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Quest: An Image for Writing and Healing

Posted on Mar 1, 2007 by

In The Wounded Storyteller, a book I plan to write about soon, the author, Arthur Frank, writes about the possibility of illness being transformed by an image of quest. He writes [p. 115]:

Quest stories meet suffering head on; they accept illness and seek to use it. Illness is the occasion of a journey that becomes a quest. What is quested for may never be wholly clear, but the quest is defined by the ill person’s belief that something is to be gained through the experience.

This is not to say that illness is ordinarily welcome—or that it’s all for the good. Not like that. In my experience, it’s rarely like that. (And I doubt that Arthur Frank is implying that it’s like that.) Rather, he’s pointing to that possibility that illness—or grief—or loss—or difficulties of different sorts—the possibility that any one of these can serve as an occasion that can initiate something that can be called, for lack of a better word, a journey. As Frank himself mentions [p. 117], the use of the word journey for various experiences may have become something of a fad of late, but that doesn’t mean that it has no meaning—or that it can’t be useful.

For me, the most useful thing about these words—journey—quest—is that they raise the possibility that illness and suffering might not merely be lost time. One can be moving even when it doesn’t feel as if one is moving. One could begin a journey of this sort and end up somewhere entirely unexpected—or one could come home at the end and begin to realize that one has brought something back—something of value—something of beauty.

Which is not to say that most of us don’t resist these kinds of journeys, especially at first—or as long as we think we can get away with it.