Our friend Rita came to visit us while we were in Cuzco. She’s our neighbor and one my favorite people in the world. When back in Oakland we spend a lot of time with her, watching musicals on a rainy winter night or sitting on her couch in her backyard covered in blankets on a foggy summer evening. She and I can talk for hours. We have much different views of God and religion; she’s a Catholic while I’m an atheist. But we have nearly identical views of humanity and righteousness. We had missed her a lot while we were away, and it was a delight to spend my 50th birthday with her.
One day we went shopping for sweaters. We wanted to find something of high quality, not just the $5 chompas at the tourist markets. We had already bought plenty of those to fight off the cold nights we hadn’t experienced since Nepal. Cat and I each found a beautiful sweater in a small store within a courtyard. Rita found hers in the shop next door. None of our sweaters were cheap, but they were beautiful. The shopkeepers were, naturally, happy to make the sale. The woman who sold Rita her sweater was particularly elated. So much so, she shared her story.
She was a shaman she said. She helped heal people. Then she gave each of us, Bill, Rita, and me, a crystal. They were crystals, she said in Spanish, from a holy mountain. She asked us if we wanted her to cleanse us. Bill went first. She took his crystal and while his eyes were closed made slow circles around his faces, then drug the crystal several times down his arms and legs and then down his back finally shaking off the bad energy. She looked tired after she was done. Next was my turn. I closed my eyes while she performed the same ritual. I felt nothing but touched that she would put this effort into my life.
Bill and I both watched as she repeated the ritual with Rita. When she got to the back of her head she said, “She’s sick here.” She continued on with the treatment. When she was done Rita asked where it was that the shaman had noticed she was sick. When she was told it was the back of her head, her eyes widened. “That’s where I had my stroke,” she said. Apparently, a couple of years ago when she was having headaches, she got an MRI. At the base of her brain the doctors discovered a large, old stroke. Maybe something that happened as an newborn. This kind of is something I see in my practice. Most kids recover fully from it. Because there’s such full recovery there are probably many strokes we don’t even know about. Like Rita’s. It was while searching for something new that the doctors found something old and probably irrelevant.
But somehow, this shaman in a small city in Peru knew that Rita was not normal in this part of her body. My rational brain says it was just coincidence. She didn’t, after all, identify my painful joints or ancient injuries. But maybe a major stroke is different under the shaman’s crystal. Maybe there’s something in that crystal from a holy mountain under the hands of this shaman that really can work a bit of magic. I’ll have to talk to Rita some more about it when we get home. She’s brought back some blankets from Peru, and we’ll sit on her couch outside in the cool Oakland summer and talk.