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I saw a picture of some newly-hatched sea turtles, spread-eagled and waving their tiny, green sea wings in a slow flight across the beach. Having left the relative safely of their nest, they were making their way — unerringly as turtles always seem to do — to the sea. Their distinctive tracks in the warm night sand looked like little snow angels — like the ones children make when they dash outside at the first snowfall, gleefully throwing themselves onto the ground, waving arms and legs.As all children know, there is something incredibly magical and enlivening about the year's first snowfall. When the temperature begins to drop, I huddle indoors in sweaters and blankets, a pile of books beside me, wishing I could hibernate throughout the winter. But when I look out my window one night to see big, fluffy snowflakes floating down through the streetlight and everything covered in white, I am enthralled. I find it nearly impossible to leave that compelling scene at my window and I try to immortalize the moment.I was sixteen when the greatest snowstorm I remember slammed into Ohio. I remember sitting up half the night in front of my bedroom window gazing out where several inches of snow were lying peacefully, fluffed onto everything in sight. There was an unearthly mock-daylight from the street lamps which ricocheted off the dense snow clouds down to the snow and back again in a profound conversation between earth and sky which left me breathless. It was the most thrilling display I've ever beheld, and I wished it could go on forever, its innocence untouched.Eventually, the day dawned and I was afraid the snow would melt. The sun looked askance at the snow, but not wishing to spoil its loveliness, remained behind the clouds and let it be. It allowed the snow to continue falling for several days, and the wind, wanting to participate in this frigid frolic, joined in to whip snow into drifts as high as the rooftops. The earth, like those of us in our houses, settled down to wait out the tempest of the its fellow elements. When the blizzard was all over, we began our lives again with a renewed respect for the beauty and majesty of nature.At first, I found it strange to associate that great snowstorm with the tiny, vulnerable sea turtles. But then when I think of them tracking their way to unknown dangers through and beyond the sand, their bravery warms my heart. Surely some of them consider remaining nestled in that cozy, comfortable birthing bed, just as I want to bundle myself in my bed on cold mornings. Yet the turtles find they cannot ignore the sound of the vast oceans calling, calling, relentlessly calling.I've seen documentaries where the tiny creatures struggle across what must seem to them miles of desert sand to reach the gently coaxing surf. Many are picked off by marauding gulls before they can reach the sea water, even though the surf repeatedly stretch its reach landward in an effort to assist the young amphibians to their new home. The beach must seem like such a hostile environment compared with the familiar, warm, safe nest from which the turtles have emerged.On the edge of my seat, I watch them anxiously, silently cheering them on, fingers crossed and hoping they will reach the water safely and remember how to swim. When that first wave does finally break over the lead turtle, I want to laugh as it finds its true element and flies away into the great unknown — its home and its future.I yearn for another magical snowfall like the one of ‘78 — and to make snow turtles in my yard. You never know where all that ecstatic waving of arms and legs might get you.
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The following are original stories written by our members:The HealingThe Story of Miach and His SisterWhy Willows WeepSnow TurtlesDancing Green
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Sean McCory was doing about 90 when the bright flash of light on the road ahead caused him to slam on the brakes and skid to a halt on the shoulder. His old van groaned from the unusual demand being placed upon it and sputtered out as Sean turned around and asked his father, "Are you all right back there, Dad?""No, I'm not all right, you idiot!" his ailing father moaned, from underneath the pile of blankets Sean had bundled around him, "I'm dying! And you're bouncing me around in this damned truck like a sack of potatoes! I should be home, that's where I should be. Take me home.""Now Dad," Sean protested, "we've been all through that already. The Kildare Institute is the best alternative treatment cancer center in the United States. The sooner you get there, the sooner you'll be well again.""I'm not going to get well again," his father rasped, his breath coming in gasps between stabs of pain in his belly, "this crap's eatin' up my guts. I'm done, you hear?""Cut it out, Dad!", Sean pleaded, "just because your oncologist gave up on you, that doesn't mean you have to die. The institute has treatment methods the AMA won't accept for decades. I've heard that they're curing so-called 'incurable cases' every day.""Bully for them!" the old man croaked, "Take me home, I say!"Sean was tired of this conversation, which he had been having every day for a week, ever since he raced home from college and found his father in this