Those of you that grew up in the 80s, when cell phones didn’t exist, and computers where machines used by NASA, may also have had the misfortune of attending a high-school that had a terribly high male to female ratio.
In these cases, you are no doubt familiar with Dungeons & Dragons.
For the rest of you, suffice it to say that in that realm, every adventuring party that wanted to have any chance of survival, tried to incorporate at least one Cleric. They had the power to heal wounds by magic you see.
This story however is not make believe, or part of some role-playing fantasy game. It is a true story, set in the same reality you and I share.
It happened years ago, when I was only 17 years old.
The man in question worked as a gardener and his name was Bruno. He was a rather short man with heavily tanned skin, a weathered face that looked like old leather and hands that spoke of a life-time tending to manual tasks.
He also had a gruff character, I never heard his speak very pleasantly. He was generally pretty brutally direct and really quite taciturn in any event. He used to be a live-in gardener and general fixer of all things on this large property and his family lived with him in the small apartment attached to the main house.
I had known of the man since childhood because the large property he looked after was owned by my uncle (through marriage to my dad’s sister) and I had visited it several times in childhood and on holidays to Italy when growing up. I had never particularly thought much of the man because of his apparently rough ways, which seemed unwarranted to me. His family was composed of his wife and daughter if I recall correctly, or maybe it was a cousin, I never really paid attention as I also found them somewhat overbearingly friendly compared to him and furthermore extremely pious. My own feelings towards all things church-related ensured that I basically kept my distance from anyone I perceived as being accepting of church doctrine.
It was only as a result of conversation I had with my Aunt during one of my trips to Italy while I was studying in the UK that I discovered that Bruno apparently had the power to heal people with his hands. I listened with my customary skepticism, which in youth was pretty much a flaming blade of laser-like certainty.
I asked why I had never heard of it before and they told me that it was because they had grown accustomed to not talking about it as he had some problems with the law because of it. You see in the bureaucratic sewage that is the Italian political system, where taxation is applied even to the act of breathing, anyone that is not a medical doctor that actually performs cures can be incarcerated. Nice way to keep the whole healing business in the hands of the doctors isn’t it?
What had happened apparently was that a little girl that had been run over by a car had one of her legs badly injured and despite multiple operations had never regained full use of her leg. until Bruno put his hands on it that is. The little girl was healed, people got to know of it and pretty soon Bruno was getting visits from all over the place. The voice spread even further and eventually they had a visit from some police-types. They may have had jack-boots. They may have threatened legal action and the possibility of heavy fines or maybe even jail time.
So my aunt’s family discouraged people from coming round again and over time the story lost impetus as people were turned away. Nevertheless, my aunt was adamant in her belief that Bruno could heal the sick. And so was Emanuela, one of my cousins who was present and who was the most skeptical of all my cousins. That alone was reason enough to be surprised.
I still didn’t believe these credulous fools that I was sadly related to obviously, and since they seemed to think their ideas were incontrovertible, I told them I had an easy way to find out once and for all about the reality or otherwise of all this.
About a year or more before, I had very intelligently decided to test my punching ability against a solid wooden door. To my credit, I didn’t quite appreciate just how dense and thick the wooden door in question was before punching it, pretty much as hard as I could. It was only because it had some give that I didn’t break my hand. Even so, I crushed the middle knuckle of the right hand. Apart from learning that destructive testing should be done gradually and incrementally, especially when using one of my body-parts to perform the destructive test, thus gaining further respect for the scientific method and a slight lessening of my idiocy, the only other lesson I learnt, was that a crushed joint never really heals back to normal. I had tried various ointments, massage and daily manipulations. The hand operated normally and for the most part the injury did not bother me unduly, but a raised bump of scarred cartilage and tissue remained on my knuckle and it was painful if pressed on. It would make a good test for Bruno.
I went to find him in the garden and he was tending to some vines behind one of the outer buildings. As I approached him, being rather blunt myself, I began by saying:
“Bruno, they told me that you can heal…” he did not let me finish my sentence. Instead, in his usual gruff way, he made a wavy gesture with his hands and said:
“Yes, yes, what is it?” Clearly meaning, where on your body is the problem?
I showed him my hand and began to explain about the bump on the knuckle, but once again he interrupted me.
“Take off your jacket.” It was a rather enigmatic statement, but I did as he asked. As soon as I had slipped the right arm of it off me, the other arm still being in the jacket, Bruno grabbed my hand with his own and with the other hand he reached high up under my arm, almost close to the armpit, and he kind of did a mixture of a grab, pinch and squeeze with his whole hand.
I felt a powerful shock, as if some kind of trapped tendon had suddenly been released in my whole arm.
I looked at my hand, as did he, and the bump on it was 90% gone. Only a very slight raised area was left. Before I could say anything more, Bruno spoke again.
“It’s fine now, that little bit there will go away later.”
Without another word or acknowledgement of my existence he then turned and carried on with his work, not even giving me the opportunity to thank him properly. I said a grazie to his back, received no comment and went back indoors to confirm to my aunt and cousin that indeed the man had magic hands.
My injury was not a temporary one, I had had it for over a year with no change whatever and this man in seconds had made it go away. A few days later even the slight raised area that remained had disappeared, leaving my hand and knuckle in perfect health.
There is no medical or rational explanation for that event as far as I am concerned. Even today, knowing a lot more about supposedly miraculous cures, some of which I have facilitated myself, I still have no real way to explain what Bruno could do. The little girl’s leg had been unfixable by the best surgeons in Northern Italy, yet Bruno had healed her with his magic hands.
