The Healerís Struggle, Part 2
"We have the money to keep her alive for as long as we want to," the mother said. "But, itís beginning to seem so pointless. All the money and the equipment. And the foolish hope, which is so much more stressful than just admitting the truth. I mean, sheís basically dead. D-E-A-D. Did you ever go to Russia, I wonder, when it was still the Soviet Union?"
"No," the healer began to say.
"Did you ever stand in line to see Leninís corpse, preserved behind a glass case as an object of worship by generations of Communists? Well, it just occurred to me that what weíre doing with Murlyn is practically the same. Maintaining a corpse, in a kind of shrineÖ"
"Denise!" complained the husband, who had wanted to keep trying, but been gradually worn down by the opposition in his family, just like the last holdout on a jury is pressured, exhausted, confused, burned out, until, at last, he agrees to join the others in rendering a "guilty" verdict, so that they can all go home.
"The childís body is only perpetuating the heartbreak," the mother said. "We need to move on."
While a somewhat less certain aunt, whose mind had always followed her sisterís, however, added: "Itís a crime against the childís vitality and joy to leave her lying there, inert, like some kind of tragic vegetable. We want to remember her the way she used to be, playing, running, filled with life. Itís a crime," she said again, wiping something away from beneath her eyes.
The house was large and intimidating to the healer, and it seemed like it might swallow her up, as she walked towards the room where the child was now being maintained by a home-nursing team. The mother led the way, while the father, for whom they had brought the healer in as a kind of final concession, followed closely behind the healer, as though to make sure that she did not change her mind, and leave. As she walked through the hallways, then up a flight of stairs, the healer could feel no life, no miracle in this house, just a heavy dead weight on her shoulders, and she thought, "I have not been brought here to heal anyone, I am coming just like a mortician, to write out a death certificate, and give my signature." She felt powerless and used.
But when she came, at last, into the room where the child lay, she felt a sudden surge of deep pain, to see all the little dolls and stuffed animals there, lying in the same bed with the child, ringing her like a beautiful funeral wreath. And then the childís face - so calm, so sweet, like that of a sleeping angel, whose wings had failed, and let her fall down to the earth. Instinctively, the healer threw open the shades, and saw the lake, as daylight poured into the room.
"I worked so hard, my whole life," the father said, "to try to get a house like this. A fairy-tale castle, for my family to live in; and this lake was one of the most beautiful parts of it - imagine - to have your very own piece of lake shore! When I first proposed to my wife, so many years ago, I bought her an engagement ring with a beautiful diamond. Well - this lake was the diamond of my estate - the sparkling jewel set in the middle of the property I spent my whole life working to buy, so that my family could live in a dream world, so that my children could grow up out of the reach of cruelty and danger. I never imagined that this lake would betray me in this way - that it would turn on me like this, and become my greatest enemy, the killer of my daughter."
The healer, looking out over the lake, through the window, did not see darkness or death there, she saw only life: beautiful and dangerous, filled with joy and risk. You couldnít shut it out, you couldnít get away from it, you could only understand it, and learn how to live with it - learn what kind of ice could support your weight, and what kind couldnít. "Leave the shade open," she told the nurse, who was about to shut it again. Then, looking once more upon the childís quiet form, which the parents were planning to disconnect from the machines and IVs that seemed to be doing nothing but to preserve its lifelessness, she said, the words surging out of her with the power of a geyser rushing up from some deep place: "Your child is going to come back. Donít even think of giving up on her. Give me three weeks to work with her."
The nurse, who was slow-moving, and passive, like a stone that has seen the whole world live and die a thousand times, yet still managed to care, somewhere that could barely be seen, shook her head, and muttered, "Shame, to build peopleís hopes up," but no one could hear what she said.
"Whatís that?" the mother asked.
"Nothing, mam," the nurse replied. "Just hoping for the best."
And the healer began to work. At first, she just felt, explored the child, her hands gliding slowly over her silent, sleeping body. For a moment, she seemed to have doubts. Even the father, standing a ways back, noticed it. Thatís when she looked, again, at the childís sweet face. It seemed like a message from God, and that message said: "Save me!" And the healer thought, Ďsheís not meant to die. Sheís not meant to die!í And she frowned, and seemed to jump back into the battle. ĎSoften up,í she told herself. ĎDonít commit yet. Get your bearings.í
Suddenly picking up one of the stuffed animal toys lying on the girlís bed, a green frog, she turned around to ask the father, "Does this frog have a name?"
"Toady," replied the father.
Toady? A frog? Well, all right. "Does it have a voice?" she asked.
"When she plays with it - does she ever give it a voice? Make it talk, say something?"
The father said that she would make it talk in a weird, cracked voice, that was supposed to imitate a toadís croaking. "She turned him - well - frankly, into a kind of charming wise ass," the father said. "Whatever she wanted to say, but didnít dare to, Toady would say for her."
Nodding, the healer began to make the frog walk all over the girlís face, while the father watched, in surprise. "Hey, wake up!" the healer said in a voice that sounded very much like the one his daughter had used to animate the character. "Wake up, Murlyn! Itís me - Toady! Iím getting bored, here. Nobody else knows how to play with me. What did you leave me with all these fogies for? Come on, wake up!" And she made the frog kiss her repeatedly.
The mother, slightly offended, and the father, beyond that (because of love), wondered if the healer thought that that was going to bring their lost girl back, but if so, she showed no signs of disappointment when the girl remained deep within her enchanted sleep.
Instead, the healer picked up the girlís left arm, and began to stretch it out, simultaneously massaging the palms, and pulling on the fingers, one by one. And she repeated this with the right arm, after gently lying the left arm down again on the bed (like putting a needle down on a record); and then with the legs and feet. All the while, she was talking to the girl. "Itís time to start waking up, Murlyn. You donít have to do it right now, but itís time to start coming back. You can do it, girl. Things are going to be really great when you come back, youíre going to be the star of the family. Youíll get lots of nice, new presents, too, if you want them. And all your favorite treats - youíll be just like a princess. Come on, girl, youíve been there long enough, itís time to start coming back. Toadyís missing you," she hastened to add.