terrible condition.Sean had left his father in September looking fit and healthy. And the old Irishman was so stubborn and prideful that he hadn't even hinted about his illness in his many letters to his son. The father and son were unusually close—Sean couldn't imagine life without his Dad. For the ninth time, the young man cursed himself for not coming home over Christmas break, but since neither he nor his father were Christians, and school let out too late for them to spend Yule together, he decided to just remain on campus in New England, get in a little skiing and catch up on his studies. It was a worried neighbor who finally called Sean at school the last week of January and told him of his father's failing health.He jumped in his van without packing and drove 24 hours non-stop to arrive in Indianapolis ready to take charge and set his Dad back on the road to recovery, only to find his father talking about dying. It wasn't like him! So Sean did the only thing he could do. He bundled the old man up, pretty much against his will, and put him in the back of his beat-up Ford Econoline. He was taking him to Daytona, Florida where there was supposed to be a top-notch cancer facility that he had heard about back in Boston. They had been on the road for over 18 hours when this latest incident had occurred.Now Sean scanned the highway, looking for the source of that sudden flash of light that had made him run off the road. His eyes were weary from so many hours of driving and he rubbed them with his fingers, trying to clear them a bit. Then he saw her.A young blond-haired girl on a shiny new bicycle, pedaling up the side of the highway towards them, singing as she rode. It must have been a reflection of the sun on her bike, he thought, glancing at the overcast sky with a puzzled frown.She stopped by his window and asked, "Is everything all right, Mister? Did y' all break down?" She looked to be about 12 years old and her Georgian accent was charming."No, we're fine, just tired and my eyes are playing tricks on me, I guess. How long is it to Jacksonville?", Sean asked."Depends on how fast you go.", she said with a smile, "This is Homeland, Folkston is 6 miles down the road and the Florida border is just after that. You have kin in Jacksonville?""No. We're going to Daytona, actually. I'm taking my father to a clinic there. He's very sick." Sean confided, surprised that he was being so open with a total stranger, but finding the girl strangely easy to talk to."Ah, yes, I see." She said, peering into the van to glance kindly at the old man, now dozing in the back, "You must love him very much to drive so far, just because he wants you to.""Well, actually, he's not all that keen on the idea." Sean admitted, "But I have to do what's best for him.""Of course," the young girl agreed, "It's lucky for him that you know what that is!" She smiled pleasantly in farewell and rode away, singing as she went.Sean pulled back onto the old highway and continued on towards Jacksonville. He couldn't get the young girl out of his mind. He kept going over their conversation in his head. He had the weirdest feeling that she was somehow playing with him.They bypassed Jacksonville and took I-95 toward St. Augustine. By the time they reached the old city Sean was starving, so he took an exit and began looking for a place to get some food. His father was sound asleep—he slept a lot these days—so he parked in the shade a big tree, dripping with Spanish moss, and got out to look for a grocery store. He was in the tourist section of the city and there were souvenir shops, gift shops, tee shirt shops, craft shops and fast food places everywhere, but he couldn't find a grocery store and Sean preferred fresh, whole foods whenever possible.Finally he stopped and asked directions from a pretty young woman, about his age, who was making jewelry in a little open-fronted kiosk."Sure", she answered, never taking her eyes off the bright, hot flame of the torch that she was using to braze a pin onto the back of an ornate, silver brooch, "there's a Sav-Rite two blocks north and one block east of here," as she cocked her head in the appropriate directions.Sean was fascinated by the skill she used, as she worked the bits of bright metal and stone into beautiful pieces of jewelry, heating them until they were molten and plunging them into a small vat of water she had nearby. The sound they made was somehow musical."Was there something else I can help you with?" she asked with a smile. She was used to young men watching her work for extended lengths of time."I... I was just wondering how you knew what you were going to make." Sean said, "I mean, you seem to be able to take a few small pieces of metal and turn them into anything.""Not at all," she explained, "Each piece grows naturally from the potential of the raw materials to become the item it was meant to be. You can't force something to be what it is not. You must let nature take her course and accept the limitations along with the potential.""Oh," Sean replied, baffled by her answer, "Well, thanks again.""You're welcome!" she said, and flashed him a bright smile as she flipped her long yellow hair over her shoulder and continued working.After lugging the bag of organic carrots, apples and whole wheat bread back to the van, Sean found his father awake."Did you bring me