people including the doctors and nurses. After my shift, I would sit everyday with the children and older people to talk and lightly show them their funny side. This session was therapeutic both to them as well as for me.

Even during the off days, I would carve out an hour or so for the story telling session. Sometime I used to feel that I am the Doctor with a specialization in storytelling. I strongly felt that my storytelling session transmitted healing vibes to the patients; by listening to my stories, seeing and feeling my facial expression, gesture of hands, the modulation in my tone and voice. At that moment, it all made sense to me on why I heard “burp, murp or hop cop”, because I heard and imagined story in the flow and rhythm of my body, be it my heart beat, or my pulse or flipping of my eye lashes while blinking my eyes or my fingers while curving it to write, or my wavy movement of my hair or tinkling of my earrings in my ears, the pace of my breathe, my heart beating with the tunes of stories… Each and every movement whether internally or externally created a story for me. I have often wondered just like the expressive therapy of music and dance can there also be story telling therapy?

I didn’t ponder much on that as I was pressurized with other family and societal norms.

Illustration by (yet) unknown author

Illustration by (yet) unknown author

So by so-called marriageable age, my family worried and prayed that its time I should find someone and get married. Which didn’t happen for some time, however eventually it happened and I got married. It was a great occasion with usual fun and frolic, with “aww” and “ooh” about our “made for each other “pair. Of course, life did change drastically, to live and share the room, bed and cupboard with a man. The timings of my duty changed and often shifted. The night shift was abandoned forever. My story telling sessions decreased and some days I would have to rush home without the storytelling session. I can see in the kids and older people with a longing in their eyes that how they missed my antiques of storytelling. Older people, well they understood that now my life is different after marriage, with kids, of course it was bit tough. Sometimes the kids would not let me leave without making me tell at least one story.

My husband initially wondered if I am really a doctor. My husband to start with, is generally an understanding person (or maybe I convinced myself that he is an understanding person), but he was not sure what I mean by storytelling person. Well, it was embarrassing for me to express what it meant and what made it more hard to express was neither had he ever asked me what I mean. The answer would simply be “well, why don’t you be like other normal doctors”.

And this week he added, “Anyway, make sure you don’t indulge in such activities from next week”. Our parents are coming to visit us for some time”. May be he doesn’t has to understand, but his way of not even trying to hear me out about what and why I do, made me hear the tremor in my heart. I told myself, “It doesn’t matter, it is not necessary we all will share the same wavelength”. So I chose to ignore his constant pinching and manipulative opinions and talks. However, little did I know that I was muting the sound of my heart, gradually?

My husband parents are very kind and it was pleasure to spend time with them. But that means my duty time will be cut down and although my husband was somehow convinced that he can maintain his standard time. Even the dinner outing with his colleagues was justified as it was part of his network building. Honestly, I missed my job. Unconsciously, I was becoming stranger to myself; I had become deaf to the flow and rhythm of my body. However, the daily chores of my life kept me so busy that I had stopped hearing what my heart sounded like anymore. My husband after few days decided to take a half day holiday from work and asked me to do the same, as his parents and my parents and other family members would be around. He decided to take them for some recreational activity. That particular day was important for me to be around in the hospital as it was one of our elderly patient, Mr. Dabby’s birthday. Mr.Dabby has been suffering from cancer for the last 5 years. With chemotherapy he did manage to sustain, however he was aware that it will not last long. His family had been planning his birthday party since last month and I was the highlight of the party as a story teller. He would always laugh lovingly with his skin drooping from his neck, “Oh, it is your story telling therapy on which I am sustaining”. He loved me so much and I could really see a spark in his eyes, and undoubtedly I was his favorite. I thought “aah, it doesn’t matter I can still do it before I call my day off in the hospital”.So the day started as usual. I finished my shift with all my patients. And after that I helped decorating Mr.Dabby’s room and helped wrapping the gifts with the children. Everything was going as any mundane day, however suddenly I felt the “lab, dab” sound that was strange because today since morning I was hearing it “dab bday, dab bday”. In fact after many years I was hearing ‘lab, dab’. Suddenly my childhood nervousness came rushing. I went out to distract myself. I see a nurse came rushing teary eyed, rambling that Mr.Dabby’s daughter in law had met with an accident when she tried to save her daughter while crossing the road, when the family was arriving at the hospital to celebrate Mr.Dabby’s birthday. The doctors rushed the lady to the operation theatre immediately. I quickly texted my husband about the emergency situation at the hospital. I rushed to Mr.Dabby’s 5 year old grand-daughter who was weeping constantly.

