“Hi how are you. Good? “ The answer comes right after the question. I don’t need to speak. That’s how many of my days begin when I drop my daughter off at school. Parents cluster in pools of light, nursing coffees and trading gossip about vacations, teacher choices and new policies on parking.
I love that light- but I don’t live in it for long. Like New England spring- happiness is elusive and luxurious. I move in and out of those pools of sun with friends and family. But I don’t live entirely in light or even in sanity. My real life happens elsewhere, at work shuttered behind the city streets.
Last week I saw a man running with a long steel leg. He loped through his morning run in the suburbs like a mysterious creature. Half man and half steel. Miraculous and brave. The centaurs have come back.
A woman cycled past me on Brattle Street this summer while I waited for the camp bus. Crouched low on her bike, half an arm tattooed to the stump. My daughter observed ”she must have lost it in the marathon bombing. Otherwise the tattoos would have continued down her hand.”
Survivors are among us in all forms. Some with wounds, some amputees. Some with wounds that are invisible and harder to tend.
I treat invisible wounds. Scars on the soul largely go unseen. Who stops a passerby and says “You look sad. How was your day?” Who sits down with the person alone on the bench?
How can we tend the strangers among us? Cutting and burning, even tattooing, show me how much we all want to be seen. Internal pain must be transformed into something recognizable, demanding immediate care and attention.
No wonder that so many patients beg for a scar- a broken limb- the psychic equivalent of a scarlet letter on their forehead. No wonder they talk loudly to themselves.
How else is darkness, as William Styron, said to be “made visible?”
My father, an oncologist, taught me early on “The most serious wounds don’t look bad. They grow inside you until you die from them.” Doing psychotherapy is like doing neurosurgery in the dark. We feel our way along, making connections.
I try to decode the dusty Braille on the inside of a wrist. The one word that flies up like a gleaming fish out of a sentence and sinks down. The pearl inside the oyster’s slime.
Yesterday in the middle of a few things I stopped on-line for a coffee. From behind I felt a hand like a shaking butterfly, descend on my arm.
“I don’t know if you are aware, but your purse is open?” It was an older woman, speaking with care. A few years ago I would have brushed her off politely.
But now I thought- perhaps this is her one conversation, her only touch for the day. I turned and talked about the wait and the line.
EM Forster said,” Only connect.”
Do you talk to someone unsolicited? Can you listen? Can you hold that thin thread of connection and ask them next week: : “How are you now?”
Ask them to step inside your circle of sun?