anything to eat?", he asked, looking suspiciously at the pile of raw fruit and vegetables."What's wrong with this?", Sean asked him."Nothing—if you're a rabbit!" his father grumbled, as he chewed on a piece of the bread.An hour later they were riding through Daytona, looking for the Kildare Institute, but somehow they had gotten lost. Sean stopped to ask directions from a woman walking on the sidewalk. Her face broke into a huge grin and she informed him that she was on her way to the Institute herself! Sean offered to give her a lift and she accepted readily. When she got into the passenger seat, Sean noticed from the bulge in her pretty sun dress that she was about 6 months pregnant. He was glad he could help her out."Are you a patient at the Institute?", Sean asked her."No, I work there," she explained, "I'm one of the healers on the staff.""I sure hope you can heal my father ," Sean said, nodding toward the back of the van."We specialize in healing the entire family system, not just the disease.", she answered, " Are you sure you know what you really want?""Sure, I do!", Sean told her.They pulled into the Institute, and she said good-bye as he stopped the van under the large covered entryway. Sean checked in at the front desk while several orderlies lifted his father out of the van and wheeled him inside.As Sean was falling asleep that night, he suddenly realized that it was February third and the festival of Imbolc. If he had been at school he would have been celebrating the feast of Brid tonight, with his grove. It was always his favorite.That night Sean had a dream. He saw Brid walking toward him out of a thick white mist. Her body glowed like gold, like fire, like the sun. She came to him and asked what he wanted."Heal my father," he pleaded, "make him right.""I will do that" Brid answered, smiling upon him with divine love, "but you must understand that I heal the whole family. Do you know what you really want?""I want everything to be the way it's supposed to be!" Sean exclaimed."That's what I thought." Brid said, "It is done.""You mean my father's all...?""No. Your father's dead, Sean. That's the way it's supposed to be. The healing that needs to be done here is in you—not him. You must accept the limitations of nature along with her gifts. And not try to force something to be what it's not. And if you love someone, you must concern yourself with what he wants, not what you want—or what you think he wants. Understand?" Brid smiled for a moment.Sean was blinded. "I... guess so." he replied."And I'll give you another gift," Brid offered, "from now on, you'll recognize me when you meet me!"The next morning Sean drove his father back home to bury him.
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Far, far across the deep, wide sea, stretching, straining back into the mists of time; when all shapes and sizes of Sidhe leapt joyfully from Danu's loins and magic had not fled from man to the other plane, but ruled this land, there was an island within an island. On the first day of the fifth month, at dawn on one of those rarest days with the fading full moon sharing the sky, side by side, with the brightly burning sun, there was an auspicious birth. Without a single pang, in a bursting and a whoosh of waters Danu produced a blue-skinned daughter with slitted, watery blue eyes, sea foam green hair, and hands and feet that were webbed. Then, with just one earthly grunt, Danu brought forth a brown gnarled-skinned son with piercing black hole eyes, dark green hair, long twisted fingers with great green nails and even longer convoluted toes.She named her daughter Mór and her son Saílle. The children grew happy and strong, romping through the orchards and splashing in the River Avon, ducking and dunking each other in the lake where Avalon dwelt. Never, ever out of sight of the other, their bond grew and grew until it was unbreakable, their love unshakable.Now the Sidhe, the Tuatha De Danaan, the children of Danu were pure of heart. Playful, daring, moody at times, they could not do a great evil or an immense injustice. Mór and Saílle, ever growing closer, let the years slide by, for time was not reckoned then as it is now. Their simple sibling love slowly changed into a passion, a devotion, an eternal adult love.In time, as was common among the children of Danu, they came before her and asked if they might marry. To their shock and dismay, she glared at them and shouted, "NO!" They were hurt and confused; other brothers and sisters had married. Harshly Danu pointed out that faerie married faerie and leprechaun married leprechaun, but Mór was a water sprite and Saílle a dryad. Not only that, but it was time to take on their adult duties. Mór must merge with and become guardian of a body of water, and Saílle was to forever dwell within a tree.Mór, broken-hearted, ran and plunged into the River Avon. Immediately her spirit and energy dispersed throughout the flowing current. Sobbing, Saílle tried to follow her, but was frozen in tree-form on her bank. His toes sank deeply, seeking Mór's watery nourishment and his hanging head bet towards her gentle waves. His long arms and fingers brushed her shining ripples. Saílle became the only Weeping Willow on the Isle of Apples and each spring Mór overflows her banks to totally embrace her beloved Saílle.Author's Note: This is not an ancient Celtic legend, but an original story to be enjoyed alone or read aloud to children.
