Thursday, June 03, 2010

woman of science, woman of faith

We've had a run of illnesses this spring—wacky cold viruses, fevers, ear infections, stomach bugs. Every time I have to watch my daughter go through one of these sieges, no matter how minor, it is torture for me. Seeing her doubled up in pain, groaning and clutching her tummy, I feel so helpless. One part of me wants to rush her to a doctor, wants some medicine that will take all of the pain away. Another part of me knows that we both have to ride it out, until she can purge whatever bug is bugging her. Science versus faith.

My Sicilian great-grandfather, after he retired as a chef in New York City in the 1920s, got the calling—he was a healer. Many people, especially recent immigrants from Sicily and Italy that had heard of Don Peppino through his patients' word-of-mouth, came to see him at his downtown apartment on the east side of 14th Street for his healing touch. He dispensed old-world wisdom and caring, but there were also medicaments, especially the "green salve," which family lore says contained quinine among its many ingredients. I kid myself that Vicks Vapo-rub, which I'm not afraid to apply to my own aches and pains liberally, is my modern-day green salve.

don peppino

 Don Peppino surrounded by his grandchildren, c. 1929

Science is wonderful, but it can only help so much, whether it is dealing with a child's tummy ache, a more serious illness, or a smoke monster on a mysterious Island. My father used to say that the more he studied science, the closer he got to a higher power. I'm too practical, action-oriented, and hard-headed to opt for prayer as the solution to my problems, for it to give me all the answers. But I do know that prayer can soothe, help me let go of some anxiety, maybe even sometimes give me some mental clarity. I have also discovered that acupuncture, for me, can help align what's out of wack, speed recovery from illness. Don't ask me how it works, I just know that it does that for me. Faith.

The best healers, doctors, and acupuncturists not only practice their craft with a touch of science, but they have a kindness, a touch, that inspires peace in their patients. It's hard in this hustle and bustle world to not be impatient of illness, to want a quick patent medicine fix. But it is worthwhile taking a breath, applying a balm, taking a quiet moment to reflect. To not rush back into the fray, but to take the time to heal. Whatever green salve or quiet words works for you—it just might heal what ails.
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