She thinks the gift of healing came to her in 1918 when, at age 10, she survived the world-wide flu epidemic that killed millions while she lived.
During the weeks of fever and chills her mind travelled to far away terrains: Nepal, Antarctica, Venus and the Moon .They all looked pretty much the same. Stark and desolate on the outside but teeming with life underneath.
The few times she surfaced from these dreams to find herself in her little iron bed, she saw the opposite phenomenon written on her parents faces as they bent over her: fake smiles on their faces with desolation and fear underneath.
She wondered, briefly, what they were so worried about. Didn’t they know how beautiful and welcoming it was on the underside of this life? There was nothing to fear.
Finally, after 6 weeks that tortured her parents but flew by for her, she surfaced into her earthly life for good. But from that day on she wavered between seeing the world through a mist and being struck with crystal-clear insights. These insights were so intense – the sights, the sounds, the smells – that she had to stop whatever task she was doing and simply give in to the messages. She saw faces she didn’t recognize and heard voices that weren’t familiar, but she took it all in and stored it away in the file cabinet of her mind. She knew the significance of each vision would reveal itself in time.
Her mother was afraid. ‘For’ her or ‘of’ her was never truly clear. Probably a bit of each. She tried once to tell her mother about the visions and messages she received while ill, but her mother quickly told her to ‘Hush!’ and not tell anyone else. Women with ‘the sight’ and ability to heal with herbs or a touch of their hands were still considered witches. The twentieth century had begun, but people remembered stories told of Voo-doo and Witchcraft practiced in the deep south that found their way north via the freed slaves after the Civil War. The girl learned to keep her visions to herself.
One evening when her father found her crying on the back stoop outside their kitchen, he put his arm around her shoulders and asked her to look up into the sky and tell him what she saw.
The full moon had risen above the treetops. She always loved to see the many images in the moon’s full face: a rabbit running up the side of the bright disk, an old man bent over from his burden of sticks, the face that looked surprised with eyes and mouth wide open. Her favorite image was the woman with her hair twisted on top of her head, bent forward reading a book. The woman had always given her comfort. There was a female watching over her even if it wasn’t her own mother. But tonight was different. She saw none of these images, for the full moon had turned into a cross with golden light shooting out in every direction. She gasped and sat up straighter. Her father whispered, ‘What do you see, daughter?’
‘I see a cross of beautiful golden light.’
‘Ah, yes, indeed. This is the night of your anointing. The spirits have accepted you as their student in all things connected with nature, the realm of the faeries, the healing properties of plants and animals. Over time all will be revealed to you.’
She shot a glance over her shoulder into the kitchen where her mother washed up the supper dishes.
‘Don’t worry, daughter, this will be our little secret. Your mother doesn’t need to know.’
That night, for the first time since she was ill, she slept soundly and dreamlessly. Perhaps her mind and body were being prepared for the healing powers to settle in and flourish.
The first thing she healed was a chicken with a bad leg. She held it in her hands sending healing thoughts through her fingers into the little body. The chick jumped to the ground and scurried around on two good legs.
After a few more successful healings of barnyard creatures, word got around in their close knit farming community that she could fix broken legs and wings. People started bringing their injured fowl and farm animals to her and she cured every one.
She still wasn’t sure how she did this. She would hold the injured creature and think hard about it and where the injury appeared to be. Sometimes the injury was in a spot different from where it showed up. A dog that limped might have a pinched nerve in his neck, a cat with bumps on her stomach might have an allergy to the catnip she loved to roll in. She didn’t have to write any of these treatments down. She filed them away in her mind and could recall them at will.
Now she is 14 and has finished the 8th grade. Her mother doesn’t want her to go on to the High School. “What for?” The large family needs her to earn money and start looking for a husband so she can be out of the house in another 2 years. She begs her parents to let her stay in school as a teacher of the younger children. She has sat through the lessons of every grade level for 8 years in the one-room school house and can recite the times tables in her sleep. Part of the reason she wants to stay in school is so she can look through the history books again, spin the worn, brown globe as her fingers glide over the ridges and valleys of the world, and talk with the head teacher who she greatly admires. Her father understands this thirst for knowledge and wants his daughter to have any advantage she can get in this world, especially since she has ‘the sight.’ He knows what a precious gift his daughter has been given, both wonderful and terrible, so he has been able to convince her mother to let her stay in the school for another year at least. She promises to study right along with her students and to give her mother the few dollars she will be earning each month. The poorer children will bring potatoes and apples, sprigs of parsley and basil, or lamb chops as payment for their education. These will be welcomed along with the pennies some drop off each week.
One frosty morning on her way to school at 5 a.m. – she has to walk 2 miles and start the fire in the pot-bellied stove before the students arrive – she is met on the dirt road by a young woman clutching a bundle to her chest.
‘Please,’ the woman begs. ‘My baby girl is sick and I heard from the farmer’s wife I work for that you can maybe help her.’
She takes the baby into her arms from the frightened mother. The child’s breathing is so shallow she can barely see her chest rise and fall. She puts her forehead to the baby’s and whispers, ‘Are you stayin’ in this life, or are you goin’?’ The mysterious energy surges through her fingers and forehead into the little body and, after about 5 minutes, the baby’s eyes snap open and she smiles while reaching into the air with one tiny fist.
This is the first time she has healed a person and the feeling of gratitude for this gift is overwhelming.
She hands the baby back to the young mother and starts to hurry on her way. She is late now for starting the school room fire.
The mother calls out through her tears of joy, ‘Wait! I want to thank you in some way but I have no money.’
‘I don’t want money. I don’t even understand what I am doing or where the energy in my fingers comes from. I’m just happy I could help you and the little one.’
‘At least tell me your name. Everyone calls you that girl with the magic fingers.’
‘I am Rita. My father tells me I am named after the Saint of Lost Causes.’
‘Ah, your father named you well. You fixed my baby when no one else could. You are a healer.’
Rita turns and starts running down the road. She smiles to herself and thinks: ‘Now I will be known as Rita, the Healer. What will happen to my life now.’