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(This story was written in thanks to three Celtic gods of healing, for my wife's successful surgery and lack of malignant cancer.)It is said in the Book of Leinster that:"... Dian Cecht had three sons, Cu, Cehten and Cian. Miach was the fourth son though many do not reckon him. His daughter was Etan the Poetess, and Airmed the she-leech was the other daughter..."When I heard the words: "Miach was the fourth son though many do not reckon him." I had to wonder. Miach certainly had earned fame; his healing skill surpassed that of his famous father. Had he committed some crime, that many would not even count him as a son of the fabulous leech (or physician) Dian Cecht?Well yes, he had committed a crime. As I said, his skill surpassed that of his father. Some fathers, sad in growing past the peak of their powers, take comfort in the knowledge they have raised strong children whose accomplishments outshine their own. Some physicians, chafing at the limits of their knowledge and ability, are delighted by new discoveries that help them bring healing to the afflicted. Miach's father, whose name has been mentioned enough, was not such a father. Nor was he such a physician. Some heal for love, some for profit, others for vanity. It is so now and it was so then.Not much is passed down about this fourth son, other than the circumstances leading to and following his death. This, then, is the story of Miach, as it was told to my soul's ear.As a boy, Miach was an odd one. Oh, he played with the others, did his chores without too much grumbling, slept well and ate better, and grew like a shoot. Nonetheless, in some ways he was different from most boys. For one thing, he was kind to his sisters, particularly Airmed. And though he could chuck a rabbit stick as well as any boy, when his bag was full he'd hide away for a long while, down-wind and stock-still, to watch the living creatures only for the sake of watching them. And of his brothers, he was the one who made a nuisance of himself by watching and asking questions as his mother or a sister dressed out the game. "Is our liver like a goose liver?" for instance, or "How do stomachs and guts turn food into shite?" "Ask your father, why don't you?" the women of the house would complain, but they'd regret it. For then they'd have father and son pawing over entrails and organs, making a mess and getting in the way.Yes, Dian Cecht loved the boy at least as much as his other children, and perhaps a bit more. Though Airmed had a natural knack for herb lore, and none of the offspring could be considered "slow", Miach was the only one whose mind was sharp as a knife honed by countless questions. Brilliant minds sometimes grow very lonely for want of company, and the father discovered that when he explained the workings of life to his son, not only did the son learn quickly, the father's understanding deepened as well. The son loved both the lessons and his father deeply, believing his father to be the wisest man in the entire world. Before the boy had the first hint of a beard, he was going with his mentor to the hearths of the Tuatha dé Dánaan, assisting him in the healing of the mighty whom we now call the Shining Ones. Imagine what that must have been like. In households humble and great, Dian Cecht was greeted with affection, gratitude, deference, and hope. As Miach became less of a boy and more of a man, he shared in the bounty of trust given to the physician, and assisted his father in the most intimate of matters.Injuries occurred more frequently than illnesses among this robust people, and Miach learned from his father that a leech is paid for discretion as well as medicine. Discretion was also important in the technique of remedies, which were not to be shared, since mysterious cures commanded a higher price than the mundane. Over years, the bond of father and son grew ever stronger with each secret shared. Yet they were not alike in all things. Miach was of a generous nature, and tried without success to convince his father to share some lesser cures with the community, so that the suffering endured while traveling, or sending a messenger and waiting for the physician's visit, would be unnecessary. He also possessed a skill his father did not, though neither of them mentioned it.A secret that is not a secret seems strange indeed, yet many people have them, to protect the status quo of a valued relationship. So it was that master and apprentice pretended not to notice certain things. Wounds healed faster than expected when Miach assisted with the bandaging. Delirious children stopped struggling against distressing remedies once they met his eyes. Though men did not assist in childbirth, many an expectant mother would conspire to "accidentally" brush against Miach in passing, believing labor would be easier for that touch. No one dared speak to Dian Cecht about the reputation his son was earning. Miach knew, Dian Cecht knew, but both pretended not to notice, as partners might pretend not to notice each other's indiscretions. Despite the tacit pact made to preserve the relationship, Dian Cecht and his son gradually grew apart; the less they could speak openly with each other, the worse it