There are times in life when you hear of suffering so great that it momentarily robs you of your breath.
That was my reaction when reading of Jenny Rowbory’s life. While in her first term at university (studying Medicine), she became suddenly and severely ill with M.E.
In her own words, this has been her daily experience for the past seven years:
Being bed-bound and unable to sit up because every slight movement, even talking, causes you to go into heart failure; chest pain and pain in the left arm; heart straining to pump; severe headaches that mean even a tiny movement of your head causes agony to shoot through it; dizziness so great that it causes the room to swim; muscle pain and exhaustion especially in the arms and legs, making it so difficult to move them; insomnia – 2 hours broken sleep per night is about the norm; chronic constipation meaning that you have to use a suppository just to get some bowel movement; painful and swollen glands and lymph nodes; a constant low grade fever; poor digestion and absorption; agonising stomach pain; spine pain; muscle twitching…you get the idea!
(from her story as told on her website )
Jenny is a poet, and a collection of her poems entitled, ‘Rainbows in my eyes’, has been published. There are no specialist doctors in the UK who are able to treat Jenny’s severe M.E. so the hope is that she will be able to raise £90,000 for treatment by an ME expert in the US and an air ambulance to fly her there. It’s costly, but it may be her only hope of recovery.
Her poetry is amazing. Her style is approachable and clear, so you don’t have to ‘work hard’ at understanding them, yet the images and phrases linger in your mind afterwards, which for me is a sign of great work. Her mastery and shaping of language is wonderful to behold.
The poems are all well-crafted, engaging, and invested with emotion. They cover themes of quest for identity, issues of loneliness, spiritual wrestlings.
She writes passionately of her medical neglect and abuse in ‘Quest for the holy grail’. The chilling, softly-spoken man who tells her simply, ‘I will not help you/ in your quest’ is all too familiar to those of us who have had their M.E. dismissed by patronising and dismissive doctors.
‘Honoured’ touches on the issue of what makes us valuable as humans. She compares herself to famous Christians who have done great things for God. The final lines describe God’s love for those who aren’t able to be world-changers and Christian heroes:
‘Only God notices the deedless form on the bed / (who no-one will see, hear or read about) / and bends close and strokes their brow. / An unspoken bond; each living breath an honour to him.’
The poems are moving, and at times, emotionally raw but ultimately there is a note of hope. ‘The Librarian’ is a quieter, restrained ode of thankfulness to God, ‘Not a single teardrop is missing: / you’ve caught every one. / Man of sorrows’.
My favourite is ‘Heartcry’ – one of those poems that bypasses your brain and goes straight for your solar plexus with its emotional truth. The last lines:
‘God’s arms wrap around me so closely / that the sobs that wrack my body / convulse him too.’ express so profoundly the mysterious comfort of knowing God in the midst of pain. These lines have been a powerful meditation for me.
Poetry is so powerful. Some days it has been these lines that have kept me going.
There is a Greek myth about a woman named Philomela. She is cruelly abducted and raped, and then when she threatens to tell the world, her attacker cuts out her tongue. So she tells the story through tapestry, until the world knows of her story.
Eventually, she is turned into a nightingale by the gods, and sings her song for eternity. Matthew Arnold’s poem on this is just beautiful, and his description of the nightingale made me think of Jenny:
“Hark! ah, the nightingale– The tawny-throated! Hark from that moonlit cedar what a burst! What triumph! hark!–what pain! . . . . Again–thou hearest? Eternal passion! Eternal pain!”
Matthew Arnold – Philomela
From pain springs passion, and sometimes the most beautiful songs are those that are written from a place of blackness and are sung into the dark. Jenny’s songs are well worth hearing.
You can buy Jenny’s book from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or directly from her with Paypal
Money raised will go towards Jenny’s medical costs.
For an alternative excellent review of her book and interview with Jenny, go here.