An Invitation to Nurses

A collective storytelling project gathering the experiences of nurses on the frontline of care during the Covid19 pandemic.

Pieces of the Story by Lucy Mathews Heegaard

 

WELCOME

If you are a nurse who has provided care during the Covid19 pandemic, this post is for you. Thank you for considering sharing your story with me. If you think your story is not worthy enough, that someone else has a better perspective to offer, I can assure you that your story matters. Every story is part of the puzzle. I hope to attract a demographically and geographically diverse group of participants who have served in a variety of frontline capacities, from ER to ICU to floor nurses to hospice, to any other front-line patient care roles. I welcome all perspectives.

My purpose is to bear witness to nurses’ experiences through a project that is part documentary, part art. In one-on-one conversations, I will receive whatever you wish to share with me about what you have seen, heard, and felt as you have served patients and their families during the pandemic. Once interviews are complete, I will weave your individual stories, in your own voices and words, into one, collective narrative. The result will be a short film that I hope will open the hearts and minds of viewers to your experiences.

Reading news accounts throughout the pandemic about the harsh realities faced by those of you on the frontline of patient care and hearing stories from friends who are hospital chaplains about your bedside vigils with patients, I have been moved by the challenges endured by nurses on all our behalf and struck by how sheltered I have felt as I have been safely sequestered at home. By pairing your voices and words with images, sounds, and music, I would like to create a record of your experiences that honors the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll of your work and helps those who have not had your first-hand experiences to feel the weight and depth of them more fully than the written word alone can accomplish.

To listen to a witness is to become one.

 

⏤Elie Wiesel

I will share the final project on my website and social media channels in hopes of shining light on the realities of providing care during circumstances of limited resources, rapidly changing knowledge of the virus, physical distancing, risks of infection, juggling personal life with work demands, and overwhelming patient needs, as well as circumstances I have not imagined and will only learn about through you. I hope the film will underscore the vital role you, as nurses, play in general in the healthcare system, as well as the added weight that has fallen on your shoulders during the pandemic.

My promise to those of you who participate is that I will listen deeply and will treat your story and your time with the utmost respect. Author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen has written that listening with attention⏤and I would add intention, as well⏤offers an opportunity for wholeness and healing. I believe that opportunity extends both ways in a converstion, to the listener and the teller. Through the film I hope to give viewers a sense of becoming your listeners and witnesses themselves.

Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing…When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness.

 

⏤Rachel Naomi Remen

I will strive to reflect what you share with me accurately and will offer all participants an opportunity to review the film before publication to make sure my use of your words feels true to you. If you have any objections, I will respect your wishes and remove your words from the film. You can remain anonymous or be named in the closing credits of the film, whatever is most comfortable for you. But in either case, when your words are voiced in the film, your name will not be on screen identifying you. I do not intend to use images of any participants in the film, but rather to illustrate your words with photographs that evoke the sentiments you express. I do not plan to use names of organizations or even cities where you work. The idea is for your stories to stand in for those of the many nurses I will not be able to talk to, so my focus will be on extracting the heart of the experience you narrate to me, not the particulars of identities of you, your patients, or your organizations. I will lay all this out in a consent agreement that we both will sign so that you have assurances about my intentions and I have clarity about your wishes.

To be able to use your voice in the film soundtrack, I would like permission to record just the audio from our conversation, but if you are hesitant to be recorded, please don’t let that stop you from participating. I can find ways to weave written words into the visual story, as well.

I hope to have twenty-five participants in this project so that individual voices can be melded into a collective voice without any one person feeling unduly exposed. My goal is to reflect every voice in the video in some fashion. I expect that themes might emerge in the stories. If so, I may have several different voices speaking parts of the same theme, with only a few words from each speaker. In other words, I won’t know until I have all the stories in front of me how much or how little of the audio of each interview will be in the final film, but the entirety of every story I receive will help shape what is in the final project.

I know that entrusting your story to me is a leap of faith on your part and I do not take that lightly. You can read more about me here on my website and see examples of work I have produced to have a sense of who I am and whether you would feel comfortable talking with me. For an example of my work that comes closest to the feeling I envision for this project, please see my film called Pilgrimage. It is not a collective story, nor does it use spoken narrative, but it is in the same vein in which I will approach this story.

I am undertaking this service project as part of my participation in a year-long program on Socially Engaged Buddhism through Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I will be working on the film production aspect of it as part of a Master of Fine Arts degree I am pursuing at California Institute of Integral Studies.