And then the healer, after some more work, lifted up the girlís neck and head in the gentle cradle of her hands. This was something sheíd learned from her healing classes, a modality known as "craniosacral therapy", formulated by John Upledger, a pioneer in alternative/complementary therapy. As she did so, she could feel something beginning to move inside the girl, something that did not produce any movement or sign in the girlís outer body, but which, nonetheless, registered in the awareness of her hands, which were like the ears of dogs that could hear things beyond the range of most peopleís senses - not because she was magic, but because her love had helped her find a way. (Just like a blind man hears and smells more than one who sees, because his blindness drives him to harness and develop senses that others have neglected.) "Thatís it," she told the girl, "thatís it. Let it begin to come back."
After the first session, the parents did not know what to think. The mother was skeptical, but the father was won over when the healer pulled his hand a little, as they were shaking hands good-bye, then gave him a little private wink. "Hang in there, dad, Iím going to get your girl back for you. In the meantime, youíve got to stand by her." So he did, warding off the motherís desire to go ahead with the original plan of letting the child slip away forever, and finally being done with it.
"She didnít do anything," the mother said disparagingly of the healer.
"Give her a little more time. She said that Murlynís coming from far away. Just like when kids are playing out in the school yard, and the whistle sounds for them to come back into school - well, they canít all get back the very second that you blow the whistle. Youíve got to give them a little time to come back from the edges of the playground. She says itís the same with Murlyn."
"Youíll believe anything she says, because you want to," the mother said. "Well, all youíre doing is causing me more pain by prolonging this. But go ahead, I wouldnít want you to think of me as a murderer for the rest of your life! Weíll give her two more weeks!"
The second week, the healer continued with more of the same. The laying on of hands; quiet, earnest, love-filled talking to Murlyn, which professional therapists might have called implanting hypnotic suggestions for healing; craniosacral therapy, the gentle cradling and massaging of Murlynís neck and head, to invigorate the nervous system; and various efforts to improve circulation throughout the entire body. At one point, the healer thought she saw the girlís eyes open, and her face break out into a beautiful smile, but looking around at the nurse and father, who were standing nearby, she saw that they were continuing to look at the girl with the same curious but stoic expression on their faces, so she knew that it must have been an illusion - or rather, a vision of some internal awakening that had not reached the surface. She pushed on with renewed hope.
And then, at last, it was time for the third and final session. The pressure was severe, because the girlís mother was really putting her foot down, and insisting that if the child did not come back this time, then that was going to be it. Due to the drama which she had created, Murlynís two brothers and sister were there, as well, that day, two nurses, and two aunts and one uncle. Seeing them all waiting in the room as she walked in, she felt momentarily intimidated.
"Iím sorry, but Iíd like you all to leave," she said, making an exception for the father and nurse, however.
But the mother refused. "We wouldnít want to miss seeing a miracle," she said, in an acid tone.
The healer suddenly realized that the mother was jealous of all the attention that the father had been giving to his comatose daughter, and also jealous of her - the healer - who she viewed as a strange woman, intruding into her territory.
"If she wants you out, you damned well better get out, this is my daughterís life on the line!" snarled the father to the mother, as the husband of one of her sisters stepped forward protectively.
"Thanks for the offer to kick me out, but Iíll stay," the wife replied, while her brother-in-lawís eyes glared menacingly at the father.
The healer quickly appeared among them, separating the potential combatants, hushing everyone up. "Murlyn has to want to come back," she told them, intensity in her whisper. "She needs to feel that a happy home, filled with love and peace, is waiting here for her. You need to all step back and pray, and change your energy. This is a beautiful living child - treat her with respect! Now I say - all of you! - stop focusing on your own quarrels, and dislikes, stop hating each other and despising me, and concentrate on this girl! If you canít, get the hell out of here. Or else, you might as well get a big old knife, and stab it right into her heart, because thatís what youíll all be doing."
The skeptical crowd was surprised by the healerís fire, which came from love, like Jesusí rage when he found the moneylenders in the temple. Shaken, by the way she made them see their self-centeredness, they quieted down, and made an effort to be civil.
Then the healer began the session. Right away, due to the fight, she felt that it was going to be hard: the girl had withdrawn somewhat, and her own energy was distracted and somewhat destabilized. She closed her eyes and tried hard to get her and the girl alone in a part of the Universe that was here, yet far away. "Come on, Murlyn," she whispered as she worked, "we can do it. Donít worry about them, everybodyís just nervous. They want you back so bad, that they donít know how to act. Come on, baby, this is life, and God wants you in it. Youíve got to give us a sign, today, Murlyn; at the very least, youíve got to let them know that youíre still here!"
The work went on, and the healer felt that Murlyn was still too heavy for her to drag back, that the shell around the vanished girl was still too thick. "Come on, baby. Come on!"
Thatís when a sudden inspiration came to the healer. Once again - although she sometimes wondered if her formal studies had somehow gotten in the way of her natural talent, and the simplicity of being Godís instrument - the learning she had undergone during her training as a healer proved its value. She remembered a lecture that the instructor had given her on sound and healing. While a lot of the lecture, and subsequent demonstration, had had to do with the use of tuning forks, bells, and chimes, she remembered, at this moment, the part about healing and the human voice. The instructor, who leaned heavily towards Eastern philosophies and modalities of healing, had briefly brought up the art of kiai, a Japanese term formed out of the words ki (spirit, energy, life-force, will) and ai, a derivative of awasu (to unite). Kiai, in the lore of the samurai, was considered to be the most advanced of martial arts, whereby a man could defeat his opponent without even touching him, or drawing a weapon. It was a way of projecting oneís energy and intent, through a powerful, focused mental state, in such a way as to paralyze oneís enemy, to utterly neutralize his will and ability to fight. According to samurai legend, a warrior who once stumbled upon a ravenous and aggressive pack of wolves in the forest, used kiai to hold them off, while he walked out of danger; in another case, a samurai warrior, suddenly surrounded by a host of ambushers, was able to use kiai to break their will to attack, allowing him to evade destruction. In one major variation of kiai, the human voice was utilized as a medium of projecting this powerful energy at an opponent. It was said that masters of the art could paralyze or even kill their enemies through the mere use of their voice, guided by deep esoteric principles, while the art was also said to have applications in healing, as some practitioners were credited with curing victims of illness through the use of their voice. In one modern, documented case, a master of kiai was said to have revived an unconscious construction worker, injured in a fall, by means of a concentrated shout directed at his inert body.
