On July 11 we wrapped up our Northwest Narrative Medicine Series with Story Beat LIVE—an evening of intimate storytelling and careful listening. Our group was made up of a variety of individuals from all different walks of life. We were joined by doctors, patients, students, and writers—all of us brought together by the shared experience of how illness and medicine have touched our lives.
Stacy Brewster kicked off the evening with a guided writing prompt to open up the space and break down the barriers between this brave group of strangers. The room grew silent as everyone started free-writing on the following prompts:
“Between you and me…”
“The first thing I felt was…”
What started off as the same opening fragments branched off in different directions as we chased tangential thoughts and wrote without reservations. We went around and shared our unpolished, messy thoughts, which helped to ease the nerves of sharing deeply personal work later on.
After free-write sharing, participants were invited to read from a piece of writing brought from home. We heard painful illness narratives that were balanced by humor and wit, poems that caught our breath and brought some to tears, and snapshots of distant lives that reminded us that everyone has a story.
Storytellers were given the option to either receive or opt-out of feedback after reading. Everyone who read chose to receive feedback, which led to interesting and meaningful discussions about the pieces shared as well as the unique and shared experiences of illness and pain.
At one point, someone brought up a video made by the Cleveland Clinic called Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care, which shows the silent thoughts and lives of people passing through a hospital.
Story Beat LIVE, like the Cleveland Clinic video, is an exercise in empathy. It is an opportunity to peek into someone’s life and understand the challenges you may not be able to see by just looking. Editor Trent T Gilliss of On Being puts it nicely: “When we relate to those around us by understanding their back stories and their circumstances, we improve the way we work, the way we live, the way we take care of one another, the way we relate going forward.”
Thank you to everyone who showed up and participated. Your brave vulnerability is deeply appreciated and respected. Thanks for sharing.
If you have a piece you would like to share, please consider submitting to our Story Beat LIVE event during this year’s NWNM conference on October 21. More details can be found on our website.