Share Your Story

If you have questions about the project or are ready to share your story, please email me at:

lucy@studiolustories.org

I will be conducting interviews via Zoom or telephone from May 25 to September 25, 2021. If I reach my twenty-five person capacity, I will post notice of that here. Thank you.

PHOTOGRAPH | Pieces of the Puzzle ©2018 Lucy Mathews Heegaard.

An American Elegy

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” — Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Composer Frank Ticheli has said that his hope for “An American Elegy” is that it might serve as “one reminder of how fragile and precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Ticheli was commissioned to write the orchestral piece to remember those who died in the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999, and to honor the lives of those who survived.

One of my dearest friends, about whom I’ve written often, heard the music played by her son’s school orchestra and was moved beyond words by the power of it, the poetic strength coupled with such vulnerable emotional resonance. She tucked away the title just like she tucked away other other things that moved and inspired her, quotes from Emerson and St. Augustine among them. After she died from metastatic breast cancer, Ticheli’s piece was played at the beginning of her memorial service, an instruction she had left behind for her family. Whenever I hear the opening bars, the music never fails to take my breath for a moment, in goosebumps and tears, just like it did the first time I heard it at her service. (more…)

Jules of Nature

With her trusty Canon camera in hand, J. Marion Brown has honed the practice of paying attention to a fine art (literally) as she catches moments in nature the rest of us miss. 

JMarionBrown by Adrienne Camhi

Since November of 2011, Brown has been sharing a photograph each day on her tumblr site, JULES OF NATURE, pairing each of her images with an astutely chosen quote, offering, as her website says, “food for the soul and a feast for the eyes.” I start my day there every morning over coffee for the lovely pause it gives me. Awhile back, I asked her to tell me why she likes being behind the lens. Her answer is in this short video about her work, a labor of love that’s become a way of life for her.

She has been taking pictures since her kids were born, but became passionate about nature photography in the 1990s when she began camping with her family on the property in the Wisconsin woods where they ultimately built a home, after years of testing it out first in tents.

PHOTOGRAPH of J. Marion Brown by Adrienne Camhi. MUSIC in video by Wall Matthews. Photographs in video by J. Marion Brown. NATURE SOUNDS by R. H. Humphries.

Epiphany, Passion & Purpose in American Wine Story

“Their stories began with an epiphany, a precise moment when they understood that every bottle of wine contains a little bit of magic.” — American Wine Story

Epiphany: a split second of earth-shaking clarity that allows you to see something you’ve been missing in your life— your true purpose and passion. (more…)

In Charlie's Space and Time

“Healthy people base their lives on healing, authentic stories. Empowerment comes through the process of telling those stories.”  Theologian Matthew Fox

The keepers and tellers of our stories are precious people. We all do it to some degree, I think, even if we don’t realize it. And as Matthew Fox points out, the pay off for telling stories– healing, authentic stories– is not just a brief interlude of good entertainment, but rather an experience of empowerment, if we allow it to be. I’d like to tell you a story about a storyteller who understand this idea inside and out. In fact, he lives and breathes the idea daily. His name is Charles Hale and he shares his work at Stories Connect Love Heals.

A voracious reader of anything New York and its history, Charlie is just as often pouring over an edition of The New York Times from the 1800’s as he is today’s news. He scours any record he can find in search of details about his ancestors, Irish immigrants who settled in New York City and worked hard to build a life there, yet left behind precious little in the way of letters, photographs and evidence of their lives. Without these kinds of personal artifacts to help him know and understand his grandparents, great grandparents and great greats, Charlie uses bits and pieces of historical records, often finding only tiny shards at a time, and weaves them together with a discerning eye and a compassionate heart in a way that brings past generations to life again.

Charlie has a name for his work. He calls it “breathing of an ancestor’s space and time.” I get goosebumps every time I hear him say it. No small feat, Charlie actually manages to put us in the shoes of his ancestors. Literally. He has been known to retrace the steps that his great grandparents must have taken in traveling from home to work. He researches what the weather was like on the day of a particular event he’s unearthed. He finds out what buildings existed at the time so that he’ll know what his ancestors would have passed by as they walked. He learns what headlines they would have read in the morning paper. By the time Charlie is finished with his story, I most certainly do feel as though I am breathing with his ancestors in their space and time. I can practically smell the coffee that was at their breakfast table.