Why all this came to the healer now, she could not say, but she suddenly felt that her voice was the key to rescuing Murlyn, and as any person who is great at something, she left the familiar track that was not leading her to the place she needed to go, in order to improvise. Letting go of the plan which had brought her far, yet not quite far enough - giving herself to the moment, and to the instinct that had appeared suddenly, like a glimpse of land appears to the storm-wracked ship, through a break in the fog - she began to sing quietly to the child. The singing was sweet, relaxing, repetitive. In some ways it was like incense, clearing away the bad energy that others had brought into the room. It was a way of surrounding the child with love, and narrowing the distance between them.
"Sheís no Maria Callas," muttered the mother to one of her sisters.
"Shhh!" someone said.
The singing continued. Sort of like a lullaby, but with a different intent. It began to take the shape of words, "Come backÖ come backÖ come backÖ"
Then the healer said, "Murlyn, Iím going to say something louder, now. Get ready. Iím going to open a door for you to come through. Get ready, baby. Are you ready? Iím going to do it in one minuteÖ" The healer then resumed singing softly, but slowly beginning to build up the volume of her voice.
Then, suddenly, still not loudly, but with an incredible intensity and focus, leaning right over Murlynís head, she emitted a powerful sound, delivered with a high pitch. At the same time, she was busy holding Murlynís hands, squeezing them, lightening up on the squeeze, squeezing them, lightening up on the squeeze. A minute later, she changed the pitch, making it even higher and more intense.
"I saw this on the news," grumbled the mother, referring to some segment about a new class of sonic weapons being studied by the US military, which they had all seen on the TV just yesterday, which meant that everyone in the room (except Murlyn and the healer) knew what she was talking about.
Someone started to laugh, when all of a sudden, the father and nurse exclaimed at the same time, "Her eyes are opening!"
"Draw the shade down halfway," the healer said - the stone nurse moved to the window with surprising speed for a stone, to help darken the room enough for the girlís eyes to open without pain. Meanwhile, the healer kept on talking to Murlyn, and caressing her and working on her body. "Hi, baby, hi, howíre you doing?" Everyone swarmed around the bed, calling out to Murlyn at once, which was overwhelming to the child, so the healer told them all to back off - "Give us room! Give us room!" - then, kept on talking to the girl, looking deeply into her eyes, fondling her hair, and doing little things, like tenderly pinching her ear. After a time, when she was sure that the girl was back to stay, she kissed her, and said, "Youíre going to have a beautiful life, Murlyn, I promise; you may feel a little stiff and sore for a while, but give yourself a few weeks, and youíre going to feel just like new. I promise." And then she called the father over, and told the rest of them, "Donít crowd her, and donít talk too loud, either. One at a time. Just you dad, then you, mom, then sisters and brother; she doesnít need to see too many people today. What she needs is love and support, and a slow sweet pace back into the world."
Right away, the mother was on the phone to the doctor. "Come, quick! Murlynís awake! What do we need to do?"
When they remembered the healer, again, they were told that she had just left. They looked out of a window, and saw the taxi leaving, which surprised them all, for it seemed such an ordinary way for her to go (they would have been less surprised if theyíd seen her flying away with angelís wings, or if sheíd vanished in a puff of smoke).
Well, this triumph is what had finally led the healer to Petra. Petra was the thirty-year-old daughter of an important TV personality, and sheíd heard the story of Murlyn from Murlynís mother, whoíd put Petra into contact with Lila, who told her the rest of the story. Petra was suffering from a rare form of cancer, and much as Lila, was given very little chance to make it. "Trust me," Lila told her, "sheíll heal you. You donít need to go through hell, just to prolong your life for four or five more years of misery. Sheíll give you back the rest of your life."
Not long afterwards, the healer received a visit from Lila, who was just as excited as if sheíd met a wonderful new man (or woman). "This is it!" sheíd told the healer, raving, ecstatic. "This woman is the daughter of __________, you know, the woman from _______ [the TV show]. If you cure her - I mean, once you cure her - youíre going to be so damned famous! I mean - your reputation is almost there - youíre on the brink - and this Petra is the one who can push you over. I mean, if you cure her - why do I keep doing that?, I mean when you cure her - her mother is sure to get you on the tube, maybe even do a whole show about you!" Worried that the healer might consider this all too egotistic, Lila hastened to add: "You can give so much credibility to the laying-on-of- hands; so much credibility to spiritual healing! Remember what they always say: ĎA thousand black crows cannot disprove the existence of white crows. All it takes is one white crow to prove that they do exist!í You," she exclaimed to the healer, "can be that one white crow! Finally! Something to put those arrogant doctors in their place!" she cried out with glee. "Or, ĎHallelujahí as you would say!" And sheíd practically wrestled the healer to the ground, hugging her with all the power and joy of her own restored life.
Later, the phone call from Petra followed, who seemed like a somewhat vanished person already, neither believing nor disbelieving, but not because she was stoical and open-minded, only because some part of her was hollow, devoid of will, ready to be taken and led by the hand, by anybody who showed up at her door. The healer discerned that it was not only her disease; she sensed that before the cancer, there had been the dominating presence and intimidating success of her mother, who was like a tall plant whose leaves had cut off the sun from the child, and left her stunted, struggling to survive in her shadow. In some way, Petra reminded the healer of Lila, except that Lilaís mother was already deceased when Lila had come to her for help; and Lila had also had more spirit. She had been like a cat who still has its claws, and can scratch - while Petra seemed like a cat that has been declawed - disempowered, and disturbingly unthreatening.
Naturally, Petraís mother approved of the alternative treatment, or else she would have used her influence to steer Petra away from it. In fact, Petra had already had two rounds of chemotherapy, the healer found out, before she even began to work with her. Petra had not been responding well, and had, in fact, been rushed to the hospital twice, once for a serious infection resulting from her damaged immune system, which was not boosted, as expected, by a new drug intended to stimulate white-blood-cell growth. The second time, it was for internal bleeding, precipitated by low platelet counts, which had reduced her bloodís natural clotting ability.
