Monday, October 12, 2009

Another of My Teachers Passes

In my life I've had thousands of teachers. From my folks, to the docs and nurses who took care of me while in the hospital as a little kid, to my 3rd grade Ms. Keenan; 4th grade Ms. Forlizzo and 8th grade Sister Grace Maureen. And them there were my brother and sisters; Phil Blumenau, who taught me how to be grown up in so many way; Clare, who taught me about loving wholeheartedly, though I didn't get it for years, Chuck DuDell, who added an edge to me, and Larry LaValle who taught me that all was art in every aspect. And then Albie and Gail and Sandy and the other women in my life, and of course Chepa, with whom I could finally accept what Clare had taught. And my kids have been teaching me since we got together, and Chepa's new babies are teaching me daily too. And my friend Lynn and nature and oh, maybe a million more wonderful teachers too, from friends to editors to co-workers, to Sarah in the kitchen, and my karate teachers and everybody else.
As a grown up, five have stood out as exceptional to me: Moises Torres Vienna, the great naturalist and guide, who dragged me through the jungle teaching me as much as he could with my annual visits to Peru. Julio Jerena (Llerena), my wonderful curandero, who taught me so much about ayahuasca and plant medicines, despite my slowness at learning. Victor Estrada, a San Pedro curandero, who showed me shapeshifting to allow me to see the world in many ways not ordinarily visible. Pablo, the Matses' headman, who taught me so much about his indigenous way of life and his ability to laugh in the most difficult physical situations, as well as someone who taught me that every plant was a medicine.
And Bertha Grove, the first medicine person I ever spent time with. She was an old woman, a Southern Ute, when I first met her back in maybe 1987 or so. Her son Jr., and her brother Everett, were the roadmen for the peyote ceremonies I was allowed to attend, but Bertha was the healing maestra. Like the others, she had someone in me who didn't even know I was a student, so teaching me was like forcing bricks down my throat. Still, in the 8-10 days I spent with her over a three year period, she taught me a million things about patience, about seeing with new eyes, and one particular lesson about illness. She taught me that illness, or pain, have the same lifeforce as everything else on the planet, and the same will to live. "So when you take disease out of someone, or suck out their pain, you can't just spit it out onto the floor. If you do it's going to do its best to get onto and into someone else. And while you might just be sucking a cold out of a baby, when that energy latches onto another person, it might show up as something completely different, something much worse."
To eliminate that problem, she said, medicine men and women always took that energy, often in the shape of phlegm, and wrapped it in invisible cloth and sent it somewhere where it would never come in contact with anything it could hurt. "I send mine to a distant planet that's very very cold; but if you learn to do it you can send yours anywhere you find that will work. Just be sure not to take that energy into yourself and don't just leave it hanging around for someone else to trip over."
She was plain, direct and fantastic.
And of that group of teachers, Moises got hit by a three-wheeled motorkar a few years ago and had severe head injuries which prevent him from remembering anything and keep him repeating a few lines over and over. Then in January, 2007, Julio passed. He was old, but still powerful when he died. Then last fall Pablo died out on the Galvez river.
Bertha's son Jr., the great roadman, died last March. And then I just got word from an old friend, Malcolm M, that Bertha died last month. She too was very old, so her passing wasn't unexpected but still sad.
They all taught me so much; they all had so much more to teach me if I were only a better student. But I already know that I am a better person for being in their care.

No comments: