By Heriberto Escamilla
“I would like a consejo,” some advice, Don Marcelino. I said hesitantly and after considerable effort formulating the “right” question. As I ask the question, I doubt my motivation. I’ve always been pretty stubborn, never really believing what people tell me. So why should I ask? On the other hand, that attitude has not kept me from searching for that bit of wisdom that will wipe away all of my troubles and worries. Or perhaps it’s power that I seek. Like many people, I frequently fantasize that there is some kind of magic in the world that allows us to escape this drab and mundane existence. Maybe there is some trick that gives us absolute certainty, dissolving the turmoil of decision-making. I wasn’t sure what or how to ask. Don Marcelino “how can a person live a more complete, a more fulfilled life? That was the best that I could do.
Well you see, he replied with no hesitation at all, I was only five when I began having these strange dreams. “Wait”, I think to myself. I didn’t ask about your life. I wanted you to tell me to tell me the secret to a happy life”.
Maybe he did not understand, I think to myself, but rather than interrupt, I listened as he shared with me a little of his life. “I told my mother about the dreams and she said that I was being called from over there. So I began spending nights and days over there in the woods,” he reflected and motioned with his hand to some far away place. “I slept up in the mountains. The dogs would follow me and sometimes I would see other dogs in the woods, wild dogs.” Wolves, Don Marcelino, I asked as if it made any difference what kind of wild dogs they were. They never hurt you, I thought out loud. “No they didn’t. So that is how I began learning how to heal; spending time alone in the woods and most of what I know now, I have dreamed, lo soñe,” he added with a pause.
“I know a little about dreams,” my own thoughts fill the silence. After drifting in a dream for so many years, I am just now beginning to really grasp life. As he talks about his calling, his life, I become aware of just how lost I have been, how lost we are as a people. What does Mexican mean, what does American mean, what is my purpose in life? So along with my moments of happiness, I also feel sadness for me, for my family, my children, and close friends. We are all travelers trying the best we can to make meaning out of the words we speak and steps we take.
“Don Marcelino can anyone learn how to heal” that was perhaps closer to what I wanted to ask in the first place, or are those of us that live in this disconnected world doomed to unhappiness. But even as I ask my question, my doubts raise up to remind me of my inadequacy. Is it really some kind of “power” that I am after or do I really and sincerely care about people?
“El camino de un mara’akame es un gran compromiso” the path of a healer is a huge commitment;” the words come from somewhere deep in his heart. There is no way that I can convey the gravity of his words. They fell on me like a bucket of cold water, like an oppressive blanket of reality. I felt disappointed. In my mind, I heard him say “no it’s too late for you, your life is almost spent, you don’t have time to start over, you can’t do it!” It’s me that doesn’t understand.
“A lot of people want to be a mara’akames these days; everyone wants to be a healer, without really understanding the commitment. When I want to do something, I first go to my family. I tell my wife and she will either say, ‘si, te animo o no te animo’ (yes, I encourage you or no I don’t),” he continued. “So the family, your current commitments come first. Then, it would take five years for you to see,” he motioned toward the trees in my yard. “Learning begins with a five-year commitment. But before you even begin, we must consult Tatewari to see if it is even possible.”
“I am a Mara’akame, I sing for the people in my village, I have done that for a long time (if he started at 5, I calculate 70 years). I plant, harvest, work in my field, but when people need me, I also have to be there. Teaching someone else would be another path for me. Making the decision to teach someone would be a huge change,” again using his arms to demonstrate movement. I thought of Doctor Chipps, my dissertation chair comparing psychological healing to moving the Queen Mary. “If tomorrow you decide to be with a woman, or that you are no longer interested in the work, or something else like that, because you know how men are, I would also have to answer as well. I would have spoken for you so what you do would affect me as well.” That’s how it is.
“Before I started this trip, I asked a fellow singer to talk to the fire for me,” Don Marcelino continued. “I stated my intentions and asked for Tate-wari’s blessings. Speaking through the singer, Tatewari told me what I could and could not do, he instructed me. I have done my best on this trip, but I may have failed in some way or another. When I return, we will conduct a ceremony and I will have to give a full accounting. I will have to comply with what Tatewari says to me. Speaking with Tatewari is a huge commitment.” Again, my head was full of questions, but as I considered them, they all fell away, irrelevant.
I thanked Don Marcelino for his time and excused myself for disturbing him. His response caught me by surprise. No te olvides de mi, don’t forget me. I wondered why he said that. The words did not make sense at that particular time, but rather than asking I simply promised that I wouldn’t forget.
Thursday was a long day. We were all looking forward to finishing our last appointment that started at 7:00 and then plopping down in the 21st century, watching a movie, listening to music, or enjoying a quiet evening at home. I am very aware of the fact that in the morning, I would take my houseguests back to Santa Ana. But people keep coming to see Don Marcelino. My houseguests are obviously tired and I am feeling protective and annoyed, but Don Marcelino graciously welcomes them. At 10 our house is still alive with the smell of chicken soup, hot chocolate and the happy spirits of neighbors, friends and relatives. I am feeling bad because I promised Don Marcelino that we would rest.
When everyone leaves, Pibe, our burnt orange mixed chow-chow named after the Colombian soccer player hobbles up to Don Marcelino. Pibe is hampered by an arthritic hip and perhaps looking for some healing as well. Our houseguest strokes the dog with obvious delight. “En mi tierra, in my land we love these creatures. This is where we come from, from these animals,” he beams as he strokes Pibe’s head with chocolate-brown hand. Pibe stirs something in him and he entices me, “there are so many stories that I could tell you.” His invitation for more stories was tempting, but I’m having trouble remembering what I have already heard. I simply returned his smile.
At first the idea that we evolved from a dog might seem somewhat silly or even superstitious, but open your mind a little. A huge part of the civilized world believes that we evolved from apes and most of the others defend the notion that we were formed from a piece of clay. Seen in this light, evolving from dogs is just as plausible, isn’t it? To where do you trace your ancestry? Personally, I have always felt an affinity to man’s best friend and most trusted companion and it really pleases me when someone confirms that Pibe and I share a common ancestry. It’s good to know where you really come from. I go to bed a little more content than yesterday, with the day’s events playing in my head, and sad they are leaving in the morning.
Next week Part III
Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984.