"Damn it! I didnít know. Does that change things?" Lila asked the healer, with some concern in her voice. "I mean, maybe we shouldnít try it, now. Her body might already be shot. It could make us look bad. I mean, trying to save her now could be like trying to save somebody whoíd been shot point-blank in the head."
The healer had frowned, and said, "Well, itís not the best starting point, but Petra is a human being, Lila. I owe it to her, and to the sacredness of life, to do what I can for her, if she comes knocking on my door. I canít just turn her away."
Admiring the healerís courage, and filled with trust in her ability, Lila had nodded. "All right. Let me take care of the paperwork. Iíll put you two together sometime next week. What days do you have open?"
It was on a Monday, in the late afternoon, that Petra showed up, accompanied by a friend of her mother (who was taping a TV show at that very moment). Petra was pale, fragile, her head swathed in a turban that might have made her look interesting, if she was not so drained of life, and depressing to behold. The healer tried to smile. They talked for a while, and then the healer asked her to lie down on her healing table, and began to touch her.
"How did things go?" Lila asked the healer, later, that night.
"All right," the healer said. "Sheís really weak, but not completely gone. She needs a lot of patient work. First, Iíve got to try to bring back the appetite. Sheíll have to eat healthy foods, and build her strength up. I also need to build up her confidence; right now, sheís just drifting along with the expectations everyone has that she is going to die."
"Thatís right," Lila said. "Right now sheís like a lamb going to the slaughter. She needs some spunk. So I guess this is not going to be a one-day miracle?"
"Not coming from me," the healer said.
"Well - whatever it takes," Lila agreed.
Petra is dying, she told herself again. WHY? Whatís gone wrong?
The healer was alone, now, three months after sheíd taken on the celebrityís daughter. Alone, thinking, sitting , listening to the sound of the waves sweeping in upon the shore, and the cries of the seagulls overhead, seeming to call down to the world, saying "Whatís wrong with you, down there? When are you going to start to fly?"
Why isnít she getting better? the healer asked herself again.
In fact, the situation was not even stable, not even the same. It was getting worse. Much worse.
The cancer had begun to spread, and was taking over Petraís body. Sheíd nearly died from a pulmonary infection, that conventional doctors, wresting her from the healerís "clutches", had fought off with a powerful mix of antibiotics; and her temporary improvement in terms of appetite had collapsed as well. Petra was nauseous, again, disinterested in food, apathetic, stick-like. In fact, sheíd left the healer for a while, but only come back again, now that the terror of death was in her eyes, the only sign of life that she had left. "You have to do something for me!" sheíd told the healer. "You built my hopes up! Now you have to do something! I donít want to die! Itís black, death is - itís nothing - itís just - nothing - and thatís the scariest thing of all. I donít want to go there. Iím not ready. You have to help me!"
"Idiot," Lila had told the healer, referring to Petra. "She doesnít know how to stick with anything. Sheís just like a Ping-Pong ball, bouncing back and forth between conventional doctors and alternative healers, trying this, trying that, never giving anything a chance to work. You know how when youíre cooking pancakes, the last one you make usually ends up being tiny and weird, because youíve already used up all of the mix to make the other ones? Well, I think thatís what happened to Petra. Her mother got all the mix, and nothing was left for her."
"Lila," the healer had told her. "Donít lose your compassion."
"Youíre right," Lila had replied, after a moment. "Youíre right. Forgive me. Itís just that - I canít stand to see this!"
Neither could the healer, which was why she was sitting by the water, alone, now, asking herself, over and over again, Why is Petra dying?
Is it her? Or is it me?
Am I doing something wrong? Or is this something thatís out of my hands?
And the healer thought: I saved Lila. I cured Miranda. I resuscitated Murlyn. I cured _____ and _____ and ______ of cancer, and _____, _______,________,_______, and ______ of AIDS, and that was just some of them. And now Petra. Lila said that if I cured her, it would be like going through a gateway, and everybody would believe in me, then, and my work, and in the laying-on-of-hands, and in the power of spirit to heal the body. Well - maybe thatís it. Maybe Iím in this for me, no longer for Petra. Maybe Iím just using Petra, even though Iím trying so hard not to. And maybe thatís breaking down the communication, not allowing me to bring Godís love to her, because Iím keeping all the love that I get for myself, and not passing it on to her.
Or maybe itís my pride, she thought. God has always found a way to bring down the proud. Maybe God is using Petra as a way of humbling me. After all, havenít I begun to say, ĎI cured Lilaí and ĎI saved Murlyní, and ĎI restored Mirandaís sight.í But really, it was God who did it all, and now, maybe, Iím trying to take the credit for it, to steal the glory and make it my own. And she remembered a quotation sheíd been given in her healing class, taken from a book about Black Elk, the Lakota medicine man: "ÖMany I cured with the power that came through me. Of course it was not I who cured. It was the power from the outer world, and the visions and ceremonies had only made me like a hole through which the power could come to the two-leggeds. If I thought that I was doing it myself, the hole would close up and no power could come through. Then everything I could do would be foolish." And she thought: Maybe thatís whatís happened. Maybe Iíve shut the power out, by becoming proud. I thought I was only joyous, and grateful to be able to play a part in saving so many lives, but maybe, after all, I am proud; maybe Iíve begun to leave God out.
But then, she thought again: How should God destroy a life, just to humble me? Isnít it arrogant to believe that Iím worth that? The destruction of another life, just to bring me down? Unless, of course, Petra must die for her own reasons, and I must fail for mine.
Maybe thatís it. Yes, maybe Petra has to die. After all, life and death are Godís choices, a part of his plan. If I wanted to have that power for myself, the supreme power in the Universe to give life, even above Godís, wouldnít I be just as guilty as the scientists who want to clone human beings, to make a new race of men through genetic engineering, to sit in Godís throne, and rule in His place? Yes, maybe Petra has to die, and her death, at this time, is what the Universe needs. And Iím just getting in the way.
And the healer remembered, then, things that her instructor had told them, long ago, about karma: "Sometimes, a patient will not heal. This is because the laws of the Universe are stronger than your will as an individual human being, who does not see the greater picture. Perhaps the soul you are trying to save has an appointment somewhere else, in another realm, or back on the earth - an appointment that cannot be broken, even on account of your love, which may be blind. Perhaps the soul you are trying to save has a karmic debt to pay, or a karmic lesson to learn - and your failure, as a healer, is necessary, in order for that soulís mission to be accomplished."
