Shakespeare said, “fire makes poets of us all.” This line was incorporated into the Befriender training as they prepared to listen to the stories of hospital patients. Patients often move familiar words and stories to talk about the unfamiliar. They become prose poets in the midst of fire, the threat of the unknown.
I have already told the story of the hospital patient from Sugar Creek township, Cedar County, where I grew up. When I shared having a fiddle but the strings in the bow were worn out. (my father was a fiddle player at barn dances.) He said, “we all wear out.” “Wear out” was the poetic clue word, moving “wear out” from the bow to his situation. When I responded to his clue words with tell me more, he shared the anxieties (fire) about his hospital stay.
A Befriender made a patient visit where the patient moved a childhood memory to name what she was experiencing in the pain and suffering of her cancer, now reaching a life threatening stage. During recess at this country school the girls were being chased by the boys on the playground. To escape they all ran into the out house. Soon the floor gave way and they fell into the shit. She said it took weeks to get rid of the smell.
In characteristic fashion of a lament psalm she did a turn around for the present, concluding, “I can still stand up.”
“Fire makes poets of us all.” If not prose poets, then story tellers.
Learning to pick up on the words and stories being moved in a conversation is a listening discipline needed for our time. We are a talking culture needing the balance of a listening culture. With the discipline of metaphorical listening we can respond differently as words, ideas and suggestions, even patterns, are moved in a metaphorical manner from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
I will continue exploring stress and stress stories as well as metaphors and patterns that emerge from these stories to illustrate.
To be continued,
Marlin Whitmer, BCC, ret.
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the art of story metaphor listening.