Friday, March 12, 2010

Storytelling Through the Body

This morning, Sister T came by and we shared stories. Three years ago she had become suddenly paralyzed. She could speak, but could not otherwise move. After some months of suffering, she finally had surgery for a disc in her neck, and now wanders about the compound trying to walk away the continuous nerve pain that wracks her limbs. We relate to one another in our pains, and in our ways of trying to find meaning with it.

She is Catholic nun, but she speaks about
God with the language of universal love that does not feel bound in the rigidity of Catholicism that I have heard before. She speaks with a power in her experience of surrendering again and again through her pain, surrendering to a greater power than herself alone, calling in God’s love to give her meaning. She is a big woman, deep black skin, and a big smile that overrides the greater pain in her soul..

A man passed by pushing a bicycle loaded with 5 huge jackfruit, lumpy green 2-foot long footballs that have a sweet, banana-taste and large seeds inside. She stopped him from across the fence, and we bought one for 50 cents. The pregnant woman hoeing the compound field reached up to get the 8 pound fruit over the fence. We fetched a knife, some banana leaves, and proceeded to cut open the fruit.. “I’m salivating!” said Sister T. “ I love the jackfruit. For us, this is food..”

We wiped the sticky milk from the fruit away with cooking oil,and I invited her to receive some massage, a sharing which we had been about to do before I hurt my back, but could not do until now, now that my back pain is diminishing. She seemed wary, and said that a doctor told her only to do long gentle strokes on her back…

And so there we began, on the concrete step, against the wall of the guest house, with me stroking down her back. It felt good to her, and gradually she agreed to come inside and rest on a bed so that I could work on her legs more easily.

“Did this injury occur during a particular event? Was there something big going on when it happened?” I asked, noticing her grimacing with the lightest touch around her sacral iliac joint.
“I cannot say.” She replied,her feet jiggling apparently uncontrollably.
“Did it happen when you were with your family?” I asked
“Yes. When I was visiting them.”
“Sometimes our body is a teacher, symptoms symbolizing emotional problems or pains in our life .For me,” I described, ‘ my back sometimes seems to talk to me about lack of support. The sacrum here, “ I said, putting my hand on her sacrum, “ is the base of your spine, what supports everything in your body..”
“ Like my parents,” she said.
“Did you feel unsupported by your parents>?”
“Yes my father did not want me to join the convent. He wanted me to get married, to have children .. Then they split and I was alone, taking care of my brother and sister for 4 years, when I was 10 years old, until I was 14. I was alone. My mother, she had to go take care of her brother, who was sick. Then the war, it came… everyone was separated. I went off to the convent. I left my sisters and brothers.”
“ That must have been so difficult as such a young child to be responsible for everyone. And then to leave them. Did you feel badly?”
“Yes. It was all a struggle. Soo Much Struggle…”

She continued on through our session.. her father an alcoholic did bad things to her mother.That is why Sr T decided to become a nun. She did not want men around her .. When she finally was reunited with her family after the war, many years later after she had taken on the clothes of the nun, they all expected so much of her. They thought they could take care of her. She had not suffered like they, who had to run to Sudan and lived in Refugee camps. She, who still has nothing, was seen as the survivor, who could help save them now in some way. .

“Even though the war is over, you have to be so careful how you speak to people, “ she said. “The wrong words, and they can all become very violent, they have all been wounded in the head,” she put the back of her hand up to the center of her forehead.

It was during a visit home, feeling the burden of the past…. the wounding by her father, abandoned by her mother, responsible for her siblings, leaving them behind, the traumas of the war…. that she suddenly became paralyzed. She was standing one minute, and the next had no feeling on one side,. By the time she sat down, she could not move. One week in local hospitals produced no evidence of anything. They sent her to Kampala, where she lay immobilized for 2 weeks before a doctor even saw her. Finally they discovered a ruptured disc? Or something of that sort and did surgery on her neck..

I massaged her back and legs throughout the story. “ I want to write a memoir of my life, someday,” she said. “Yes yes.. You have much wisdom, many stories to tell…, about the childhood by the Nile, swimming with hippos and crocodiles; about life with your father and mother and siblings. About your encounters with God.. yes yes,..”

So today, I helped her write an outline for ideas of how to begin her writing project. Maybe it will happen. Maybe she will find the motivation to begin. Maybe through the writing, the healing will come around more fully. Telling her stories, having someone listen, the energy began to flow through her legs.. “they feel lighter,” she said.

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