And the thought crossed the healerís mind: Maybe Petra was a criminal or a monster in the past, and this terrible death is merely a cosmic form of justice. Maybe she really deserves to die. And I am just like those foolish people holding candles and singing hymns outside the prison gates, who cannot stop the execution of a mass-murderer.
But the healer quickly drew back in horror from this thought: My God, so much anger! Iím angry at Petra, arenít I? In fact, I think I hate her, not love her! God help me! That past-life criminal bullshit is just a way of excusing my hostility. But for what? For what? Because she isnít healing? Because sheís making me look bad to others, and feel bad about myself? Because sheís spoiling my Ďbig chanceí? Because of her lack of trust, her insecurity and fear, which are triggering my insecurities? Because sheís the child of someone famous and rich, and hasnít had to face the struggles that I have? But, of course, she has! My God, her life has been an ordeal, underneath the pretty facade! What an ordeal! Do you suppose Iíve had some kind of resentment all along, and that Iíve been secretly sabotaging the healing, letting her die, killing her, even?
But the healerís torment was not over. Still more ideas rushed in to haunt her, by the sea. Iíve lost my spontaneity, my naturalness, she thought. I used to do this like a child, I just loved people and wanted to help. It was like jumping from one square to another in hopscotch, only I could save lives by doing it. Now, after so much studying, after so much learning of techniques, and philosophy, and approaches, and modalities, maybe itís been killed - the natural healer who I had inside of me - buried alive under all of this knowledge, under this avalanche of facts and concepts. But no, she thought, all that training has helped, after all: remember Murlyn, and the craniosacral and the kiai? For Godís sakes, how could learning about chi hurt me?
Or was it that she had betrayed the path? The path of her stern and powerful grandmother, her first great mentor. For a moment she thought she could see the frightening black figure of her grandmother standing by the edge of the sea, reading Biblical passages to the crashing waves, then, possessed by the Holy Spirit, beginning to speak to her: ĎYou have lost your way dear child, wandered onto paths of sin. Healing comes from your Lord, Almighty God the Father, and from the infinite love of Jesus Christ. But you have spent too much time among pagans, worshippers of the ocean, dancers beneath the moon, unbelievers from other lands. You have lost your way, and thereby lost the power to heal, which comes from the God you have betrayed. Betrayed!!! Repent, child, and come back to me! Otherwise, your hands shall only bring death and shame upon you!í
But suddenly, the healer awakened from this terrifying vision, and she could hear her grandmotherís voice behind her, telling her, ĎItís all about love, child. Anyway you can feel it. I know that, where I am, now. Youíre doing great, baby, please donít see me like that, anymore, I never meant to be so terrifying!í
"Grandma!" the healer called out, whirling around, once more a needful, lonely child. But there was no one there, just a chill running through her body, and the hair standing up along the back of her neck. And the healer, turning back to look out over the sea, asked herself, again, Why is Petra dying? Did the chemo destroy her before I got to her? Is this where my limits begin? Or is it something else?
And the waves kept rolling on the beach, and the healer became aware that they were trying to tell her something, and she listened, trying to hear the words that the water and the land were forming for her ears. And she finally heard the message in her heart, that it was beautiful here, on the lonely beach, and that she had missed being alone for a long time, and being away from the life-and-death pressure of curing people who came to her with desperation in their eyes, and deadly afflictions eating away their bodies, people who others had given up on, but who she was now expected to save, miraculously, over and over again. And she heard Lilaís voice saying, ĎIf you cure Petra, thereíll be huge lines forming outside the door. Iíll have to hire someone for crowd control, and weíll have to put in a system for choosing who we can help; and weíll have to balance that off with some television shows, and public appearances, to spread the broader idea, which is that, besides the fact that you can cure people, people can be cured by spiritual power. Do you think you could do any mass healings to try to accommodate the crowds? I mean, you couldnít possibly lay your hands on everybody! Maybe you could just bless the people, like the Pope, or say something encouraging to them, or maybe use that kiai, or sing some kind of healing songs, so you could reach larger numbers. Maybe even give them some kind of placebo, something to trigger their mindsí own healing powersÖ"
And the healer shuddered, suddenly realizing so much more than she wished to. I havenít given 100% to Petra. I thought I did, but I think I really didnít. NoÖ I didnít. Thereís a part of me thatís telling me Enough! Donít take it any farther! One step more, and your life will cease belonging to you. Youíll never have a quiet, peaceful moment ever again. There will be crowds of miserable, dying people outside your door, every day, begging you for life. More people than you could handle. More people than anyone could handle. I need a break youíll say, but that will be like killing someone. Then Ďthe healerí will become a murderer. And any time you want to sit down and just relax and read a good book, it will be like putting a gun to someoneís head and pulling the trigger. And anytime you want to be alone, like this, and just watch the waves rolling up on the beach, and listen to that sound of the ocean, mixed in with the seagull cries, or go into the forest, or run out into the snow and dance when it starts to come down, just like when you were a kid, it will be like taking out a knife, and stabbing someone in the heart. You will cease to exist, and become Them. Which seems like the noble thing to do - but - I - I - I just donít think I can handle it. What about me? What about my life? And she realized that though healing gave her an indescribable sense of joy and purpose, there was also a part of her that believed that saving others would finally end up becoming a way of killing herself; a way of drowning in the ocean of a world that never ran out of pain, or need.
My God, Iím a selfish bitch! she cursed. Is this what itís all about? Is this why Iím letting Petra die?
Indignant, she roused herself up from the place where she was sitting by the sea. Reminding herself of the desperate drug addict who promises himself that this will be his last fix before he goes to seek help, she vowed to take some time off in the future, to think about all these doubts and fears before deciding when and how - even whether - to continue with the healings; but, for now, she had a job to do. Petra had come to her seeking help, placing herself into her hands as much as her mind and fear would allow her to, and she did not deserve to be sacrificed, the healer told herself, because of her own problems. Iíll cure Petra, she thought, and then Iíll take a break. Thereís a time and a place to give attention to these thoughts - but itís not now. If worse comes to worse, after Petra gets better, Iíll run away, Iíll move to another state, Iíll change my name; Iíll find a way to get away from it all.
