Medicine Man
Copyright 2018 by Raymond Cannefax
Medicine Man ---  

A number of years ago, in a rustic diner in Ruidoso, New Mexico, I had the good fortune of spending an enlightening evening with an Apache elder. During our conversation I learned he was one of the few remaining medicine men of the Apache Nation. Given his appearance and uncommon sense of calm I believed that could be so; deerskin jacket, beaded deerskin vest, headband, long salt and pepper braids, faded jeans, well-worn boots, creases in his face as deep as the Grand Canyon but sanded smooth by his gentle and sincere smile, and eyes into which the Universe may have sent a few galaxies to provide the sparkle. Why he chose to join me at the table by the window that looked toward my cabin, I didn't question.

As we conversed, he bestowed upon me concerns he harbored about the state of mankind and offered answers to the many questions I asked about numerous things. He was a great conversationalist with an accent common only to Native Americans. As the evening progressed, he bestowed upon me a unique wisdom I’d only experienced in the early stages of my life. My wonderful great-grandfather remains the wisest person I have ever known. During my youth, he shared with me wisdom, some gained while living through two world wars, and others accumulated during his eighty years on this planet.

As I listened intently to the medicine man’s tales, I decided, if the opportunity presented itself, to ask one particular question regarding my mortality. It was a question that had lingered in my mind for almost a decade; a question for which no one, including me, had an answer.

“Humans are flawed creatures, always. Me too. But humans are never so flawed like now, and things with them are not getting better. Humans don’t listen anymore to things that are not about money or power. The spirits worry.”

He expressed his concern about many matters and referred often to the teachings of his father and fore-fathers from whom he learned about the importance of life, the value of spiritual and physical balance, and the requirement for us to keep our sacred planet unscarred. From his ancestors and their spirits, he explained, he'd learned the importance of harmony between us human caretakers of our planet, and Mother Earth. He shared with me his belief, learned from the teachings of his elders, that it is our spiritual responsibility to not only care for our planet, but that we must also learn again to love Mother Earth.

“Humans, for a long time now, forget how sacred our land is. It is not only white man, but us Indians too,” he recanted in a slow and methodical fashion as though to be certain I understood every word he spoke as each of the words word rolled rhythmically off his tongue. “The land is a treasure many now use only to make money, and most do not understand they are murdering Mother Earth.” 

The delivery of his wisdom was sincere and filled with his concerns for the future of all children of the human race. His sincerity was obvious by the expressions on his face; the wide-open eyes that never stopped sparkling, the far-reaching gestures made with his out-stretched arms and hands, the emphasis on certain words, and the occasional tone of frustration in his voice, when he spoke of what he perceived to be mankind’s slaughter of Mother Earth.

The things of which he spoke were not new and medicine men from the many tribes of Native Americans, and many Shaman from cultures that span our globe have said similar things in interviews I had read or watched in documentaries. These wise men continue to provide warnings about the harm we humans are doing to our environment and to ourselves as we work toward our goal to self-implode. 

Maybe forty minutes into our conversation I found the courage to ask the question for which I had been unable to find an answer, no matter how often I asked that question of myself. I explained how I had inexplicably escaped death on several occasions and pondered why I remained here when it appears that I should have been booted out of the camp of the living by now, and yet I continued to survive such incidents with minimal bodily harm.

“When was the first time this thing happened for you?”

I told him of the first incident I could recall was when I was perhaps eight-years old, playing with friends on a centuries old look-out tower, part of the medieval fortification surrounding my hometown in Germany. I’d dared to run across the top of the tower’s rotting wooden floor which, just as I reach the other side, collapsed and fell the two-hundred or so feet, to the tower’s base. I'd made my dash to the other side by only a step or two.

The delivery of that childhood event I followed with the strongest memory of my unexplained survivals, the incident that first brought me to ask myself the question I'd asked him. It was a horrific car crash where, after the car did several barrel rolls through the air, the front of the car struck a tree, head on, and then landed upside-down on a giant boulder which penetrated the driver-side roof like a can opener. When the car was righted, the splayed metal of the roof resembled a giant claw trying to tear out the driver and the driver’s seat or permanently embed me to the seat. The rest of the roof was flattened level with the hood and trunk, and the car was visibly bent in the middle. The one person who witnessed the accident told police that he saw the car flying through the air and then suddenly saw me flying through the air in front of the car just before the car hit the tree. Therefore, the question remains: How did I get out of that car, in mid-air?

