The mystic wanderer – part I  

After re-starting countless intravenous lines that were blocked, after flushing many urinary catheters that were not working, after writing up long lines of follow-ups in charts, the barely breathing Surgical Interns wanted to hit the bed for a few paltry hours. But there was still a last task to complete before trying to catch some refreshing sleep. With a stash of blank Consent for Surgery forms and a ball-pen, we had to make the rounds of the rooms where patients scheduled for surgery in the morning were supposedly resting. Most of them were in fact waiting for us, anxiously awake, to ask a few questions about the coming procedure. We did not have much patience to oblige. Those were the wild times before the HIPAA guidelines mandated that both the patients and the professionals had to be fully awake and conscious of their decisions.

In a December dawn, a fellow intern approached me at the other end of the ward.

“There’s a woman that refused to sign,” he told me. “She wants the French version.”  –

“So what?” I shot back, barely popping my head into the awake state.

-“She knows there’s someone that speaks it…Don’t know how…She’s some kind of VIP from Haiti…Don’t want her family to file a complaint against us… Come on, man!”

With a deep sigh, I snatched the half- filled form from his hands and went to her room. My fellow intern warned me that she looked like an ugly witch with a disgusting mouth. Surprisingly I was greeted by a beautiful middle-aged lady that smiled broadly at me.

-“Come on in, dear,” she said in French. “I was expecting you.”

-“Er…do you know me?”

-“Of course, dear…I picked up your scent the moment I was admitted to this ward.”

She was a member of the Port-au-Prince elite who also dabbled in an “esoteric religion.” She used her powers in a benign way to help abused poor women from settlements ringing the capital, who sought her help in a non-profit institution that sheltered them. If there was a recalcitrant mate that did not heed persuasive ways, she tried other ones. We chatted for a few minutes in such a friendly way as we’d known each other for years.

-“You have a blessing, which is kind of a curse too,” she said.  “You’re restless, son of Samonios. Most of your colleagues here toil very hard to reach a comfortable financial position. But you will not be satisfied only by material wealth or a position of power. You are troubled by the meaning of life. You are seeking answers. You pursue the Light.”

-“Oh, dear. I’m in trouble then…No pause? Who will protect me in such a long journey?”

-“Plenty of friends. You’re a people’s person…And you have a special protective halo. But you are not meant to retire and go fishing, like the majority of physicians hope to do. You will continue to wander and search until the very end of your life, mystic wanderer.

Almost forty years after that fateful day, I am totally convinced that she was right. The very existence of this medical and literary web page is a testament to that prediction. My journey will only end when I finally face, totally naked, Saint Michael at the souls’ scale.

-“Tell me, Mario, what have you done for your fellow human beings during your life?’

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

Born into the convulsed celebration of Samhain

Our dear mother Gladys told us that she had been admitted for delivery in the eve of the Christian celebration of the Day of the Dead, which remembers all those that departed from this Valley of Tears into the Otherworld. The celebration of All Saints (All Hallows) was introduced by the Catholic Church in 609 and was originally celebrated on May 13th . In 835  Louis le Pieux, son of Charlemagne and King of France, moved the holy date to November 1st and in the 11th century November 2nd was also designated as All Souls.

The converted Carolingian nobility was trying to “sanitize” an ancient pagan tradition that celebrated the beginning of wintertime on November 1st, one of the four main festivals of the Gaelic calendar. The Celtic tribes had divided the year in two halves: the first one was called Samonios and the second one was dubbed as Gamonios. Samonios marked the end of the harvest season and the preparations for the harsh winter conditions in the plains of Europe, which were undertaken by the whole family in a communal effort.

The cattle herds were brought back from the mountains where they had been grazing for six months. In the Piemonte region—where our grandfather Morizio was born—that custom is called alpage and had been methodically carried out by all the peasant families since Ancient Times. That region of Northern Italy was part of the Gallia Celtica, one of the largest clusters of Celts in Europe, which, after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, became the roman province of Transalpina. Yolanda—our grandmother—told us that as a child Morizio and his brother Vittorio occasionally stopped to guide the cows uphill to briefly lean over and look at a small stone that had caught their attention. When  Beppe—his father and our great-grandfather—noticed that there were laggard cows breaking the pace, he would come over to kick the brothers in their butts, saying: “andiamo.”

In Celtic times, the cattle was safely guarded in barns with winter forage and a few animals were slaughtered to prepare meat for the long wintertime; vegetables and fruits were kept in preserves. In order to celebrate they lit big bonfires to cook meals, provide warmth and offer protection. The Celts believed that during that period the boundary between the living and the dead loosened. The spirits of the departed returned to visit their old homes and interact with their families and friends. In order to placate the aos si—spirits or fairies—they offered food and libations in their homes.

Our dear mother Gladys affectionately told us that she had stayed purposefully extremely still and quiet in her hospital bed because she did not want her first son to arrive in the Day of the Dead. When she told us, we embraced her warmly and kissed her. However, being a very intuitive individual (also called an empath) she warned us: “beware, you were born in the restless souls-period.” In the early hours of a Friday on November 5th 1954, we were born in the Asociación Fraternidad, a mutual association located in a grandiose Italianate building with three stories in the very center of Montevideo and the starting point of its topographical nomenclature-kilómetro O.

Our grandmother Yolanda stayed with our mother during the delivery process to greet her first grandchild and once it was over, she walked to the nearby Plaza Libertad to catch a taxicab to return to her home in Colón. She had to take care of her ailing husband Morizio who had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. A few days later Gladys brought us to his room and he proudly cuddled us against his chest. Watching us he said: “My beautiful grandchild…. Must be asking who is this silly man holding him.”

During our adolescence, we went many times for outpatient consultations in that same building for common ailments and not once, we could convince our mother to come along.  She always avoided talking about the subject until one day we told her that we had the impression of hearing strange voices whispering in a strange tongue there.

-“Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you,” she said. “Just want to connect with you.”

-“Why do they want to do it?” we asked her.

-“Because you share a psychological trait with them, dear,” she replied.

-“What trait?”

-“You have a restless spirit…And they are the restless souls on a constant search.”

As one of my novel‘s character said: “You can lose your tongue but not your blood.”  Those roaming Celtic spirits were perhaps trying to connect with a Samhain boy.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.