There is one conference offering that I have had my eye on now for over 15 years. It is called Creativity and Madness, and they have the coolest sounding workshops ever. Seminars about Johnny Cash and Self Destructive Tendencies, and Visions of Hope and Faith in Mark Twain's Early Writing. It sure beats Ethical Record Keeping Strategies. I have held onto my brochure every year, just in case some money magically shows up on my doorstep (it is an insanely expensive workshop), earmarked 'For CEU use only'. Nothing yet, but a girl can dream...
Every year, they offer a full scholarship for one lucky recipient for all expenses plus spending money. I try every year to win that scholarship, but nothing yet. The criteria is always the same: Write a short essay telling how art is important in your life. Hmmm, simple enough, I suppose, but it does start to get a little redundant after a couple of times. One year I wrote in third person, and another year in a Yoda/Elmo type of language. No, I am not kidding. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was trying to make my essay stand out. I am sure it just came across as weird and freaky, alerting them to someone they would rather not attend their conference. Not one to be easily deterred, I have taken a stab at it again. So, for this year's entry, here goes nothing: (For some reason, the format on this has gotten all messed up and I can't figure out how to fix it. I didn't send it in this way--that would probably just add to the tinge of crazy that I sure seeing my name again will trigger for the scholarship review folks).
When I was fresh out of graduate school, I went to work as a hospital social worker.
Over time, I worked at three different hospitals, each with very different patient needs
and physical settings. The last one, and my favorite, was at an inpatient physical
rehabilitation hospital. I worked with brain injury and spinal cord injury patients that
were in the early stages of their new reality.
One of the renovation projects that occurred at this hospital during my tenure was
the construction of an Atrium Mall. Office space was gutted and an open space with
fountains and sculptures and art was added. A piano was placed in a strategic, roped off
area, and someone was scheduled to perform for patients, families, and random passersby
on a regular basis. A gift shop was added that featured the creations of current and
former patients, many of whom had never realized or explored their talents until they
became injured. I loved that gift shop, as well as all the other elements. I loved the
philosophy behind it—how art and music and beauty are an essential part of healing, on
up there with physical therapy and re-learning to talk. And as a social worker, it just
made sense to view the situation and patients holistically.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. As a result of a car accident, I found myself
as a patient at this very hospital for a very long month. Therapy was exhausting, and I
spent almost every spare minute in my room. There were a couple of times that I was
wheeled down to the Atrium Mall, and although I loved being there, it was more of a
passing thing that didn’t inspire me as much as I had hoped. I still thought it was a nice
concept, but I really just wanted to get back in my bed upstairs.
I was in that same Atrium Mall just last week, not as an employee or as a patient,
but as a mom. My son is a newly diagnosed cancer patient at the Children’s Hospital that
is connected to the
inpatient for at least 31 weeks this year. My husband and I are taking turns providing
round the clock coverage in his room, and on this particular morning I had gone to buy us
some snacks and water at that same gift shop I had gone into on its opening day so many
ago, when my now chemo boy was just a baby.
As I took a couple of precious minutes to look around that small shop, I saw the
paintings and the ceramics and the beadwork items that other people had crafted out of
their own tragedies. In some way that I can’t even understand, I felt a connection, and
was ministered to, just be seeing the items there. Then, as I was leaving that shop, I
heard the piano playing. No one was standing around or seeming to pay attention, but for
me, it was a sound of beauty in direct contrast with that red bag of poison hooked on to
my child’s IV pole just about a hundred yards away.
I took an extra minute to listen to that music, and looking out over the fountain, it hit
me. THIS is what the architects of this space had in mind. THIS is the importance of art
and music and beauty. They help bring healing and comfort in a place of pain and
uncertainty. Art doesn’t necessarily make things better or provide answers, but it can
ease that pain.
This is no longer theoretical or a warm fuzzy concept for me. I hope to steal many
more such moments over the course of this year. I have a feeling that they could make all
the difference as I face a new reality of my own.
Tune in next year for my next desperate attempt. Maybe I should try writing in Pig Latin. Or Ubby-Dubby.