Artwork by Aitch

Artwork by Aitch

I took her in my arms and went to Mr. Dabby’s room and I sat on his arm chair with his grand-daughter. I was consoling her that her mommy will be okay. Seeing her condition Mr. Dabby composed himself and tried to talk to her animatedly. The nurse kept updating us about the mother’s condition. Meanwhile, I was trying to distract the little girl with the story of a “mother cat who tried over-protecting her kitten which always ended up in a trouble, however in the end the kitten after rescuing himself from a problem earned his mother’s trust with a promise he will obey and listen to his mom”.The little girl suddenly leaped with excitement, “Oh, I get it now. Thank you doctor, you solved the problem. Just like the kitten I have to earn my mother’s trust”. Both, Mr. Dabby and I had confused smiles. The little girl closed her eyes and prayed, “Mum, I promise to you that I will obey and listen to you”. At that moment I saw the nurse hopping in with a smile that the mother is stable now. The girl hugged me, “you saved my mom. Thank you for telling me the story. You are the best story teller”. Obviously, my story telling has nothing to do with the mother’s stable condition. The credit goes to the doctors who performed the operation. But I was thrilled that my storytelling had created a ray of hope for the little girl. By the end of the day, it was a happy story. Mr.Dabby’s family profusely thanked me for taking care of their child and appreciated me for distracting their daughter with my storytelling skills. We did manage to celebrate Mr.Dabby’s birthday and of course my storytelling was the best gift I could give to Mr.Dabby, as told by him.

I was feeling content and happily walked drenched in the rain to reach home. Heard splashing of rain along with my foot tapping and my heart singing, hitting the highest note this time. I suddenly remembered, “Meddah”, yes I felt like Meddah. The Meddah were the public storytellers in Turkey. They used to educate and entertain in markets, coffeehouses, mosques whose main aim was to bequeath morals and ethics to public through the art of storytelling. I was so excited to tell my family about today’s episode. I ran through our main gate and entered my house. I saw my family sitting in couch, I had a huge smile, “You know, guess what happened today” my husband replied, “So, another storytelling session of yours, definitely not an eureka guess that I have made”. Out of excitement I almost missed the layers of sarcasm in his tone, “oh yes, how you know that”. Then I heard my family, including all my cousins, broke into riots of laughter. That hit me so hard in the chest that I could feel the heat travelling from my chest to my ears. One of my cousin said, “he was just telling us about your storytelling session” and my other cousin was surprised, “you still do that?” I saw my husband’s face slapped with a smirk and that was followed by another round of laughter. My throat dried up and my heart sounded, “nope, nope, nope, nope”. I went to my room to change my drenched clothes. My husband followed me and added indignantly that he is reconsidering to have children as he is not sure if I can take care of a child or the family as I am too busy most of the time with the unproductive activity other than my job. The second hit me right into my stomach. He was mad at me for been late for the family get to together.

I stood under the shower with tears running down my face feeling unconvincingly guilty for not being there for my family. At one hand was Mr.Dabby’s family and their daughter, who I could not have left in that kind of situation. I was appreciated in the hospital for been kind to help them through their difficult time by just being there with them. On the other hand is my family who had been waiting for me to spend time with me.

My today’s act made me a heartless woman for my husband who doesn’t want to have children with me. Who could I have chosen at that moment?

On one hand I was this perfect human being for Mr.Dabby’s family but for my family I was the joke who indulged in unproductive activities. I wondered, when did life get so complicated? I kept my hand over my breast to hear my heart. It was definitely not saying “lab, dab, lab, dab” and suddenly it dawned to me. It’s a sound from my heart that I am not listening to my heart. The deal I had with it in my childhood, but then what is it saying? I tried to calm down and hear “Meddah, Meddah, Meddah. Tears of happiness rinsed my face and my emotions. I remembered my grandma’s words, life can be simple if ‘I Chose It’.

Illustration by Alexis Diaz

Illustration by Alexis Diaz

While sipping a mug of coffee and hearing the parent’s advices and vices, my cousins gossips about recent crushes and affair, my husband’s skill of intelligent (as he thought so) manipulated sarcastic talks, why, my own observations of people in the room showed me characters and roles performed by all us. I realized I have been striving hard to perform a role by being perfect to everyone; I had become doctor because my parents wanted. Well, not that I hated being a doctor. I absolutely love my job. But, if I had introspected bit during my university days, maybe I would have preferred studying literature and folktales.

I got married to fulfill the societal norms, because everyone believed that this is what is expected. I tried to be the perfect wife that my husband wanted to be. In this process I realized where am “I”? I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and then complicate my life. Little did I know this is exactly what was complicating my life! When did I last hear my heart which whispered stories to me, instead now I let it chew the story? I realized ‘the journey of self-discovery is what will lead to the “I am”.

The stethoscope that I was fascinated since my childhood was an instrument to hear my heart out. I was told and often laughed at for not believing that the sound of the heart is “lab, dab, lab dab”. I realized that, what I was hearing “burp, murp”, “hop, cop”, “Meddah, Meddah” is the conversation that I have with my heart. The lab, dab is the norm set by the conventions. And I chose to look beyond the lab, dab. For me, the very emotion that is produced in the process of storytelling is fascinating. All of us create and carry story every day, each minute and each second. Each storytelling process whether reading out or writing speaks a story itself about the person who is listening, reading or writing. Doesn’t it pushes us to dream beyond our illusion of limitations and inspires us to reach for being oneself? Doesn’t it show us the human value? My brother in law interrupted my thoughts and asked, “so what is the next plan for you guys” obviously hinting at family planning. “Well……” my husband started. I kept my coffee mug down on the table and cut him in, I smiled and said “I” Plan to be a Meddah”, confusing everyone for next one year. However, I did liberate myself eventually.

By the way my name is Ms. May, a Meddah by profession. I remember the famous quote though I will paraphrase it bit “I hear” my heart and therefore ‘“I am” Ms. May’ and this is my Story!

The Sound of The Heart, Vidya Krishnamurth