became. Even working side by side, it seemed at times that there were miles between them, miles that neither of them could bring themselves to mention or to even recognize.It was during the first battle of Mag Tuired, that full-grown Miach was forced to see how things were between him and his father. In consultation with the ancient Fin Tán, Miach's father was supervising the digging of the Great Well of Healing, which was to entirely restore many thousands of warriors put into it no matter how gravely wounded. Into the water, Airmed had thrown bushels full of healing herbs gathered from all the reaches of Ireland. Miach had been set to stir the water with the root end of a long birch sapling, while other men were setting stones in the sides of the well to stop them from collapsing. Miach's father slipped on a stone in passing, grabbed at the young man's arm to keep his balance. Already leaning over the well to stir the waters, Miach tumbled down into waist high, herb-thickened water. His father laughed, suggested he stir the mess with his legs and arms, as long as he was already down there. Miach laughed in turn, took a step, slipped and went under.He could find no footing. The water suddenly was ice cold, seemed to suck the very life from his body. Miach fought to the surface but was pulled down before he could catch a decent breath. He surfaced a second time and did get air, but gagged and coughed on the slimy green mass he was forced to swallow. Like a living thing, the water dragged him down again. It was no longer ice cold, nor was he drowning. His belly was full of fire, he felt no need for air, and the water around him seemed to be bubbling. He stopped struggling, his hands finding the root end of the birch sapling. Grabbing it, he was pulled out of the boiling water by his brothers Cú and Cian holding the other end. Only ankle deep now, he used one hand to clear the muck out of his eyes, waved thanks to his brothers. They seemed to be shining like stars, and at first Miach thought the sun must be behind him. When he looked down, however, the steaming water at his feet was glowing as though lit from within. When he looked back up, all the people in the crowd at the rim of the well had the same quality, glowing with an inner light, that light forming a luminous second skin around each of them. Then he met his father's eyes looking down on him, and time seemed to stop.For his fathers' eyes were colder than any water could ever be. In his newfound, newly agonizing clarity of vision, Miach could finally see what had been in front of him for years. His father's slip and grab that tumbled him into the fresh-dug well had been no accident. The man he'd loved and looked up to all his life, whose bidding he had done since he could walk...that man was afraid of him, and had been so for some time now.There was little time to absorb this revelation. The well was ready, the battle started, and already gravely wounded men were being carried toward the water for the healing. Miach clambered out and grabbed a targe and sword. Many enemy Fir Bolg fell to his rage that day, and many Tuatha Dé were carried by him to the Well of Healing. Though he sustained many wounds and never went back into the Well's waters, at the end of battle not a mark was left on his body. Not so for Nuadu, King of the Tuatha Dé Dánaan.. The Well healed his pain and bleeding, to be sure. Yet he was no longer King, nor could he even wield a sword, for nothing could replace the right arm hacked off by the Fir Bolg.Or so it was thought. Seven days or seven years after the battle was won, with the Fir Bolg in Connacht, Dian Cecht presented Nuadu with a matchless gift. Under his direction, the Master Artisan Credne had crafted a miracle, a gleaming silver arm to replace the one lost to battle. It fit perfectly onto Nuadu's stump, and after Dian Cecht fastened it, Nuadu could move every finger, flex every joint. It answered his will as rapidly as his old arm of flesh, and it was so strong he could crush a rock to gravel effortlessly. No enemy would be eager to face the King now, surely. The physician was very pleased. Surely his reputation was more than secure. His name and accomplishment would resound through the ages. And indeed it has, and rightly so, for even at the dawn of the twenty-first century, no one has equaled his accomplishment. Unless you reckon Miach, who earned Nuadu's gratitude and his father's wrath.It was like this: Nuadu heaped honor gifts upon Dian Cecht's household, and was never so ungrateful as to complain of how weird and unnatural it felt to have an arm of metal, powerful, responsive and quite numb. He never told anyone that his wife asked him to take it off before he came to bed. He was too proud to let anyone know how it felt to have all his own qualities and accomplishments fall into the shadow of Dian Cecht's incredible achievement; wherever he walked, the brilliant shine of the silver arm and hand went before him. It was all anybody ever talked about anymore. He never mentioned any of this, but Miach knew how Nuadu felt. Not only was he no stranger to walking in another's shadow, but the bright vision thrust upon him at the Well of Healing abided. He could see and touch and even shape life energy, and had come to recognize the imbalances and interruptions connected with illnesses and