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Healing Circle: A Recommended Book

Posted on Oct 22, 2006 by

I’ve read Healing Circle more than once since I first got it several years ago. More than twice. How best to introduce it? It’s such a vast book. Two editors. Fifteen contributors. Fifteen separate and distinct experiences of illness and the recovery from illness. Crohn’s disease becomes material for one essay. Also HIV. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Migraine headache. Lupus. Rheumatoid arthritis. OCD. Depression. A broken leg. A ruptured cervical disc. Diabetes. Fifteen separate and distinct essays, and within these essays so many telling details. So many of the kinds of details that illuminate not just illness and the process of healing, but well—life.

Here is one such detail. In “Back in the Body” by Kris Vervaecke, she describes the room in a cottage in Oregon where she first began to recuperate from a severe flare of rheumatoid arthritis that occurred in the wake of childbirth. p. 130:

My hospital bed was in the living room next to the woodstove, where I could look out the double-paned glass at the sparkling river, and when I was too tired to be propped up and turn my head, I lay on my back and watched ripples of light undulating across the shiny ivory painted ceiling, reflecting the river’s surface.

Here’s another detail taken from Richard Solly’s “The World Inside,” an account of his recovery from a surgical procedure for Crohn’s disease that left him with an open abdominal wound. This passage begins his description of his work with Annie, the home-care nurse who assisted him in his recovery. p. 92:

Annie was not into New Age healing through prayers, meditation, visualization, or even acupuncture. For her, healing would be accomplished only by putting on surgical gloves, cutting bandages, peeling away the soiled gauzes, letting air into the wound, rinsing the wound with saline solution, inserting six-inch Q-tips into abdominal holes. . . Each morning, promptly at nine, she rang the front doorbell and then let herself in. I often left the door unlocked for her. . .”

And here’s an image of recovery that Mary Swander offers from a time when she was in recuperating from a ruptured cervical disc and case of myelitis. p. 125:

I fixated on the small, the tiny seeds. In my case, the literal seeds of my literal garden. Lying awake in bed at night, I’d worried how I would ever prepare the soil, plant, weed, dig, and harvest. I contemplated making raised beds. I contemplated making trellises. I contemplated not having a garden at all. . . . Finally, I got up one morning, clomped down to the basement with my walker, and started my garden seedlings. Two little seeds in each pot.

In this anthology, edited by Patricia Foster and the aforementioned Mary Swander, illness and recovery become material. Not by denying the discomfort and fear and sometimes tedium of it. But by using it—attending to it—the true and actual details of it—and then paying close attention to where those details lead. Paying attention to the images that emerge. The light undulating across the ceiling. The nurse at the door with bandages. And those seeds—two tiny seeds in each pot.

I think I just realized one of the reasons I like these essays. The language, yes. The vivid detail. But, more, it’s because these essays feel to me as if they tell something of the truth about illness and healing. They don’t pretend or preach or gloss over. For me at least these essays have the ring of truth, as if they were told from the inside by someone bent on getting the details of it right—