I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars about my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch,–
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.
I used this poem in a previous column when I wrote about healing from injuries due to an accident. Reading Dickinson forced me to redefine what healing means, what a wound is. Laurel Turk’s play BREASTLESS made me take a closer look at what a wound is.
In Celtic tradition a “thin place” is a place where the veil separating earth from heaven lifts. “A thin place requires us to step from one world to another and that often means traveling to a place where we have less control and where the unpredictable becomes the means of discovery.” (Maddox)
Turk takes us on her journey to such a thin place, through pain and discovery and the places we are afraid to go to, where we would never go willingly.
Wounds are thin places. They cause great pain and grief, not just for the wound-carrier, but for those around her. Healing starts when the wound begins to lift the veil between ourselves and the world, ourselves and our hidden selves, and “a terrible beauty is born.” (Yeats)
Laurel Turk wrote the play BREASTLESS about her experiences with cancer, with a double mastectomy. As the shows continue, the audiences get larger. The play moves so many people, not just because her words and movement are about cancer. The play is about about fear, trauma, wounding, and all the care and revelations those things awaken. Turk forces us to see that the unimaginably painful is not simply bearable, but tender, humorous, open. Turk, and the audience, begins to imagine a world shifted into one more alive, more livable.
“…recognizing that loss is a part of life…” says one character when describing a dream of a future world. We prefer to ignore loss, pretending we’re “just fine with it,” getting over it. When a play like this looks closely at loss and grief with an unblinking eye, and a rare sense of humor, it is a gift.
This is why after over a hundred years we still spend time deciphering Dickinson’s cryptic verses. And why, by popular demand, BREASTLESS will go on tour.