Filled with new resolve, fresh with understanding, and once more committed to the preciousness and beauty of Petraís life, she returned home, only to find several disturbing messages waiting for her on her answering machine. It was Lilaís voice, nervous, desperate, telling her, over and over again, in three different messages, all variations of the first: "Hello? Hello? Are you there? I need you to get back to me right away! Itís urgent!"
Just as the healer prepared to pick up the phone, it rang. It was Lila once again.
"Whatís wrong, Lila?" the healer asked, filled with trepidation.
"Itís Petra!" Lila exclaimed. "Sheís - sheís dead!"
"What?!" gasped the healer.
"I said - sheís dead! They lost vital signs about one-and-a-half Ö two hours ago!"
"What happened?" asked the healer, feeling like the roof had just fallen down on top of her.
"I donít know - internal bleeding - asphyxiation - cardiac arrest - she just gave out!"
While the healer was just standing there stunned, the receiver in her hands like something obscene and incriminating, which she wanted to throw away, but could not, Lila exclaimed, in a voice that seemed to be coming from far away, from across a canyon: "Well, come on! Youíve got to come over to the hospital! Maybe you can bring her back!"
"What?" gasped the healer, putting the phone back up to her ear.
"You know. Like Jesus with Lazarus. I mean, he was lying dead in a cave for two daysÖ"
"Four days," said the healer.
"And Jesus brought him back to life!"
The healer replied, "Lila: Iím not Jesus."
But Lila insisted. "Dammit," she exclaimed, "have you stopped caring? Why donít you at least give it a try?!"
So, with a terrible feeling about it all, the healer caught a taxi to the hospital, where Lila was waiting for her, like an agitated dog waiting for its owner to come out of the store into which he has disappeared. Lilaís face was covered with tears, and she threw her arms around the healer, and said, "Itís so awful! So awful! Maybe you can still do something!"
The healer shook her head, thinking, This is too much. Too much! I couldnít stop Petra, when she still had a chance, from deteriorating to this condition - now, how am I going to bring her back from the dead? And after such a long time? At the very best, her brain must be irreparably damaged by now. Why ruin this sacred moment with more false hope? Why pollute the grief with the illusion of another miracle? And yet, she could not help but remember that part of the Bible that said: "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, LOOSE HIM, AND LET HIM GO." And she began to think, Maybe. Just maybeÖ
But at that moment, on Petraís floor, which Lila had managed to convince the guard to give them passes to, they ran into Petraís brother, who had met them one other time, and when Lila asked him to let them in, so that the healer could touch the body, he began yelling at them, saying, "Get the hell out of here, you charlatans! You killers! If it wasnít for you, she might have lived!"
The healer was stunned, while Lila insisted, "Let her through, she may still be able to do something!"
"Bitches, sheís been dead for two hours!" screamed the brother, physically shoving Lila backwards, so that she lost her balance and almost fell down.
Then, out from the midst of family members and friends appeared the famous TV personality, who, looking nothing like she did when she was on TV, pointed her finger at Lila like some kind of terrible weapon (from which a death ray might emerge), and snarled, "You, miss, will be hearing from my lawyers! Youíre nothing but a liar and a heartbreaker. Jailís too good for you! If my daughter had been more consistent with the chemo and the radiationÖ"
"Excuse me!" countered Lila, outraged. "You agreed to everything. You signed a paper!"
"Get out of here," the brother cursed, stepping forward once again, "before I kick your ass!"
"Darrin," the personality warned, "let our lawyers handle it!" And she pulled him back into the room where Petraís body lay somewhere, the center of her motherís attention for perhaps the second time in her life (the first time was when she was born, emerging from the womb in the midst of pain that was far too intense for her mother to ignore).
Feeling like outcasts, like criminals, Lila and the healer were practically run out of the hospital. Lila, weeping, exclaimed, "We were only trying to help!" Then added, " Itís all because that damned Petra didnít know how to fight!"
Sadly, the healer put her arm around her benefactor. "Lila, itís no use blaming anybody. We should pray for Petra, now, thatís all."
"They canít sue us," Lila protested, talking to herself, though she thought she was talking to the healer. "They agreed to my terms. Everything was spelled out in the paper, and no promises were made."
"Donít worry, they wonít sue us," the healer assured her. "Theyíre just upset. Now letís forget about it, and pray for Petra."
"Yes, youíre right," agreed Lila, reaching into her purse for her wallet, and asking the healer how much the taxi had cost. "Yes, I am still so unevolved," she muttered to herself.
Not surprisingly, Petraís death changed everything. Both Lila and the healer were depressed for some time after that, but then, about two weeks later, Lila contacted the healer to try to set up another appointment for her. She was astonished, at that time, to hear the healer say no. "No, Lila" was her answer to Lilaís "What?" " Iím through. No more of this. Healingís too complicated. Iíve had enough. I donít want this kind of life anymore."
Lila, gasping, incredulous, left a long tract of silence on the other side of the phone, before she finally managed to recover enough to say, "You canít let this one case get you down like that, girl. Youíve saved so many people! Youíre so talented! You canít succeed all the time. Nobody can. Petra was already ruined when she came to you, the chemo had destroyed her - you had nothing left to work with. Look, your healing percentage must be something like 98%. Medical doctors, working in the best hospitals, are losing people all the time. Patients are dying like flies. Girl, you canít stop now!"
But the healer had only said, "Itís over, Lila. I canít do it anymore. I just canít."
Lila, concerned, arranged to meet the healer in person, and they spent a long time walking through the park, together. Lila finally dimmed the light of her extroverted personality, that she always felt she needed to keep brightly shining in the world so that she would not be left out, because it occurred to her, that just like the glaring light of the city at night, it might be preventing her from seeing the stars. She suddenly became more gentle, more quiet, and her readiness to listen finally coaxed an explanation out of the healer.