“And others?” he asked, with a new intensity in his eyes which were intently focused on me.

I explained other incidents that caused friends to express concern, but to which I gave little thought. Incidents like when I stared down the barrel of a .38 revolver in downtown Watts to only hear a click of the hammer striking an empty chamber or dud bullet. Like the incident when an out of control Formula-1 race car spun past me at high speed at the Austrian Grand Prix, missing me by inches, hitting trees behind me and killing the driver.  

When I finished, he looked at me for a long time, without movement. After what seemed an eternity, he reached forward, held my hands between, closed his eyes and turned his head upward, toward the diner’s knotty-cedar ceiling for what seemed another eternity. Still looking upward, he placed my right hand atop my left hand and clasped them between his hands tightly as he faced me. When he opened his mesmerizing brown eyes, he said nothing for the longest time as his eyes penetrated mine and caused me to feel as though he was looking directly into my soul.  

“You are blessed, and a great spirit is with you. I hear this from my ancestor when I ask him for help to answer your question.”

His serious expression warmed and became comforting as he continued to explain why I have been so fortunate to have had the many close calls and survived them all.

“The dark spirit remembered he missed collection your soul when the tower floor fell to the bottom of the tower. He was again sent for you that day when you crashed into the sacred tree that still continues to live, and then he smashed your car on the rock under the tree spirit. Finished with his work, the dark spirit left, thinking he was taking you with him and he made a dark line through your name on his list of names he was sent to collect.”

As if transfixed, I listened intently as the medicine man continued to explain something for which I’ve never been able to find an answer.

“Your great spirit watches always. Even now, here in these mountains, he is watching. Your great spirit took you from your car before it was broken on the rock., Your great spirit gave you speed to reach the other side of the tower before the floor fell down to the bottom. Your great spirit moved the cylinder so there was only a used bullet for the hammer to strike, and he pushed the race car away from you, into trees.” 

I asked about other incidents, such as one only months earlier when I slipped while mountain climbing and slid a great distance on the mountain’s granite face only to stop five feet before the granite wall fell away and offered a free-fall of several hundred feet to the boulders fields below, "The great spirit holds the root of the weak tree to keep you from falling over the edge."

"Why? Why, all these times?"

“It is because your spirit of light takes you from your car and holds you when you are falling and is why you are here now. Most humans would already be gone to the other world,” he said, gesturing with his hand toward the window. “The dark spirit, you see, has a great book and when he was thinking your spirit was in his bag with the other spirits, he crossed your name off his list, and he thinks his job is done.”  

I expressed my confusion and studied the lines of wisdom etched into his face. I studied the depth and clarity of his sparkling brown eyes, and the braids that hung past his shoulders and rested on his buckskin vest.

“You have a long life to live. You will have other times when you think you are finished, but you will not be taken to the other world. The time will come when you are old, and you will know it is time for the other world, and you will go because you will know,” he said softly. “When you know it is time, that is when you call to your spirits and they send your guide. The dark spirits already think you are there, so there is no fight for your spirit, and your spirit of light will guide you to green meadows and gold sunsets when it is time. But now you have much work to do, still.”

In absolute amazement I watched and listened to him give reason to my question about escaping death so many times. He continued holding my hands between his and looked at me with a penetrating smile that I will not forget as long as I shall live.

“You are blessed by the great spirit. You are now here to make our sacred world better for those who still will come. You are young. You must do good for other humans and that is why you are now here. You must thank your spirit always for saving you from the dark spirit by helping Mother Earth and helping the others who are still going to come and need your help.”

At some time during our conversation, the diner’s owner walked to our table, handed the old man a big skeleton key. Nothing was said. There was a nod of understanding from the medicine man’s head. I offered to pay and received only a smile as a response as the owner turned and walked toward the door.  

