Reflections for the Week of 2-24-2014

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A Secret of His Own: The Strength of Being Needed

Manuel lay back on the warm carpet of moss and leaves and breathed in the heavy scent of the jungle. Tonight, he was a man! His place was guaranteed. How he had longed for this day to come! He felt the sharp sting of a mosquito on his bare shoulder, but he didn’t slap at it.

“Drink as much as you want amigo! Tonight, you drink from a man’s veins, and a man can afford to be generous.”

His mind wandered back over the last hunting trip. Many times he had asked his father, “Am I ready yet, Papa?” But the answer never came, only silence.

“But Papa! I’m nearly as tall as you,” he would press. “If I don’t get a secret soon, how can I live with the shame? Most of my friends already know their secrets. My sisters know their secrets. When is it my turn?”

Still he heard no answer, just the padding of soft feet in the underbrush. So it had been for the last five hunting trips. But today! Today was different. Jorge, the oldest and most revered man in the village came to his hut before the frogs had stopped singing and woke his father. “Rafael, he must take his place.” His father nodded imperceptibly.

Without a word, Manuel followed the limping, stooped figure out of the village and into the heart of the jungle. Pulling aside vines, and stepping onto the narrow trail, he remembered Papa telling him how an elder taught him his secret during his fifteenth summer of life. “Your secret will be something that only you and the elder teaching it to you will know,” he promised. “But one day, we will need what you know, and you must help us.”

After an hour of silent hiking, the old man took one of the two bags from his shoulder, sat on the ground and spread out its contents. After several seconds of silence, he intently peered into his young student’s eyes and said, “A poultice made from these herbs heals snake bite. You must memorize the recipe, and learn to distinguish between herbs that heal and herbs that do nothing. You must learn where they grow, and be able to find them quickly.”

Manuel could hardly believe what he was hearing! “You will be a healer!”

Eagerly, he spent the day foraging for herbs, concocting the poultice over and over, each time looking into the brown weathered face for approval. If he was fast enough, and brought the correct herbs, then he was allowed to make an imaginary cut in the old man’s leathery ankle and pretend to suck out venom and apply the poultice. If not, he received a firm correction, and an admonishment to move faster. Finally, just as the frogs began to sing again, the old man instructed him to put the herbs away. He obeyed quickly, and handed the bag back to him.

“You have learned well, Manuel. I believe in you,” he intoned.

With that, he suddenly un-slung the other bag from his shoulder and shook it out at his feet. In horror, Manuel saw a snake coil, and in the gathering dusk, it struck, clinging for one awful second to Jorge’s ankle before slithering into the underbrush. The old man cried sharply in pain.

That night around the fire, Manuel stood taller, and his eyes shown as he recounted how he had saved his teacher’s life. The villagers shouted, and carried him as a hero, dancing around and around the fire.

Hours later, exhausted but happy, just before he dropped to sleep as he lay on the moss looking into the dense canopy overhead, he smiled. His father had said, “You see that fine man? That’s my son!

Pause and Reflect

The fear of being insignificant, unnecessary, and unimportant cause untold harm. On the other hand, the feelings of being competent, skilled, needed and recognized are powerful antidepressants.

  • How would it feel if someone trusted you with his or her life?
  • What risks would you take in order to show someone how important they are?
  • How do you feel about rites of passage? Did you have a Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, Quinceñeras or similar ceremony? How did that affect you?
  • How might we celebrate competence and take deliberate risks in the workplace?
  • What might be the consequences if we don’t?

We invite you to comment!

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