A recent evening attending a live Greek music ensemble revealed some important characteristics about human nature; and significances for medicinal practices about the interconnectedness of our human condition with the Land on which we are born, live, love, suffer, and die.
The words of the song bore no meaning until my friend kindly whispered its translation, and then, suddenly I could understand the deep, lonely sentiments conveyed by the singer’s gaze and harmonies.
The song spoke of the distress of having to migrate from Greece during the 1960’s, forging his adoration to the land from where he was borne with the endearing reference of “Mother-land”.
For so much of medical practice, the gaze is on the life as it is now. We often, carelessly, forget that the origins of where we once were endured the beginning of our story, and carved the paths within our bodies towards both our health and our illness.
Our Land, whether it be contained within the crevices of a mountain valley, a village, or the open sprawl of urban streets, the rolling sands in the deserts or a land instilled in the echoes of the ocean, is the physical birth of our life and nurtures us in such ways akin to Motherhood.
To hear the longing for one’s “Motherland” is simply a cry; a loss of our foundations. The psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, argued that we are always in a state of dialectic turmoil and change because we are trying to return to the mother-child illusion; a state of unification between our internal and external worlds, of peace.
Modern medicine focuses on achieving unification by neutralizing the disparity between health and illness. But, what if our balance for peace reaches much deeper states, in the sense that our internal, physiological dispositions are fundamentally connected to our first sight of the world? What can this say for those who are displaced from their lands? After all, the word “diaspora” originates from the Greek word διασπορά; meaning, to scatter or disperse from one’s ancestral homeland.
How can medicine accompany the person by the bedside in a manner of compassion and relation that resonates the land they long to feel? On reflection to this question, I recalled Lévinas’s conception of compassion in “Useless Suffering” (1982). Lévinas argues for compassion in an empathetic sense: you cannot suffer in my place, yet you can suffer together with me by directing your sympathy into my position and so my suffering can gain a meaning that is new and rescued from the depths of one’s tunnelling despair.
This transformation in suffering is the fortification for the role of the humanities in medicine; creating an expression between the empirical and the existential.
The Greek who sang for their “Motherland” illustrated that medicine crosses boundaries that are sometimes tangible and sometimes invisible.
At times, medical insight can locate the crossover between health and an illness, whilst at other times, pain is suffering without symptoms, without origins. This means that life and death are not only processes in the clinical setting and whilst medicine explores with scrutiny the origin of pain, pain can also result from a loss of origin. When a person experiences the death of origin, it negates the possibility of recreating the idealism of their birth, nurtured by their “Motherland”.
Such loss of the meaning of one’s own birth through this way is an alienation from immortality; a person must recognise that it is their death that will become actual instead.
In a sense, we may all experience alienation in the advent of states of disease, taking us away from the life we once knew. Thus, alienation can be encountered both when one leaves the boundaries of their land, and also boundaries within their body. Patients are, in effect, diasporas; lost, and astray amid uncertainty and discomfort away from their health.
Finding ways to recreate our familiarity – our famil(y)-ity – is an important and integral part of practicing medicine.
A song for our “Motherland”, the heart’s embrace to its original cradle, is also the song of medicine, seeking the cure to resurrect the vitality of the heart’s original beat.