|Photo courtesy of DFAP|
Leaving white settlers largely untouched, the illness hit the Thompson and Fraser River settlements hard. One can only imagine the outrage, frustration, and grief that the First Nations people felt as they dug grave after grave alongside the banks. Ancient bloodlines, going back for millenia, were cut off forever as men, women and children fell to the disease.
Little noted or remembered these days, it is one of the great tragedies of the 19th century - an unrecoverable loss of humanity. Stone and Silt does not go into that historical context, but it does attempt to show how one small family is affected by the disease.
We meet Jonah McLeod, a gentle physician who rides on horseback to serve the people on both sides of the Fraser River in Lytton. "A clean-shaven man, his forehead and cheeks were lined so heavily that they might have served as a roadmap for his recent travels." He does all he can, but the disease has overrun his primitive attempts at healing the ill.
His wife, Caroline, is a healer in her own right. Although not formally trained, Caroline has an instinct for helping a family in need. She draws on what she observes from her husband's work, and the teachings of native Elders, to bring small comforts to the household.
Then we're introduced to the Nlaka'pamux methods - including the Healing Song, the beating of the hand drums, and the tradition of smudging. In the smudge ceremony, the smoky fragrance of burning herbs is washed over the loved one's body.
In the aftermath of the scourge, there are more healing comforts... but I won't spoil the book by saying too much here about that.
I was blessed by a healer of a different sort this week. Dr. Park of the University of Washington Medical Center removed 60% of my liver - a major step in treatment for the metastatic colon cancer that I was diagnosed with last year. A young, compact man with a boyish face and short hair, when I first met Dr. Park I was tempted to ask him whether his father was going to be performing the surgery. In a calm and straightforward manner he explained the procedure and its risks. I was soon convinced of his competence as well as his compassion.
Jonah, Caroline, the Elders, Dr. Park... four types of healers, all with very different approaches. All offering their versions of a salve to the needs around them.
I awoke this morning, back at home in my own bed, to an uncommonly bright sky. I feel blessed. I'm reminded that everyone I encounter today - from random shop clerks to the people closest to me - carries a small quiet place of hurt. It might be physical. It might be spiritual or emotional. Maybe it's just some unidentified desire to see a friendly face.
We can all be healers. Today I challenge myself: How can I be a healer to those around me?
Stone and Silt will be published in Fall 2013.