injuries. When Nuadu had lost his fleshly arm, the energy surrounding that arm had stayed with him nonetheless, keeping him in balance. The silver arm changed that, interrupting the ebb and flow of life force. Nuadu's energy was thrown out of balance, and the king would never feel like a whole man again until that imbalance was remedied. Miach knew that he could repair the damage done. For many years he had downplayed his own abilities to keep peace with his father, but he could do this no longer. It was time to step out of the shadow, however much it might cost.The healing lasted three times three nights and days. "Joint to joint of it, and sinew to sinew," Miach chanted, among other things, and bandaged Nuadu's arm and hand to his middle for the first seventy two hours, and the arm was entirely covered with skin. "Muscle to muscle of it, and vessel to vessel," sang he, binding the king's arm and hand to his chest for the next seventy-two hours, and everything that had been silver was now flesh, nerve, tendon and bone of it. "Strength to strength of it, and habit to habit," chanted Miach, showing Nuadu the exercises to teach his new arm how to act just like the old one. By the end of that seventy-two hours Nuadu was delighted to have a well muscled and coordinated arm, needing only a bit of sun to look just like the other one. His young healer found it hard to join the celebration, however, for he knew word would soon reach his father's ears.When Miach came upon his father the great surgeon was sitting upon a stump outside the family roundhouse, honing his sword with a flat stone. The strokes were slow and steady: fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwht. I do not know the sword's name, but it was crafted by the great smith Goibnu, and was said to have this quality: Whomsoever was wounded by it could only be healed by the hand of Dian Cecht.As was right, the younger man addressed the older first: "Hello, Da'. A fine day it is, neh?" fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwht. The son waited for an answer. fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwht. A long time. fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwht. Only when Miach turned away to leave did his father speak."A fine day for you, certainly." fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwht. "People have been talking." fffwwwht, fffwwwht, fffwwwh. "They say you are a most wondrous leech." ffffffffffwwwwwwwwwht. Dian Cecht lifted his sword to sight along the edge, finally looking in his son's direction.Miach met the eyes, cold as they were. "People say lots of things, sir. It is your opinion I care for."The father laughed, but there was no mirth in it. "Huh. Sir, is it now? My opinion you care for, do you? How can I give you my opinion when it has been so long since I've tested you? Do you agree?" he said, slowly standing."As you wish, Father." said Miach."I wish you to stand quite still." the surgeon said and let his blade fall ever so lightly upon his son's head. That was the first blow. Miach felt a whisper of pain and a long laceration parted the skin of his scalp, blood flowing over his face and neck. Briefly, he closed his eyes. The cut upon his scalp closed and healed, the spilled blood disappearing into his skin like water into freshly tilled earth."Indeed you are a great leech," said the Dian Cecht, "but you have been keeping secrets from your father." The second blow fell a little faster, a little heavier, a little more painfully. When Dian Cecht drew back his sword there was an even longer gash on the top of his son's head, showing the white bone of Miach's skull. He raised his hands to his head and pushed the edges of the wound together, healing it, the blood returning to his body as before."I meant no harm, Father. The change happened when I fell into the Well of Healing. I did not mention it for fear of angering you.""Have I been such a hard father then, that you fear to anger me?""That is not what I mean. I mean...""You mean to make me a laughingstock and take my place!" The third blow was a blur, driving Miach to his knees. He moaned, softly. The top of his skull was sliced open and the thin clear caul encasing his brain was precisely sliced its exact thinness. Slowly, with pain and difficulty, Miach healed himself a third time. Unsteadily, he stood back up."Please, Da', no more." he whispered, so faintly it is a wonder his father heard him. The older man searched deep in his son's eyes for any sign of duplicity or betrayal. He could find none. Bewildered, frustrated, he sat back down upon the stump, and bade his son to sit on the rock in front of him."Oh Miach, my beloved... You have worked a miracle for Nuadu, and ruined all my work in so doing. And here is the crux of the matter: I am a great healer, and you are now a great healer, so which of us is to be the master? Two cocks cannot share the same walk.""Da', I love you more than Life. I care not for pride of place. You are Master of your Art, and have taught me well these many years. I am Master of my Art, and if you will allow, I can teach you.""Arrogance!" shouted Cecht, and the fourth blow was quicker than light. Miach's head was cleft in two from crown to nape of neck. His muscles and bowels let go; he tumbled off his rock like...like a dead man. Half of his brain rolled out upon the