I recently finished the second novel in Faith Hunter’s new Soulwood series, Curse on the Land. I loved it. Nell Ingram is a complex character full of strength and vulnerability and I’m thrilled to be riding along with her as she heals from multiple wounds, both physical and emotional. And, as she evolves, Nell comes to learn that healing changes a person, which seems intuitive. Less intuitive, and more interesting, however, is the second part of her observation, that the agent of healing is also transformed through helping another to come back from trauma.
Given that this is paranormal fantasy, Nell is healed by a tree, not a person. And the changes wrought on her body include roots growing in her stomach, and the tree becoming attached to her in a magical way. So perhaps we in the real world don’t have much in common with Nell in a literal way, but as in so many of my beloved books, the metaphorical truths are strong and deep. In the real world, we are scarred by life and wounded by the people we encounter—sometimes less, sometimes more. And these scars are the physical and emotional reminders of the lives we’ve led. But instead of focusing on those and that which wounds us, I want to consider those who help us. What happens to the healers? What is the relationship between two people, one of whom is the recipient seeking wholeness and the healer trying to provide it, or at least encourage it?
I’ve been on both sides of this particular exchange and I vastly prefer to heal than to be healed. Go figure. And as someone who goes out of my way to help others for the purely selfish reason that it makes me feel incredibly good—and contributory and generous and worthwhile—I know that helping others to heal has profoundly transformed my psyche and my soul.
Now, I’m not claiming to be Dr. Kildare (although I definitely had a major thing for Richard Chamberlain way back in the day). Nor am I a medical professional or lawyer or research scientist. I’m just a human living among others, many, if not most of whom are in pain. Including me. And there is a lot we can do to heal each other—which is certainly apropos, given the current situation in our world.
I understand that doctors are taught to maintain emotional distance from their patients. And I get why that is necessary. But I don’t totally buy it (repeat disclaimer here: I’m not a doctor). I don’t see how any human in the healing arts can become so inured to both human suffering and recovery as to be unmoved—one way or the other—from those they heal, or try to heal. I also understand how being a doctor is currently more about paperwork and CYA than making like Hippocrates. But still. It’s gotta get to them.
And what about the rest of us? There is no feeling like a heartfelt “Thank you!” coming from someone whose day got better because we effected positive change. Maybe we held an elevator for someone rushing to make it, or we were serenely patient while the new check out woman at Whole Foods struggled to find the right number to input for our Honey Crisp apples. Or maybe we helped a friend’s son write a better resume, or brought a colleague coffee just because. Or we consciously found something to nice to say to everyone we encountered in our day. It may not be brain surgery, but it’s good.
What we don’t know, perhaps, is how profoundly healing these small acts of kindness can be. For me, receiving positive comments when I was younger was my first inkling that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the total loser my mother taught me I was. It’s possible that someone else who has become so distrustful of humanity because of damaging early experiences can be healed even a millimeter by the small positivity that we can offer up to them.
Because it turns out that it truly is better to give than to receive, to heal than to be healed. It’s almost addictive. And if we do enough healing of others, we end up healing ourselves. We become transformed by giving. We create a connection with those we’ve healed and those who heal us. Just like Nell and her tree.
I challenge you to close your eyes and think of three people whose help healed you in some way. If you’re lucky, it was a parent, or a sibling or a mate. Perhaps it is your own children, although it is more about the fact of their existence and our own actions with them that is the most transformative about the kids in our lives. Don’t we always feel a true bond with those that helped to heal us? Don’t we feel bonded to those whose lives we’ve touched in a positive way? I do. I think you do too.
In, Curse on the Land, we learn the extent of the mutual transformation that occurred as a result of Nell’s healing in the first book. It’s a metaphor for reality, another in a long list of truths in fantasy that it has been my pleasure and my privilege to identify and promote. In fact, the reading and the writing heals something in my own soul. It is my hope that my insights might, in turn, transform the stories that I write about for others who read them. Then the circle will be closed and the mutual transformation complete.