April 6 – Questions Put to the Sick -I – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“When was the last time you sang?” Question put to the sick by a Native American Medicine Man

I was lying flat on a stretcher in a large hospital room after one of my surgeries. I had just been wheeled in, rejoining four others all mending in one open room. There was a deep silence as we looked at each other; there was only the slight breathing of machines and the clear drip of fluids and the hum of old radiators. Suddenly, an old man began to laugh, and without a word, our eyes bounced back and forth to each other, and one by one, we joined in what became a cascade of coughing laughter interspersed with short moans, for with each laugh, our incisions and bedsores poked us sharply. But we laughed and hurt and laughed and hurt, like a flock of broken birds dreaming of their next flight.

The laughter was a raw and primal sort of song, an elemental way of giving voice to our suffering. It was remarkably healing. I learned a great truth from that unexpected chorus. I learned that even when we feel powerless, we can always give voice to our pain and hope, to the slim, ongoing far of our being alive.

We often underestimate the power of giving voice, but its real and sustaining. It is the basis of all song. It is why prisoners break into song. It is why the blues are sung, even when no one is listening. It is at the heart of all hymns and mantras.

And it works its healing, not so much by being heard as by the fact that in giving voice to what lives within, even through the softest whisper, we allow the world of spirit to soften our pain. In this way, the smallest moan is in itself a lullaby. In giving voice to what we feel, the darkest cry uttered with honesty can arrive at the holiest of songs.

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