Anatomy of listening: I Love You

‘I Love you’ the patient silently releases this word from her lips with no sound. 

We have only just met her. She mouths it again, her whole face lit up as part of the choreography of shaping those three sounds, and then she releases them like birds and watches us, as we watch the words fly towards us.

Her hands hold the side of the bed, as if the bed were about to go somewhere, like a horse. So to be sure, she holds the plastic covered reins of her hospital bed.

She dances her spine.

Undulations everywhere.

We say we are dancers, her eyes widen. We begin moving as if we’re leaning into a gust of wind that she herself is summoning. She is bathing in some way, in the moving.

The space between our hands and her body are close enough to feel the two directions of presence meeting. ‘I love you’ she mouths again, ‘wonderful’.

She is Eros, the god Eros, who knew? 

In this hospital of all places, why is she here?

She is beaming light at us. 

There is something about these encounters that are so deeply alive that when you leave the room having danced, everything is changed. The philosopher Edmund Husserl coined the term ‘epoche’ whereby we enter ‘a temporary suspension of belief in everything we think we know about the world, and the relation of consciousness to the world changes’ (p70, Lachman.G (2017)

Somehow this is one of the foundations of this work perhaps is in letting go into the emerging encounter with another, so much so that when greeted with the phrase ‘I love you’ so beautifully expressed, so real, one has to melt into receiving that particular atmosphere the patient calls up in us. Each encounter is like a door opening and welcoming the stranger – and the strangest of moments – with wide open arms. 

Over the years, my body has become an archive of presences and encounters. All the people I have danced with. After each one, something is learned, and is left to join the company of all the other encounters. There is an imprint, like a hand in the cave of the body, with a mark of being touched by someones presence and story.

The gentleman in the corner of the room after a few minutes begins dancing with us. 

Just like that.

We are now a quartet moving. She in her bed ‘We love you too’  I mouth under the mask.

We are squeezed somewhere at the bottom of the bed, ducking under the winch that lifts the patients. But right now she she seems to be flying of her own accord. 

To even begin to attempt to describe these moments, I have to lean into the poetic. 

A good poem transports you, so too can movement and engagement with the imagination. Just a small moment of the breath filling you deeper, or that arm gesturing into the air in response and dialogue with another arm from another side of the room can be enough to help you salvage some part of yourself that may have gone into hiding by being in pain, or being in hospital.

The smallest of incremental shifts can bring relief.

After a month or so in a hospital myself in my 20s I began a nightly ritual. 

I had found this one piece of music by Strauss.

I would fold the bed sheets over my head to make myself what seemed like a little secret cave, a room of my own.

I would take the portable CD player from under the pillow and place the headphones in.

I scrolled through to number 7 on the CD and closed my eyes. 

In that piece of music, hidden in the voices that were singing, in the swelling of strings, in each intake of the singers breath, and each note sung out, was a remembering of beauty, and in that remembrance was hope.    

Dancing sometimes with others in this setting can be like a casting out a message of hope in a bottle, out to the wide sea within each person.

We cast the message out through offering a hand, we cast it out by offering a kind the gaze, by cracking a joke, or by just nodding, and saying hello with our eyes.

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