Why “Valor and Compassion”?

To be a writer is to experience a constant creative tension between one’s inner warrior and one’s inner priest. It takes courage to descend into the personal and collective depths where the wellsprings of Story lie, to plunge into those still and shadowy waters and feel around in the darkness for something brilliant, hard, and true–a sword, a soul, a story. It takes empathy to accompany characters to their dim, difficult places, all the while knowing that you, the writer, brought them there, to suffer, to endure, to prevail, to transform–and it’s your hope that you, and the reader, will rise with them.

Valor and Compassion are two virtues I consider my Holy Grails. These are the ideals toward which I strive as a self-knighted Paladin of Peace. Writing is my spiritual practice and my service to the world. As I take up my quest to share my words and worlds with a wider audience, my ultimate goal isn’t just publication–it’s fostering communication, community, contemplation, and conviviality.

As a physician-writer, I’m an apprentice to a proud tradition.

The artful physician listens with the heart and mind as well as the ears. The heart hears a person’s story, not just an illness’ (or pain’s) story. The mind listens for symptoms and signs that resonate with the physician’s training, asking questions like “What systems are affected? What “red flags” for particular conditions is this patient waving?” What we hear, see, and feel leads to more questions, designed to hone down a field of possibilities to a handful that warrant further investigation. And all this happens while the heart continues listening.

Writers also engage in this dual process. The heart writes when we immerse ourselves in the deep story-well that links our individual selves with our own and different cultures, history, the whole human species. The heart receives inspiration, that breathing-into from stories we’ve read and heard, our natural and social environments, and the inner self. Then we ride that towering wave to create. But as salutary a path to self-cultivation as writing may be, to take it beyond oneself and share it with the world, the mind must work together with the heart. Just as a physician’s mind gets honed by lengthy training, so too does the writing mind. Inspiration, craft, tools, skills–we’re always building them along with our word-houses.

Heart and mind, hand and eye, ear and breath–writing and doctoring both use words, but more in the listening than in the speaking.

Thank you for joining me on my quest. Thank you for listening.

Margaret Hammitt-McDonald