"My God, no, you didnít kill Petra!" she exclaimed, after the healer had finished revealing her thoughts to her. "Why is it always the sensitive souls who suffer so much!? You try to save someone, and end up thinking youíve killed them. Meanwhile, the people we elect to run our country say they are going to bring freedom and peace to the world, then end up blowing thousands of people to smithereens. Itís all so unfair!"
She hugged the healer, and told her, "Look, look at me! You saved me! Remember the story about the starfish? The one about the person who saw all the starfish washed up on the beach, and started to pick them up, and place them back into the sea, until he became disillusioned by the immensity of the task, and said, ĎI canít possibly save them all. Thereís too many of them washed up on the beach for me to ever make a difference.í"
The healer nodded, but Lila finished the story anyway: "Well to this starfish," she said, pointing to herself, "you made all the difference in the world!" And Lila added, "Thereís nothing wrong with slowing down, with doing things at a pace you can sustain. Think of the earth, girl. Itís filled with so much hunger and want. But the field still works at its own pace. It gives one or two crops a year, no matter how hungry the people are, because the process of giving birth to the wheat or the corn or the rice takes time, and it canít be rushed. Itís just the way it is. Why should you blame yourself if you need to go slower?" And Lila suddenly began to weep, clutching at the healer, and begging for forgiveness. "Itís my fault!" she wept. "Iíve pushed you too much. Iím like the owner of the goose that laid the golden eggs, I just wanted to make you keep on laying those golden eggs without ever stopping to think how hard it was for you, or what price you had to pay! I just wanted to save peopleís lives, because nothing can make a person feel more important than that, and I needed you to be able to do it! God help me, Iím sure Iím the one who burned you out, until you couldnít take it anymore!"
The healer held Lila with the same tremendous love that had cured her, and sweetly disagreed. "No, Lila, itís not your fault," she said, kindly. "Healing, itself, has its own self-destructive dynamics, Iíve come to realize. Success increases demand, until it finally brings so many people to your door that you either have to turn some away, which you can only do by shutting down a part of your love, which is like turning off the faucet of the healing power; or else, you have to take them all, until you end up being overwhelmed by their wounds, and broken down like a mule which has been loaded with too much weight."
"There must be a solution," protested Lila. "A higher view, from which you can see that the greatest compassion is that which understands that, by accepting your limitations, you will be able to give to more people, in the long run, than if you try to exceed your limitations, and end up losing your ability to give altogether."
"Maybe," the healer agreed. But she was still far too depressed by the disaster with Petra, and far too confused by the complexity of healing, which had escaped from the simplicity it used to have, in her eyes, to be assuaged by the words of someone who would forgive her for anything, and always see only the good in her. "Maybe youíre right. But that doesnít change the fact that Iím spent. Look," she told Lila, who was starting to say something, "right now I just donít have it, and it would be irresponsible to take on anybody new. I couldnít guarantee the results. In just the same way that I wouldnít get into a car if I was drunk, and start driving down an icy road, I canít get into this car of healing, and try to drive it down the difficult path of miracles when Iím feeling this way. My God, Lila, peopleís lives are at stake! Look at Petra - I lost her!"
"You didnít lose her - "
"But I didnít save her - which for me, is the same."
Lila watched her friend, her savior, intensely but quietly, now, with great sorrow and even greater love. At last resigned, she watched the healerís lips for the words she knew were coming.
"Iím quitting, Lila," the healer said, at last, firmly but tenderly. "My mind is made up. Iím going to move to another city, start over."
Lila, crying, hugged her again.
"Thanks for everything."
"Please," Lila begged her, revolting one more time against the decision, even as she accepted it. "Donít do anything foolish, like giving everything I gave you away to charity! And please let me keep on sending you money! Itís all Iím good for," she said, her voice breaking down once again.
The healerís hug told her that it wasnít true, that she was worth a lot more than that. But just to be sure, she added: "Lila, I would never have taken a cent of yours if I hadnít felt the love that was in every penny. Donít ever sell yourself short," she demanded. And, after holding onto one another for a long and meaningful moment, they finally parted, as darkness began to fall, just like Bogey and Bergman in Casablanca.
And for several years, that was the end of the healerís story. She kept a low profile, worked, and had her personal ups and downs in a distant city, where no one knew her, except as an ordinary woman just getting by, like anyone else. The anonymity was comforting to the healer, the lack of pressure soothing. Every once in a while, the news stories on the TV convinced her that she should be doing something more than just surviving, and, at such times, she had fantasies of perhaps becoming a missionary - but of what religion? - in Africa or Latin America. When one heartless winter, she saw an unnecessary and violent war unfold, in the newspaper headlines, and across the screen of her television, she wondered what she could do to help bring peace to the world, other than pulling a lever in a voting booth once every four years. She also, sometimes, saw images of whole countries filled with starving people, which made her weep, and she wondered how some of the abundance that surrounded her could be transferred to those places which needed just a little of it so desperately. During this time, she contemplated training to become a nurse, but rejected that idea, as she might be required to apply medications and participate in treatments with which she did not agree. She also, temporarily, joined a neighborhood church, where members were allowed to stand up and speak their mind, and there she tried her hand at preaching, quoting from Matthew 25: 31-46, in an effort to rouse up peopleís consciences against the poverty and hunger in the world, which this society seemed to care too little about. At first, the congregation approved of her Ďgood heartí, but after several months, and one bake sale and collection which should have satisfied her, but did not, they began to grow unnerved by her earnestness, until some began to snicker at her whenever she spoke in her impassioned way, while others began to complain about her ĎHolier than Thouí attitude, and to treat her like an enemy. Eventually, she dropped out of the church, and settled for giving any money she could spare to charities like UNICEF.
When, some time later, she had a little daughter of her own, who she named Faith, she made a special effort to teach the child to share her toys with her friends; and when Faith got just a little bit older, the healer would sit down with her with a catalogue from Heifer International, which was an organization which donated animals to poor farm families across the world, and ask her, "What animal would you like to give to poor people this Christmas, Faith? A sheep? A goat? A water buffalo? How about a llama?" As the llama looked very much like the pushmi-pullyu Faith knew so well from Dr. Dolittle, she chose that one, and in that way, learned about the poor people of Bolivia, and learned what the joy of making a difference in peopleís lives was like.