packed dirt, the other clinging to the skull by a scrap of spinal cord. Yet this story does not end with Miach's death.The old man stood and stared, dumbfounded. He dropped to his knees, fumbling in his pouch for bronze needle and waxed linen. He placed the halves of brain back together in the skull, his fingers slippery with the clear fluid that normally is locked in skull and spinal cord. That was the first water. The blood upon his fingers as he stitched the scalp together, that was the second water. The father placed his mouth upon his son's bloody lips, trying to breathe life back into him. Red bubbles hissed forth from deep in Miach's wound. "Oh my son, even I cannot heal this wound," Dian Cecht said, "and you no longer breathe to heal yourself." He buried his face in his hands. The tears pouring forth from his bloodied eyes, that was the third water.Tears ran down over his face and hands, mingling with blood and spinal fluid, and the warm salty liquid trickled into the father's mouth. He wept, and he wept, and he wept. When finally he lifted his head, the sun had set. Many members of the tribe had gathered round the awful scene. To the eyes of the leech, the people glowed from within, the light forming a second skin around each one. This vision was to torture him the rest of his days. No one tried to comfort him, which was just as well, for he was inconsolable. He wanted to throw himself onto the point of his sword, but that was not the way of the people, and he knew the Tribe still needed a physician. He had neglected Airmed's training in favoring Miach, and she was not ready to take over.As for Airmed, she did not attend the burial, as she feared she would kill her father if she saw him. After all had left the burial site, she mourned privately, prostrate upon the mound, weeping long and quietly. By and by, in her mind's eye she saw Miach, shining with light, smiling at her. So it was she fell asleep in the middle of her tears, and awoke to the smell and touch of green growing things. Three hundred and sixty-five healing herbs had sprung up all around her, growing from the joints and sinews of her brother's body, a parting gift for her and all humanity. Airmed spread her mantle on the ground. She cut some herbs, pulled up others by the root. She placed each one upon the cloak, similarly to where it had grown on the mound, each according to what it was good for. When she finished, she had a remedy for every ill that ever ailed man, woman or child. Yet this gift was not meant to be.For Cecht had come back to mourn his son again. He came upon Airmed, and her cloak upon the ground, and the three hundred and sixty-five herbs, each glowing brightly with a different color, forming the shape of his son's corpse. "Even from the grave he defies me!" he cried, gathering the mantle and scattering its contents broadcast, impossible to rearrange. Thus he assured that the misery of illness would remain manifest through human history.Airmed howled like an enraged she-wolf, grabbing a stick and beating her father about the head and shoulders. He quietly took the blows, making no effort to protect himself. Finally his daughter struck him behind the crook of his knee, tumbling him to the ground. She picked up a great stone, one heavier than most men could raise, and lifted it over her head with murderous intent. Yet this story does not end with Dian Cecht's death. For Airmed heard, strong and clear, her brother's voice. "No, sister, as I love you and you love me, no!" So she dropped the stone at her father's feet and walked away, leaving him with the mantle, and him weeping, a broken man.Months later, for the sake of the Tribe and her brother, Airmed accepted training from her father. She became one of the greatest healers ever known before or since. Later, the Book of Leinster says, Dian Cecht died of a painful plague, but the book does not name it. I believe his illness was the same one that plagues healers of every kind to this very day, the inner war between arrogance and compassion.Thank the gods, Airmed and Miach still move in our world from time to time, whispering into the ears of doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, herbalists, and other healers. They remind them to respect the mysteries they work within, the currents of magic flowing in each patient. Some ears are open; others are not. May our ears be open to their calm reminder that no story truly ends with anybody's death.That is the story of Miach and his sister Airmed, as told to my soul's ear, and if there be any fault in it, is only the fault of my own hearing.
