My grandson Ben took on the role of healer early on. At 18 months, he saw Daddy fall, turn purple, and briefly die of a v-fib. After Daddy came home from the hospital, Ben regularly took daddy’s blood pressure, listened to his heart, and measured his oxygen saturation. As he became more aware of the imminence of death, Ben became more alchemist/healer than doctor.
At four, he had invented reincarnation.
At our first get-together, as part of the gradual lifting of restrictions, almost six-year-old Ben told me he had the power to make me young again. He placed his hands on the back of my neck, sang some healing words, and told me, “In three days, you’ll wake up younger."
Before seeing Ben again, I got my pandemic hair axed and mowed my beard.
When we saw Ben again two weeks later, he looked at me wide-eyed and said, “It worked.” He then started a round-robin conversation about what animals we would each like to come back as in our next lives. Mommy picked a giant tortoise because they live longest. Grammy said a whale. I said I’d spin the wheel. Ben said he plans to be human next time, too.
The next afternoon, six of us—Ben and his twin Bella; four-and-a-half-year-old Mikey; Mommy and Daddy; and me Papa with my walking sticks of us—drove to the C&O Canal towpath for a walk. Grammy stayed home, tuckered out from Ben’s efforts to make her young again. The towpath’s surface consisted of small gray stones with mixed-in shell fragments—nearly ideal.
Almost immediately, Mikey tore ahead. Mommy laughed, “At least I know where he’s going to be when he stops.” Mikey’s feet ran out from under him. He began crying when he hit the ground. We sped up to see whether he was hurt. Mikey had skinned a knee and there were hints of blood. Mommy picked up Mikey to console him. Ben stepped toward Mommy, placed his cupped hands over Mikey’s knee, and began singing, “Heal up Mikey, heal up Mikey” to the tune of “Tender Shepherd.” Mikey quickly quieted. Ben removed his hands, inspected Mikey’s scrape, and exclaimed, “It stopped bleeding!” Mommy sat Mikey on her shoulders but when he couldn’t sit still, put him back down.
No sooner had Mommy put Mikey down than Bella tore ahead with Mikey close behind. As Bella turned to see how far behind Mikey was—a no-no for runners—she tripped and fell. She too had skinned her knee. After inspecting the scene, Ben cupped hands over Bella’s knee and began singing, “Heal up Bella, heal up Bella,” again to the tune of “Tender Shepherd.” Bella rapidly quieted. Nevertheless, Daddy picked up Bella and carried her on his shoulders.
When we reached the water pump, Bella wanted down, and Daddy cooperated. Ben pumped consistently until water came. Everyone splashed in it and drank their fill from their cupped hands. We walked the rest of the way to the tunnel. To quash plans in the making, Mommy read aloud a sign, “Do not climb on the stairways on both sides of the tunnel entrance because they get slippery.” The tunnel had no lighting, but it was a bright day, so we could see using the diminishing light behind us. And, at the far end, roughly a mile away, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because the ground surface was uneven, there were inevitable puddles. We turned back when Mommy felt unsafe going further without flashlights.
Mikey had already taken off his puddle-wet shoes and socks. Once we reached broad daylight, Mikey began barefooting the towpath while availing himself of every puddle. Bella whimpered, so Daddy restored her position behind his neck. Mikey stopped and complained he hurt his left foot. Mommy found a blister on Mikey’s heel and put him back on her shoulders. I accidentally planted my left walking stick in front of Ben. He didn’t notice, tripped, went down hard, skinned a knee and elbow, and began to cry. Mommy put Mikey down.
I said, “Ben, remember, you can heal yourself.”
Sitting on the ground, Ben cupped hands over his knee, singing “Heal up Ben, heal up Ben” to the tune of “Tender Shepherd,” stretching “Ben” into two syllables, without tears.
Mommy said, “If you’d like, Ben, I can carry you.”
Ben shook his head, “Mommy, I got this.”
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