WELCOMING THE GIFT OF LIFE, DESPITE EVERYTHING: THE REFLECTIONS OF DR. NICOLETTA SUTER

Dr. Nicoletta Suter, Head of Formazione at the IRCCS CRO of Aviano and Expert in Narrative Medicine

The experiences lived in this year of pandemic have a mixed taste: what has been taken away does not always belong to a negative sphere and vice versa, not everything that has arrived is in the area of positivity. 

I would like to start from the feeling of the body, which I do not identify only in physicality, for me it is the existence of being in all its dimensions. Well, my body has perceived as burdensome, limiting and at times unbearable the compulsion to stay in limited spaces and for times defined by others. This loss of freedom of movement (for me, who loves running, traveling, exploring, giving birth to ideas while walking and making discoveries in the encounter with other people, other places, nature), has been an obstacle to creativity. I was lucky, because traveling with literature, movies, and music saved me, just as the exercise of writing kept my mind and body moving. I narrated about myself and things in the world, trying to make an effort to go beyond lack, searching for a fullness even in the small things of every day, occupying the pages with words that helped me look forward. I don’t know if I wrote in the form of prayer or reflection, certainly hope never left me. Now I am certain, the “need to narrate” should be added to Maslow’s pyramid among the basic needs.

The pandemic made me experience what it means to lose my sense of security, to touch with my own vulnerability and that of my family: I perceived the great risk of drowning in fear and cancelling all planning, of getting stuck, paralyzed. And close by was the big question: how could I protect my daughters and parents over 80 from suffering and illness? I, who generally plan almost everything, have learned to focus on the present and to live each day with its questions, looking at each limit as a possible threshold, perhaps a passage to something else. 

I am involved in continuing education in public health and have been a trainer for more than 30 years. In March 2020 all the classrooms were closed and even today there are still activities in hiccups: my work and commitment of years could be shattered in an instant. I immediately decided to get out of this nightmare by networking with colleagues and friends in my region, in my country and overseas, and together we reinvented and readapted adult education starting with narrative devices, which revealed all their potential and effectiveness for the “care” of oneself and others, in a time that required precisely this. A training “in the network” as a space-time for reflection and sharing, for the recovery of strategies to face the crisis and heal the wounds. I can say with certainty that narrative medicine has been a safe haven in the midst of the storm, and not only: it has given me the opportunity to experience the strength of the narrative community that has been built as a response to uncertainty, vulnerability, disorder, to our liquid modernity, Bauman would say. A community in which I discovered that new forms of relationships are possible between people who are even physically far apart: perceiving sisterhood and brotherhood, emotional closeness, a sense of belonging to common values, sharing a direction for the common good. 

All this brought me much joy and is still a powerful energy that encourages me to stay in the persistence of uncertainty and vulnerability, but with new life skills and renewed awareness. With a new ability to value being, more than having; with the humility to accept the many limitations of life, but without discouragement, because they are often like road signs pointing towards new directions. And also with the embarrassment, sometimes the shame of all the privileges, undeserved, that come from being born in a rich part of the world, where I have always been able to work and study and realize many of my dreams. And even that makes a difference in pandemic times. What will I do tomorrow? “Die as much as necessary, without overdoing it. Be born again as much as necessary from what has been saved.” These verses by Wislawa Szymborska are always a source of wisdom for me, they seem to say to me: stay vigilant and with respons-ability and creativity continue to welcome the gift of life, despite everything.

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