It was already 7 a.m. tea was just beginning to boil in the main house, the helpers were out in the street leading to the house, assuring people that the clinic would open for the day. Each helper brought tea and biscuits, the lawn chairs were neatly arranged on the driveways edge. Those in wheelchairs were lined up as well. They were waiting. Everyone was waiting. Waiting patiently for him to arrive.
The line stretched down the long driveway. Then it circled around to the street. It was already 7:30 and the line was asked to stop at the 150th person.
The l5lst person was dejected, “I’ve traveled 3, 000 miles to be on the line, I can’t go back home.”
“No, just come back tomorrow, he can’t see you today.”
“But he sees thousands a day. Thousands.” There was a look of terror and hopelessness in his eyes. “Can’t he please see me?”
“Sorry, but here is a number. You can be number one tomorrow, if you come at 5 a.m.” “I might not live till tomorrow.”
The helper looked at him, thoughtfully, and said without hesitation, “God-willing, you will live a long life, but you need to open yourself to that possibility. You only believe that you are sick.”
“Every nurse practitioner and doctor has said the same thing “Cancer, three or four months to live.” How can I argue with that?”
“You have been arguing with the disease. The disease, as you call it, always has a better argument than you do and. The cancer as you call it, is quite comfortable it likes your body and you like it.”
“No, I hate it with all my soul and being.”
“No, the healer will tell you as any person with two good eyes will tell you.”
A voice cleared quite loudly next to him, the blind man with the dog, looked quite perturbed, “Excuse me.”
“Sorry, no offense. Let me try this again, anyone with any good sense could tell this was cancer.
A pauper next to him also cleared his throat.
“Damn it! Enough of this mumbo jumbo. You won’t believe me, but you will believe him.”
Him. The word rang out and resonated on the lips of hundreds who were gathered around. Him. Him.
What an odd word, him.
Him, like in him, but like in hymn. Yes, it was the hymn that came from the heart. The hymn that resonated sweetly and clearly. Those who were touched by him said that was the thing that struck them the most, it was the resonance, the clarity, the calm and peacefulness. It was a question or two, a look into the eyes that were wide
Open, that revealed not just the person’s past, but the future. Was there a future? How far?
It seemed that this was it. The person who was ill, saw their life completely as that, the illness, there was no futurity. No sense of the possibility to heal. They had spoken to the specialist’s specialists and in their priestly invocation of right and wrong had indicated that “The diagnosis is incontrovertible. The diagnosis is six months and it is over.”
“Is there any chance?”
“Chance? Sure, a slim one. But do make the best that you can.”
“Hope vender. Hokey vendor.” That is what the newspapers called it at first. The public health department, the FDA, and FBI had been called into investigate the situation. As one scientists said, “This is an affront to everything that I’ve done and worked for in the past twenty-five years. How can someone sit there, smile at a person, hold their hand and say ‘Be well’ and they’re better. No science can prove that by me.”
Sometimes, he knew that the clock was ticking down, it was the fourth quarter, and the fourth down with a minute on the clock and thirty yards to the goal. Though Joe Montana could occasionally squeeze out a clutch play, the reality of it is… well, as he said, “The secret of success is knowing where to draw the line.”
“This notion of healing or cure is a little misdirected. If the person has the possibility of healing and needs to learn something further, then whatever obstacle that needs to work through will. Sometimes, you need to allow the person to do what they need to do.”
He was right, no science could prove it. Nor did he even suggest that it was science or religion. But he made few comments to the press. The last interview he gave was three years ago this spring. It was widely anticipated that he would break the silence and reveal what was the secret or technique. An assistant came forward spoke briefly and then he came forward. The cameras flashed than paused, he smiled, breathed very deeply, and then stood there with his eyes closed. One person said, he thought he was humming. Yes, it sounded like he was humming. But his lips didn’t move, he only swayed very subtly, very quietly, and then, when the entire audience of reporters, news people, and the plain curious all their restless mind churning questions that filled the airwave with pessimism, fear, loneliness, doubt and despair– for a moment, a real miracle did occur. In a room crammed with media, each voracious for a scrap of news and the chance of fame it was quiet as a Zendo.
He took a deep breath, leaned into the mike, and said, “Be well.” Then he left.
When the audience looked up he was gone. No cloud of smoke. No Hi-ho silver. Gone.