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Last week I was speaking with my friend, Marie, about our experiences with epiphany. She told me about one of those precious, golden moments of absolute enlightenment she once experienced upon disembarking from a commuter train in Boston. She'd been contemplating a major life change at the time, so this particular epiphany signaled a new beginning for her. Writing in a journal on the train, she described feeling that her heart was tightly bound in metal bands. Nonetheless, her heart felt as if it were growing and growing, straining its bindings until it finally burst free and spread out all around her in an aura of nirvana. She walked down the street meeting the eyes of passersby, aware that some of her overflowing vivacity spilled out onto each and every one of them.Such moments of rebirth don't come without a price. I once lived in a guesthouse on the ranch of a friend who'd been giving me riding lessons. Along the north side of the house there was a fabulous tangle of an ancient rose bush that had sprawled the entire width of the house. As Spring drew near, I watched with expectant fascination while the thorny mass of growth came to life. But I was bit disappointed. It grew scraggly and each cane seemed like a desperate stab at survival. When I hung my laundry out on the line in the side yard, I had to maneuver myself carefully to avoid getting hooked on the prickly canes that reached out to grab me.So immense and snarled was that rose that it looked like it had been planted a century ago and had never had any dead wood trimmed out of it. As anyone who has ever grown roses knows, they require regular pruning, and this plant was a perfect example of what happens to a bush whose maintenance has been neglected. Some of the bright green shoots had to stretch themselves three or four yards through a dim wasteland of dead, brittle tentacles before they could make any attempts to leaf or branch. They put so much energy into growing out of that ancient detritus that they were too tired and weakened by the time they reached daylight to produce more than a small, feeble bloom or two. After securing permission to prune the bush, I armed myself with pruning shears and saw to ravish and enliven the plant.More beast than bush, it seemed to react to my presence with sharpened tools like a smelly dog might to a tub of sudsy water. Its persistent, prickly mass rattled a warning in the billowing breeze and caught my skin and clothes in its thorny embrace, exacting a blood price in return for my selective slaughter. As I cropped off spans of the spindly shoots that reached out from the base of the plant, what I found beneath was almost entirely dead wood – acres of ghostly kindling contained within the space of a few square feet. There was one especially thick limb that had lost its grace and managed to look gangly in spite of its girth. I hated to chop up and mangle such a noble plant — decrepit though it had become — and I paused to admire and caress the smooth, graceful grain of its wood. It reminded me of a lovely, old contrabass clarinet made from rosewood I used to play in high school whenever I could. As I continued to prune and maul away at the remainder of the rose bush, I imagined the mournful, mellow tone of that magnificent woodwind, and as I did so, quietly humming to myself, the blustery wind died down, and the sticky canes ceased to ensnare me.That afternoon, I managed to cut back about two-thirds of the rose bush, filling my entire front yard with its discarded waste. When my ever-so-patient riding instructor, dear friend, and landlady came home from work that evening, she spied the heap of brambly branches I was bundling to take to the dump and all hell broke loose. She didn't want to hear my explanations; she didn't want to know how much experience I'd had with gardening and pruning; she just wanted me to know that her grandmother had planted that rose, and as far as she was concerned, I had utterly destroyed it, as well as the memory of her grandmother. Her sister, who held the plant in particular esteem, would be visiting over the weekend, and if I didn't want my butt kicked into the next county, I'd better make myself scarce.Duly chagrined, I ceased all slaughterous activity upon the bush, even though I hadn't yet touched the far end of it, and frantically focused on coaxing it to grow healthy and bloom before the sister's arrival. I blanketed it with peat moss and nourished it with libations of the best rose food I could find. I watered it twice daily, and even planted a flat of perky little pansies at its base to help obscure the bareness there. And I discretely left for the weekend on a camping excursion in the next county.I realize I can't speak for the rose, but I believe that even though my pruning may have been a rather traumatic experience, it must have felt much like Marie's heart did when it burst free from its metal bindings. I could have parked a lawn chair beneath my clothesline and watched that rose bush grow. Within a week I could measure its growth with a ruler, and within two weeks there were new buds forming. Where that raggedy rose had focused all of its energy into growing canes out past dead parts of itself, now it could concentrate its newfound vigor on spreading and branching and blooming. And oh, what blooms it had! By midsummer, there were dozens and dozens of robust, fragrant blooms.At the time, it seemed to me a wondrously uncommon resurrection, although I've seen such everyday miracles countless times before. Each tiny green seedling that curls itself out from beneath the earth; each slithering vine that stretches and enwraps its host; each bud that cracks apart its sepals, allowing its petals to erupt forth — these humble epiphanies are just as precious as that remarkable rose's rebirth and my friend's brimming aura on the streets of Boston. All living things periodically shed their skins — comfortable and familiar as they may be — and dance green and naked in the sun.
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