In a recent conversation, I asked Charlie about his passion for storytelling and where it comes from. To answer my question, he told me of an exercise he’d once done to find the one word that describes him best. After a lengthy process of elimination, comparing words and honing down to the ones that felt the most true to who he is, he came at last to a single word: connection. And stories, he said, connect us. “When you tell a good story, if you tell it well, the other person can get into your space and share a moment with you. When we share a moment together, we literally breathe of each other’s space and time. And when we breathe of each other’s space and time, we create community.”

Excerpts from our conversation form the storyline of this video. At one point I thought I might provide a voice-over narrative to tell Charlie’s story. But in the editing, I found that Charlie’s voice and words tell his story best. So I offer you a moment to share from our chat– and a chance to breathe of Charlie’s space and time.

*Huge thanks to author Jean Raffa for bringing the Matthew Fox quote to my attention. I highly recommend her blog, Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom, as a thoughtful, thought-provoking place to visit.

**On a musical note, the piano composition in this video was graciously created by Barbara McAfee, http://barbaramcafee.com

Welcome Home, Cowboy Bob

When I was four years old, I asked everyone to call me “Cowboy Bob.” I can hear myself pausing indignantly and growling, “Don’t call me Lucy. Call me Cowboy Bob.” I cannot recall how long this phase lasted, what prompted it to start nor what caused it to end, but when I think of this era in my life, I smile.

About the same time, perhaps a year or so later, I received a gift from my parents– a ukulele. What I really wanted was a guitar and, in all honesty, I was offended by this toy-ish instrument. Didn’t they take me seriously? Didn’t they know I was ready for the real thing? I was almost six, and in my mind I was an adult already. I don’t know if Cowboy Bob and the ukulele are linked, but somehow I feel they are.

In the 40 or so years that have passed since then, my musical life took a lot of twists and turns but never took off. I begged for piano lessons. Got piano lessons. Begged to quit piano lessons. Quit. I got a guitar. Took lessons. Never practiced. Quit. And at some point, I put away all instruments for a long time.

Somewhere in my 30’s, the guitar called to me. I picked it up and this time I didn’t quit. I don’t have the soul of a virtuoso, nor the patience to practice enough to truly master an instrument, but I found out why I was so drawn to these instruments and to music. An unknown, untrained place deep in a corner of my heart told me I that I needed to put my stories to music to save them, to savor them, to share the beautiful truths that lived in them.

I bought a ukulele and started playing it again. It felt so at home in my hands, like it belonged there, like it was always supposed to be there. Why on earth had I ever put it down?

Recently, I was looking on ebay at vintage ukuleles– old instruments with dings and nicks and personality. I wasn’t looking for a fancy or expensive instrument, but one that had a history in it. When I came across a uke with the Harmony logo on it, I recognized it instantly and realized I already had what I was looking for. It was on a shelf at my parent’s house.

One phone call to my mother, a few days of waiting, a UPS delivery, and voila! My old ukulele was back in my hands. I put new strings on immediately and tightened the sticky tuning gears to get them hold a tune. I admired the nicks and dings in the uke’s body, history that I had put there myself.

Almost immediately, the ukulele began to show me a song. It was about coming home and about being welcomed back; about what we toss away and what we carry forward; about what makes us leave and what causes us to return. Most of all, it was about the “knowing” that is always with us but that sometimes takes a long time to learn.

Looking back, I realize that Cowboy Bob had an important piece of wisdom for me that I knew all along and yet had missed at the same time. The cowboy in me was saying loud and clear: “Take me seriously. Listen to me. I have something to say!”

I had tossed aside the ukulele because I misjudged it, underestimated it, didn’t think it was big enough or serious enough to hold all my intentions, my ambitions. And yet, many years later, I found it was the only instrument I ever needed.

I could hear myself and be heard.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome Home/Lucy Mathews Heegaard © 2012

What do they say when you come back home/Where’ve you been, why you gone so long/What brought you back, what kept you away/Now that you’re here, please stay

Tell me a story of leaving behind/Tell me another of return/Show me the face I used to know/And I’ll tell you all I’ve learned

Leaving’s not always a true goodbye/Broken things can be repaired/Wisdom comes in its own time/But knowing is always there

What do they say when you come back home/Where’ve you been, why you gone so long/What brought you back, what kept you away/Now that you’re here, please stay

Now that you’re here, please stay