Sooner or later, of course, it was bound to happen. All during this time, the healer, whenever she heard of someone who was sick or dying, would pray fervently to God to deliver them. "The power I used to channel through my hands came from God," she said. "Which is the same place my prayers are going to." She told herself that her absence from the front lines of illness, actually touching the sick and holding them with her hands, was more than compensated for by the effort she made praying, every night, which was but another way to seek to channel Godís energy. And she told herself that she did not feel guilty about it - about withholding this burdensome gift from the world - and that everything was better this way; that now she had time to raise a family, to think, to live like she was meant to, and to give as she could, without struggling, at close range, with the knife-sharp edge of issues of life and death, at her throat each day. "Yes, I was good at that," she mused, thinking of her old healing days, "but I was also unstable and undependable. I made the right decision not to put anyone else at risk, by trying to heal them with such ambivalent, confused feelings churning around inside of me." Not surprisingly, thatís when she saw the picture on the TV news, one night, the photo of a teenage girl, badly injured in a car wreck on the way to the school prom with her friends. Four of the six kids crowded into the "death car", as the newscasters called it, had died, and only two had survived. One of them, a young man, was expected to make it, but the girl was reported to be in extremely critical condition, hovering "between life and death."
Of course, the picture was from some happy moment of her life, and the girlís vitality, and the spark of her soul were devastating to see, in the context of the tragic news. Clear as day, the healer could see her sense of humor and beautiful heart, and she also saw, in the face, that this was a girl with dreams, someone who had seen a star in the sky, and wanted to find a way of getting there. Then she saw the images of the mother, choking on her words and unable to speak, and the father, tears in his macho eyes, as well; and grief-stricken wailing classmates, and it just became too much, overwhelming her.
"Where are you going?" Faithís father asked, as she got up, suddenly, to put on a coat.
"Iím going to the hospital," the healer told him.
"Iím just going."
With that, she pulled the car out of the driveway and onto the dark street, and sailed down the night roads, underneath the signs and overpasses, to the distant hospital, which stood out in the night, with its harsh lights that reminded her of a prison camp, illuminating itself so that no one could escape.
Parking her car, she walked through the coolness of the night, up to and through the gate, convinced the guard to put her in touch with someone from the family, and meeting a brother, said, "Iíve come to pray for her. Please let me see her." She showed the boy a Bible, which made him take her a little bit seriously; and surprisingly, not long afterwards, the mother came out from behind some doors, and when she heard the healer say, "I want to stand by your daughterís bed, and pray for her - Iíve done this before," the mother nodded. "We need all the help we can get. Come on." She brought the healer in with her.
And after reading a small part from the Bible, while the family members and close friends looked down at the floor and listened, the healer finally put her book away, and said: "Please, let me touch her."
"Is that all right?" the concerned father asked a nurse.
She went to get a nearby doctor, who explained the nature and extent of the girlís injuries, and warned how she could and could not be touched.
"Yes, I know," the healer said. "Thank you."
And then she put her hands on the girl, who had not regained consciousness since the terrible injury, and began to talk to her, and to sing gently to her. The healer knew that it was a matter of reaching some part of the girlís will, of increasing it, and calming the body at the same time - releasing the healing process from shock, and fear, and doubt, and connecting the girlís wounded body with the infinite energy of life that surrounded it. And suddenly, shuddering with a power she had not admitted into her body for many years, the healer closed her eyes, and blurted out, almost as though she was her grandmother, speaking in tongues: "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided!" But then, since she was not her grandmother, she also said: "There is no place for the rhinocerosí horn to enter, nor for the tigerís claw, nor the enemy sword. There is no place of death within her, now!"
The family members, standing beside the bed, exchanged almost frightened glances.
And suddenly, the healer seemed to half faint, then to right herself, and after they had rushed forward to catch her, which she did not need, in the end, they turned around to see that their daughterís eyes were wide open, now - quiet, calm, not yet feeling the great pain that the return to her body would inevitably bring.
"Baby! My baby!" cried the mother rushing to her.
"Iíll come again, tomorrow," the healer said, to nobody, "to work on her pain, and on her head and neck - donít worry - I wonít move them, Iíll just send energy to them."
And before the family, distracted by the daughterís remarkable revival, and by the arrival of the astounded doctor, and all the nurses rushing in to check the readings on all the machines, could react, the healer was gone.
Out on the quiet, night-deadened street beyond the hospital, the healer thought, "Oh oh. Here we go again." Strange to say, however, she did not feel threatened, any longer, by her extraordinary gift, nor weighed down by it. Rather, she felt as though a great burden had just been lifted from her shoulders. And something joyful which she had not felt for many years had returned to fill her heart.
"Sheís got the power," she could hear her proud grandmother telling the minister of the old rattlesnake church. "Give her the snake!"
"Thank you God, for saving the girl," the healer said, remembering to give credit where credit was due. And she thought of Lila, who was always writing to say how much she missed her, and decided to give her a call as soon as she got home.
Biblical quotations include passages from:
Other references include:
The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 167.
The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tze (aka Lao Tsu), #50. (Various versions: translations by James Legee for Dover Publications, and Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English for Vintage Books.)
Information on "kiai" from Secrets of the Samurai by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, p. 369-372.
Black Elk Speaks, by Black Elk and John Neihardt, p. 173-174.
Yes, there really are Christian snake-handling sects in a few places down south (southern USA, e.g., Kentucky & Tennessee). For example, see: The Serpent Handlers: 3 Families And Their Faith, by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald; Salvation On Sand Mountain: Snake Handling And Redemption In Southern Appalachia, by Dennis Covington; Taking Up Serpents: Snake Handling Of Eastern Kentucky, by David L. Kimbrough; or Serpent-Handling Believers, by Thomas Burton. The practice is mainly associated with certain Pentecostal groups and is based upon Jesusí words to his disciples, when he appeared to them after his crucifixion and resurrection: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. / He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. / And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; / They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." / So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. / And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen. [Mark 16:15-20] For a quick little piece on the history of Christian snake-handling (if the link is still up), see: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/58h/58h025.html
A special thanks to:
OPC, from whose very different, but very loving and beneficial practice, I gained the knowledge of the healing arts necessary to write this story.
The Healer's Struggle, Part 1
Short Fiction Contents
Creative Safehouse Contents