The Sami people of Northern Scandinavia and Russia have over 180 words for snow and ice. Linguists and anthropologists talk about the evolution of a language as tied to ideas and needs that are most crucial to those who speak it.
Our basic needs are food, water, shelter and sharing. When reading patient blogs, what Ernest Hemingway says about writing—
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,”
—appears to actually occur at the time the writer presses the “publish” button.
With stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, Donna Peach (who died in late March 2013) punctuated her blog with haiku, her way of conveying feelings yet carrying on. Her last haiku
“cancer’s talons shred / resistance from a body / fighting to build strength”
written March 15, 2013 bears the weight of her life in that moment.
Another person, the mother of three sons with diabetes, Meri Schuhmacher, describes her world and the world of so many mothers in poetry as well.
“…We know our children better than anyone else.
We love hard.
We try hard.
We cry hard.
We hug hard.
We hope hard.
We stress hard.
We are hard on ourselves.
We are D mamas.
Don’t judge us because we fret over the details. To us…Our Diabetic Life is all about the details….”
Poetry conveys the burden for Lisa Adams,
“…I search for powers to rise above, get out, fly away…
The words of disease
become words my brain gravitates to.
The ebb and flow of cancer,
And so too,
With the limitations of the words we have available, patients cobble together verbal shadows of their experiences. But this, in turn, leaves us to wonder: If there are 100s of words for snow and ice, will our language ever evolve enough to describe the interface between the physical and the emotional, the ideas and needs most crucial to us?