Maria was born blind, so no one thought it unusual that she loved to touch people. When she was a baby, she would pat her mother and father all over with her chubby little hands, in a pattern that covered every inch of their faces, heads, chests, and arms. They called it her pattycakes game.
One of her first words was “buzz”, and she used to chant it when she played her pattycakes game. She would rest her hands on someone and say “Buzz! Buzz!” Then she would laugh and continue her game.
When her Abuela came to live with them, she the cancer was already very advanced. Papa brought her in, and Mama helped her to her room upstairs. Maria crept in and climbed on the bed. She lay down with Abuela and started patting her face, resting her hands for a long time on the top and sides of her head She murmured, “Buzz, buzz, buzz.”
Mama came in and said, “Don’t bother Abuela with pattycakes, now, Maria. Let her sleep.”
Abuela looked up and said softly, “It’s all right, Mia. I feel better. Her hands are very warm, and they comfort me.”
The doctor couldn’t explain her remission. Abuela thought she knew. When they came home from the hospital, she called Maria to climb in her lap. “Play the pattycakes game for me, Querida.”
Maria began to pat her face and head, moving on to her shoulders and arms. Abuela watched Maria’s concentrated face. She didn’t pause or say “buzz”. After a little while, Abuela said, “What does it feel like for you when you play your game, Querida? Why aren’t you buzzing like a little bee?”
Maria’s hands stilled on Abuela’s wrists. “When I touch, some places are warm. When I rest my hand there, it vibrates. And then it goes away. There’s no buzzing left in you, Abuela.”
“Gracias a Dios, you have buzzed all the cancer out of my body, Querida. You’re a true healer, Maria. But you must keep this a secret, do you understand? Play your pattycakes game, but do not tell anyone what you feel. Do not let anyone know, or they may try to use your gift from God.”
She hugged and kissed Maria, who climbed down and wandered outside to play.
Maria kept her secret. She played pattycakes with her friends and with her family, and she learned not to “buzz” out loud. At her school for children with special needs, touching was not unusual, so she played it on her teachers and many of the other parents when they came to visit.
When she graduated from high school. Maria studied to become a massage therapist excelled in her program. She started working in a spa, where she enjoyed taking care of all her clients. With her studies of biology and physiology, now she had a mental map of what was happening under her hands. She adapted her old pattycakes game into her massage technique, and no one was the wiser that she was healing them inside and out with every touch. She quickly became one of the most sought-after therapists in town.
But she wanted to do more. She volunteered at the children’s hospital, coming in on Saturdays and going from room to room, offering a gentle massage to every child she could see in the course of the day. With the little ones, she called it her pattycakes game, and she “buzzed” as she patted her hands gently over them.
Before she left each child, she took their hands and said, “Gracias a Dios, the doctors will make you all better soon.” She rarely saw the same child two weeks in a row. The treatment success rates of the hospital became national news. Maria carefully stayed in the background.
Abuela was very old, and she became too weak to leave her bed. Maria sat next to her and gently lay her hands on Abuela’s body. She cried and said, “I don’t understand. You’re body is so warm, but it does not buzz. Why can’t I heal you, Abuela?”
Abuela brushed the tears from Maria’s cheeks and clasped her hands. “Your touch is a great comfort to me, Querida. It warms and soothes my body and spirit. But you cannot heal old age. There is no sickness to heal in my body. I have lived a good, long life, and my body is worn out and ready to rest. Everybody must die eventually.
“Do not cry, Querida. Thanks to you, the cancer was gone from my body all these years, and I had the joy to see you grow into a beautiful young woman. I’ve seen men and women fly into space, and many miracles I could never have imagined when I was a young girl. Gracias a Dios, I am ready to go live with Him now, and watch you from above.”
Maria and her family and neighbors mourned when Abuela died. She had been such a kind and generous part of their home and the community, her funeral was crowded like a state dignitary or celebrity.
Maria applied for a job as massage therapist at the hospital. Instead of an interview, she asked the administrator, Ms. Hutchins, to come with her to the hospice ward. They walked through the children’s center, and Ms. Hutchins was surprised to see how many children came running to give Maria a hug.
One girl hugged Maria’s waist and cried, “Maria, Maria! I’m going home! The doctors say my cancer is gone!”
When they reached the hospice ward, Maria entered the first room, and Ms. Hutchins watched from the door. Maria spoke gently to the patient, and then she began to touch his face, his head, his shoulders, and arms. She used gentle strokes and paused often to rest her hands against his papery skin. He sighed as she worked, and the lines of pain slowly left his face. After awhile, he reached up to take Maria’s hand. “Thank you, child. Thank you. It’s time now. I’m going home.”
Maria started to pull away. “I’ll get the nurse…is there someone here for you?”
He gripped her hand. “No. No one here, child. Only waiting for me there. Please let me feel the warmth of your hands a little longer.”
She held his hand and stroked his face until his eyes closed. The machines buzzed their alarms, but Maria ignored them. A nurse pushed past Ms. Hutchins, who brushed tears from her eyes as she waited outside the room.
When Maria came out, Ms. Hutchins took her hand and led her to the sitting room. She went to get a cup of water, which Maria held with slightly trembling hands. Maria bowed her head over her empty cup and said, “I was with my Abuela when she died. I’m glad I was here to be with him, or he would have died all alone.”
Ms. Hutchins didn’t say anything for a long time. Maria thought it had not been such a good idea to show her how she could relieve their pain. Finally, Ms. Hutchins spoke. “He would have died alone and in great pain, despite all our medicine, and all our care.”
She continued, “My mother grew up on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. My great-grandfather was a shaman. You’re a true healer, aren’t you?”
Maria turned to her in alarm. Ms. Hutchins put a reassuring hand on her arm. “Maria, you may put this hospital out of business, but you have a job here as long as I am here. You’ll report directly to me, and your directive is simply to visit as many patients as you can on any given day.”
“Now, can you start tomorrow? Come and see me first so we can fill out all the paperwork.”
“Gracias a Dios,” Maria breathed. “I will do it. Thank you!”
Ms. Hutchins left her and went back to her office, shaking her head and thinking about paperwork and regulations and schedules – much easier to think about than all the people sick and injured and dying all around her. She paused in the lobby and looked up at the mobile slowly turning overhead. She felt a smile cross her lips for perhaps the first time in years in this space. Gracias a Dios, indeed.
Dogs in house:
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