My friend Dana is slogging through chemo these days. Periodically she sends a note out to all of her friends detailing the daily grind—the weakness, the medical challenges, the indignities. Then she reflects on the blessings she ekes out of this journey.
I suspect these occasional missives are therapeutic for her, but I’ve been struck by how much they have helped and supported me, too far away to drop by with soup or flowers. She is allowing me, along with the others in her extended circle, to stay near as she makes this challenging walk. She honours us with her pain, her vulnerability, her courage.
More and more, I feel it is storytelling that helps us screen out the static and get down to the real work. When Dana tells me her story, I get to walk with her to the verge, and together we look out at the imponderables. We discover that her questions are my questions, her fears are my fears. Neither of us finds any real certainty, but we realize something about the power of friendship, and I come away buoyed up by her wonderful spirit.
Winnipeg Métis writer Katherena Vermette details another kind of illness: the violence the haunts the lives of Indigenous women and their communities. In a radio interview, she admitted with her characteristic candour that she shied away from writing the hardest scenes in her new novel The Break because she understood and loved all of her characters. Why write such painful stories, the interviewer wondered. Because they are our stories, she said.
Vermette doesn’t just frame out violence and resilience, struggle and wonder, she lives them with her characters. Reading The Break is like listening to Dana’s stories. We accompany Vermette’s characters to the verge, and together we look out at the imponderables. We discover that their questions are our questions, their fears are our fears. Across whatever differences we believe to be true, we connect, and those connections can form the bedrock of hope and determination we so desperately need if we’re going to move toward deep healing in ourselves and in our communities.
Illness has the power to focus you, if you choose. It can damp down the noise and put you face to face with the big questions we all carry around like a second skin. Telling our stories to one another and listening with an open heart—these things are both simple and profound. They take courage but they have the power to buoy us up with gratitude, even when a story is painful. They can renew us.
The irrepressible Tlicho Dene writer Richard Van Camp has created a video short for We Matter, an online campaign to offer hope to Indigenous teens in grave distress. He ends this way: “The universe loves you. You were meant to be a peacemaker, you were meant to share your medicine. Every being has a medicine power. What’s your medicine? That’s your job in this life, to figure out what your gifts are and how you can share them.”
What’s your medicine?