Since that day, I have been able to help people heal somewhat myself also by the use of my own hands. Sometimes by massage, and other times by simply placing my hands on them.
Usually these seemed to me to be relatively mild injuries, even in those cases where the problem had persisted for several days or even weeks or months. They said they felt heat come from my hands and their particular problems disappeared, but they were never very serious situations to my mind.
More recently, after doing Systema for some years, I have had occasion from time to time to help certain people that had long-standing physical issues. On releasing their particular blockage or problem, it then allowed them to become much more functionally capable. They too have thanked me, telling me in some detail of how much it meant to them, but for my part I never felt I had done anything extraordinary. Nor can I say that I had any specific science behind my actions. For the most part I either sensed someone had a problem and worked it (usually with a strike) or sometimes I was told of the problem and when I felt I could do something about it I again manipulated it. Sometimes overtly, and other times covertly, as my intuition dictated.
I certainly do not think of myself as having supernatural powers though, and it has always seemed to me that my ability to “fix” people’s injuries was just some natural talent. I have never questioned it or really asked myself how it works. I know it is completely intuition based and I could not rationally or consciously achieve the same results if I tried to, though of course, my intention plays a large part in my ability to fix something or not.
I wonder now, how Bruno experienced his gift. The last time I went to visit he had passed on. I sat with his daughter and wife for a little while and wished them well. Their small home had many religious icons in it. Each room carrying the portrait of Mary or Jesus or of some saint or other and a crucifix either on the wall or on a mantle-piece.
Their home had the modest austerity of a holy place. It also had the slightly suffocating weight of the dogmatic Catholic church, which always feels oppressive to me, but I could see that it was a way of life for them and probably they were unaware of it. It might even have been comforting to them. That kind of “penance to be endured” sensation that permeates so much of religion and which stifles any sense of humour or joy.
I wonder how much this had a part in Bruno’s ability. I know his faith was of the unquestioning variety. I had a sense of him that despite this he was in his own ways somewhat unorthodox. His belief was obviously a private affair, as it should be, and it would have been unthinkably rude for me or anyone to ask for details on it.
Even so, I wonder at such situations. Systema is the only other place I have found a similar level of ability to heal injuries, though with nowhere near the same level of ability or consistency as Bruno had. Most of these practitioners are Orthodox Christians, after the Russian tradition.
My own Agnostic views have no opinion on the relevance or otherwise of this, but I do note it. As I note my own passage from Atheist to Agnostic.
My Atheism, was more properly directed at the human part of all things religious, than in the concepts religions are supposed to be commenting on. It took me a couple of decades and a conversation with a Jewish individual who apart from accusing me of being a Taoist (I had to look it up and only then did I realise its similarity to the kind of Zen Agnostic principles that Japanese budo culture tended to favour) also said to me in a thoroughly convinced way, with that certainty only the true zealot can have:
“You are not an Atheist. Your whole life is a clear indication you have a deep and true faith. You just couldn’t stand the hypocrisy and lies of the Catholic church and so in rejecting them you threw out the baby with the bath-water. But it’s clear that you believe. Inside of you, you know the truth.”
I never responded to that comment. I am not sure one can, or that one can really use words to even begin to discuss these things.
What I have noticed, is that the path of my life has always been determined by situations or events that have absolutely no relationship to rhyme and reason as identified by the logical, the rational, the engineering version of simple common sense.
On at least two occasions that I am certain of, my very life was saved by what I can only describe as an instant premonition of the near future.
Choices I made, that materially affected the course my life took in very significant ways, were not based on what made rational sense, but on a deep sense that I do not even have a word for. Intuition sounds so inadequate for the sensation I mean. Words always seem very inadequate.
It is a paradox this situation. I am a skeptical investigator. I love logic and the approach of an engineer (which I qualified as) to a problem. And if I have a favourite of any kind in the religious stories of the Bible it would probably be Thomas or Judas.*
Yet the thread that knits my life path is not one based on logic or reason, but some other quality, which I have no name for and yet compels me far more strongly than mere common sense, whenever it makes itself felt. I suppose faith is as good a name as any, though in what, or how it works, I could not say. Nor am I sorry for my choices based on this quality, for they have never served me badly, though sometimes the consequences may have been painful, in the end, they always turned out for the best.
In some cases the “smart” alternative would only have led to my own ruin too, so I have learnt through experience to trust it. particularly because the only occasions where I really did suffer some bad luck where those where I allowed supposedly good sense to over-rule this other system of guidance (never when it was clearly felt though).
What to make of it all I do not know, but it is interesting. If you have your own first-hand stories please feel free to add them in the comments.
* Thomas did not believe the Jesus who came back from the dead was really the same Jesus who died on the cross, and he said he would not believe it until he placed his own hands in the wounds of the resurrected Jesus. Hence the phrase “Doubting Thomas”, used mostly in a slandering fashion, towards people like Thomas who made an otherwise perfectly sensible request in my opinion. Thomas may well be the patron Saint of engineers. As for Judas, most people think he was just a betrayer, but they forget that in at least some versions, the only reason Judas “betrayed” Jesus was because being of a more belligerent nature than the other apostles, he believed that Jesus being either the son of God or God himself, had the power to wipe out the oppressing priests as well as the Romans that enslaved his nation. He thought by having Jesus arrested he would force the hand of God to wipe out the enemies of truth. Judas was more the DeNiro kind of Priest in the film the Mission than the Jeremy Irons Priest in the same film.