Poetry in the Hospital

The teens-living-with-illness focus of the Open Windows project has changed my work as a hospital artist-in-residence and as a public school teacher. The act of talking about their illness to other teens (with or without illness) or talking to an artist with the explicit knowledge that their words will be used to help or inform other teens, is empowering to patients in a unique way. Instead of being helped, the patient is doing the helping. Instead of being the object of scrutiny, advice, and care, the patient is the subject, the expert, the wise one. It is empowering also in that it creates connection with others – connection that acknowledges but is not dependent on the experience of illness or hospitalization.

The theatre focus of this project has brought home another truth for me: of all the art forms, theatre is the best at creating community – one, because it requires many people working together in many different roles over an extended period of time to create one final product; two, because it requires empathy, the ability to walk in other peoples’ shoes. And as one of the Educational Center for the Arts students said when talking about something a teen with a chronic had expressed, “in community there is strength.” This project has shown me the importance of developing any opportunity to create community – either among patients with common experiences, or among patients and their other peers. Both of these things happened on the day that the hospital patients visited the Educational Center for the Arts.

The final, and most important revelation that this project has brought to me, is that empathy is the greatest of arts. The twin attitudes of compassion and passion – the ability to not just walk in someone else’s shoes, but to care deeply for the person and to act in a way that helps and loves the other as much as oneself – must be at the heart of any educational program. This project has brought these qualities out in the ECA students and teens with chronic illness in an unprecedented way. This sort of boundary-bridging personal connection and collaboration must be at the heart of what we do at the hospital and in the schools.

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  • Stuck Elevator: Audacious, compelling and hugely imaginative.” – Huffington Post
  • About Aaron

    Aaron Jafferis is a hip hop poet and playwright. Read his bio, his CV, or contact him.