A few days ago I received a email from an old friend. "Call me," it said.
I'd first met this friend at the Frost Place; she was a New Hampshire public school teacher who'd been coming to the conference longer than I had. But a few years ago she suffered a brain aneurysm; and though she was fortunate to survive, she had endured considerable brain damage. At first I'd tried to keep up with my friend's progress through news from her daughter, but as time went by I heard less and less. I did not know how my friend was healing . . . if she was healing. It seemed likely that she might not even remember our friendship.
Yet a few days ago I received an email from her. "Call me."
So I called her, and there she was . . . the same bubbly voice, slightly distorted but wholly recognizable; the same intense joyous optimism that I remembered. "I have written a poem!" she laughed. She talked and talked, telling me of her struggles with short-term memory, voice problems, dependence. But for some reason, she said, her memories of the Frost Place had remained bright. We chattered for a long time--an hour, maybe--not just about the past but also about her eagerness to take charge of her present. I wondered aloud if continuing to write poems might be a way to help her hold on to those details from her present that keep dissolving away from her. And she was so joyful to be thinking about that possibility: "I have all the time in the world!" she laughed.
Later in the day she sent me an email: "You inspired me--I played the piano for the last hour." I'm not sure how I inspired her as we did not talk about music at all. Perhaps she was her own inspiration; perhaps the opportunity to talk about creating poems, about reading books, about learning to thrive in the present and the future triggered her physical need to make music.
Our conversation was so sweet and unexpected. Think of it!--what we do at the Frost Place has stayed alive in the deep recesses of my friend's injured brain! I know nothing about the science of memory and brain function, but I do know that an intense relationship with art may have unintended consequences. It seems that a tenderness for poetry may be helping my friend reclaim her life. If that's not a miracle, I don't know what is.