In my early twenties, I lived as a volunteer at the Simon Community, a remarkable program dedicated to homeless outreach and sheltering in London. We walked the windy streets and sat on the cold cement of the Bullring rolling fags to build rapport with people so chilled from the elements their fingers didn’t work properly enough for a smoke. At Christmastime donations flooded our pantry. Delectables literally rotted on the floor by New Year’s, but by February the cupboards were bare (food for thought as you consider donations to charities this time of year). The fact is we all need to work year round to make the world a better place. All of us should and can do more.
What, you ask?
When I’m not masquerading as a writer, I’m a physician and I practice something called narrative medicine. It sounds very fluffy and not terribly scientific. It certainly doesn’t reimburse well, but after using it for 18 years, I can tell you it’s consistently the most powerful tool I’ve seen help people. And you don’t need to have an M.D. to learn it.
Narrative medicine consists of listening to people’s stories and asking about them with kind curiosity. What do you hope for? What are you looking forward to? What brings you joy and makes your life worth living? What are you worried about and how do you find strength in difficult times? Or even, how was your day and why was it good or bad? These seem like simple questions, but coupled with compassion and patience for others, even those different than you, progress can be made.
There is no need to limit these conversations to those who are ill or destitute. Ask your family, ask your friends and coworkers. Ask the girl serving you coffee at the shop. Don’t mindlessly stare at your phone and ignore the people you pass on the street. Engage with those around you in the real world. When you know more about people, how they feel, and what they think, you can better provide them with what they need, may it be a medical intervention, a hug, companionship, a kind word, a cup of tea, or just a smile.
It’s human connection that heals us, bonds us together, soothes hopelessness. When we genuinely listen to one another we understand one another. When we understand one another, we find common ground and on common ground we can move past differences in politics, religion, and the color of our skin. We can care for one another, love one another, heal and grow.
I care for people who are homeless and people with terminal cancer as well as hundreds of others with marred and broken souls. I can’t fix any of those problems. But hopefully I make people’s lives a little better by listening to and connecting with them, and I’ll keep getting up and going to work everyday, even if that is all I can do.
And I ask you to help me.
Søvn Drake is an emerging writer who can be found haunting coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. More about her and her writing can be found at: https://sovndrakestories.wordpress.com
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