In the deep swells of the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 physicians gathered with author Judith Hannan for precious space to write, reflect, connect
By Judith Hannan
They came from childhoods marked by fields of flowers and grazing cows and from city streets swelling with immigrant dialects and the smell of arroz con pollo. They came from land surrounded by sea and from a 300-square-foot shelter where no family member could hide from the others. They came from a life of spiritual observance that brought peace and from where it smothered. They each grew to become medical students and doctors with varied specialties and a range of experience and training. They came, unknown to each other, to write and share their stories. They discovered their hearts were even larger than they had recognized.
These 10 physicians appeared, every Friday for two hours, a vast gulf of distilled time within the pandemic, their faces reflected on screens from home, hospital offices, hallways, outside in the glittering sun. They arrived to write, to rummage in their thoughts, and see how their words built bridges to each other. It was the first Gold Writing Workshop , an appropriate name since words were spun into gold.
Several months ago, when I approached the Gold Foundation about offering a writing workshop for healthcare workers, my motivation was selfish. While I banged my pots and clapped every evening at 7 p.m. from my New York City apartment in support of the beleaguered doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, technicians, and hospital cleaning staff, I never believed I was accomplishing anything positive. I was in search of a response to the pandemic that had purpose and meaning not just for me but for the beneficiary of my efforts.
My skill set and my age meant doing anything at the front lines was impossible. The one piece of knowledge I did have was how writing during hard times can clarify and calm, how words shared can lift you out of isolation. René Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” But what if you have no time to think? Do you exist? Do you ever get to know who you are? I could offer that time for thinking.
Twenty years ago, when my then-8-year-old daughter underwent treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma, I had my own era marked by the absence of thought about anything that didn’t involve cancer and caregiving. When she finished the treatment that resulted in her recovery, and my ability to think returned, I gathered my paper and pencil and began the story of that time, which eventually became my memoir, Motherhood Exaggerated. There were my thoughts and revelations, clear for me to see, how I had been transformed into a different, and I think better, mother.
Launched at the end of October 2020, the Gold Foundation Writing Workshop has allowed participants not only to reflect on the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism that we are experiencing with such intensity right now, but on the many influences on their lives. They wrote in response to prompts about where they were from, secrets and lies, what made them angry, what they bowed down to. They wrote about first times, the stories their hands could tell, what they know for sure.
Perhaps because they came through the Gold Foundation, they were a self-selective group, hearts and souls already tuned to the pitch of another person’s pain, anger, joy, creativity, and sensitivity. While we met over Zoom, the division between those little boxes seemed to blur, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a hand crossing over to another’s space to offer a tissue or a squeeze of comfort.
I am honored to have been among the first to hear the stories of these amazing healers. Now it is your turn as these writers begin to share pieces with you. I know you will fall in love with them as much as I did.
I am from by Gisel Bello
For Aloys by Elizabeth Toll, MD
If you are interested in participating a future Gold Writing Workshop, sign up here.