My newfound friend, perhaps my guide and I remained considerably longer that night and I listened intently to all he had to say about mankind's road to destruction, along with all he believed must be done to save our planet. The old medicine man explained the importance for me to lead a good life, to do good acts even if I don’t understand, and to accept with joy when the spirit in my soul tells me the time has come for me to go has come.  

When he finished, he stood, placed his hands on both sides of my head, said words in his native tongue, leaned forward and with his thumbs, pressed lightly on my eyelids and blew a breath on my forehead. I felt as though I was being put into a trance. It was physically and spiritually soothing to sit in that diner with the medicine man's hands cradling my head.

When he placed his hands on my should, I sensed he was done. With an upward nod of his head he gesturing me to rise, and said good-night softly and with an enchanting smile. I walked out the front door, having left money for my dinner on the table. Walking toward my car, I looked back, through the window where we’d been seated, and watched the medicine man walk to the kitchen and fill a glass with water. Upon reaching my old VW in the small, gravel covered parking area, I found a bundle of sage stuck into my door handle. I looked back once more, and saw my new-found friend, with perhaps an extension of my spirit, sitting where he’d sat with me, drinking from his glass. I did not return to ask about the sage. Some questions are best left unanswered.

The answers to my question that evening was an unexpected and amazing experience for me. The words spoken that night by the medicine man have resonated within me throughout my life. I inherently understood his answer and gradually began to comprehend the reasons he offered me for having survived all the incidents that could have, and perhaps, should have ended my life. I felt then, as I still do, fortunate to have the forces he told me of, the great spirits of light, looking after me, and perhaps directing me. We truly know so little.

I returned to that rustic diner in the mountains of New Mexico many times after, but I never again saw my Apache friend who bestowed upon me his knowledge, his beliefs, and I believe, at the end, a personal and divine blessing.

More than four decades have passed since my evening with that wise old man and I have never forgotten the words he said to me. The following morning I fell fortunate to have had enough wherewithal to write in my journal what I could recalled the medicine mad said, hence, my ability to recant the words that wise old Apache sage gave me.  

There have been close calls since that night and I've always simply said ‘thanks’, glance up to the sky and reflected back to that night in New Mexico. Perhaps that is my way of saying a prayer. I don’t believe I have taken greater risks since that night, than I would have taken otherwise. I never given thought to immunity from severe consequences when I embarked on risky adventures. I just lived life as I would have anyway, I think. Through it all, I continued to survive.  

There is no doubt I’ve done good things for man-kind, for friends, for people I didn’t know, and for my family. I also continue to remember being told that things still need to be done, but have no idea what those things are, just that they are. As I was told that evening in Ruidoso, I will know what to do and when to do it, as I will also know when my tasks and responsibilities have been fulfilled.  

As I have been known to have said throughout my life, there is no such thing as a free ride. I firmly believe there is a price to pay for being saved from the dark spirit. I further believe I continue to repay this obligation in some way. To this day, I am grateful for being able to pay that price and having lived the long and healthy life I have been allowed to live.  

Life for me has been grand and an honor to endure. When I am done, when I’m done, I do look forward to being guided to that next dimension, wherever that may be. I do believe there to be a continuum the goes beyond our existence on planet earth and it is then that I will meet these spirits I was told would give me guidance. What a wonderful time that will be, perhaps the beginning of new grand adventures in the Universe. 

Post Script: Medicine Man is the recount of a personal experience in 1973 while living in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a mountain village near the Sierra Blanca Ski Resort. I’d seen this Medicine Man a few times at the ski area, which was owned and operated by the Apache Tribe, but I’d never spoken with him before he joined me at the diner.

I recall him always present the weekend before the resort opened, and with a smoking wand of sage he would give, what I presumed a blessing, to the resort and all the equipment. When he entered the diner that evening and asked to sit with me this story unfolded. This experience was an actual life event I write of without embellishment as I share an experience that continues to remain absolutely unique in all things I’ve experienced during my time on earth, spinning around the sun on this big blue ball. 

With all sincerity, I can only say that I feel truly blessed. Yes, there have been several more close calls that I fortunately survived. I presume I must be doing my job properly since I am still here, yet there are times when I wonder how long I must carry on.

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