The media was in a frenzy the following day, as reports flooded in about the incredible insights that people had. Reporters spoke of this powerful insight that changed their lives. Some, though few, actually left the ink trade. One reporter waxed on about how it was like listening to the Sermon on the Mount, about the need for kindness, charity to others. One, apparently Catholic reporter, said, “I heard music, soft, harp like and a globe of surround him. It was as if all the questions I had about life and religion were answered.”
You see that is exactly why he never gives interviews. No matter what you say and as simple and as clear as you can be, someone always misinterprets. Joe said, “I looked up at this audience of people and I was stunned by the ocean of meaningless questions they wanted to ask. All these brilliant creative people there with a camera or paper in hand desperate to hear some grain of truth. Of course, they didn’t realize they wanted the truth, they thought they came for a story, the next sensation, or for the Pulitzer, and then were confronted by all their questions that stared back at them.
After that press conference he took everyone to his place in the Caribbean for a month. No healing, no talk of the press, we all hung out on the beach, played drums, danced, and had a jolly old time.
When someone asked him about the secret of what he does, everyone immediately stopped talking and bent forward to listen closely. He smiled, shall I say beatifically, no… He had a warm engaging smile, and said, “A little old lady once told me the secret and now I will share it with you.”
It was as if the Buddha or the Christ was about to speak and all eyes were riveted on him, though his friends and people around him always knew him as Joe, and had put aside the notion of something transcendent going on, it changed in that moment and people were ready to devour each spark of insight and revelation.
“Yes.” Said Fred. “So what is it?”
With that comment, everyone started throwing pillows at him as he rolled on the ground and laughed hysterically, “Yes, good sex! No, great sex!” There we were on that Caribbean night, rolling together, laughing, and having a great pillow fight. With the moon full on the bay and the cool breeze blowing, we all lay on the beach, a dozen or so of us, cured together with Joe and fell asleep lulled by the peaceful tide.
Should we have stayed? Even he said that he was tired of the “dog and pony show” but knew that he needed to at least try to say something meaningful, but how does anyone say anything meaningful in the cacophony and babble that is so prevalent in the late twentieth century? With all the healers, voodoo dancers, snake charmers, mischief makers, and ilk how was it possible to say or do anything of substance in this age? How is it possible to offer a message of hope that will not be construed as the Second Coming? How does someone say something as simple and direct as “Be well,” and that is all that it is. A wish and a direction. “Be well.”
That’s what Joe did every day of the week from. In his old farmer overalls, his beat-up Birkenstocks, and his favorite T-Shirt which he had in seven colours and said on the back, “Eat at Joe’s”. That was Joe’s previous incarnation, he had a Taco trailer for a number of years out on Spring Lake. From early April to late October he sold tacos and salads and then in the winter headed south. On the front of the t-shirt was the expression, that according to some people got him into trouble, “Be well.”
He’d give someone a taco and a salad, smile and say, “Be well.”
“At first I had trouble giving up the taco business, people didn’t confuse the message. I gave them the taco and salad or whatever and as some people say, “Have a nice day. I’d say, “Be well.” It seemed so simple and I did it without thinking. Then people would come back and say they felt better than they ver did in their lives. I think it was the sprouts and the wheat germ. It gives you a little kick and makes your colon feel good.”
That was almost three years ago and the lines still kept getting longer. Joe refused to speak to the press, it’s not that he was angry, it was pointless, “They don’t get it.”
When he left he threw the keys to the house and said, “It’s your turn now.”
“Where are you going? You can’t get up and leave?”
“Watch me.” And with that he did a side-step shuffle to the right and a little to the left that made me want to laugh. “Do you know what that is?”
“A silly old fart dancing?”
“Close! It my shuffle off to da islands… or somewhere warm and green.”
“But this is warm and green, this is Vermont in the summer.”
“Thank you for the observation, but I think I need to get back to the taco business or something like that. I had the weirdest dreams the other night, I dreamed that I actually started to believe this mumbo-jumbo that the press and people say about me. Nook, way. I don’t want to be at the head of the line and telling everyone to drink a little Kool-Aid.”
“So is this it? Is this it?”
“Fred” he said quietly. Then it was as if time had stopped and I was looking into his deep twinkling blue-eyes as he embraced me and whispered, “Be well.”
That was the last I saw of him two years ago.
p.s I wrote this story in 1993 and just came across it. What do you think?