Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "No Other Teacher"

This poem is from the September 2, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from moriwen1, kelkyag, ellenmillion, and laffingkat.  It also fills the "Trapped!" square in my 6-10-14 card for the Fanbingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  It belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.

WARNING:  Johan is a mess again.  He's not so much dragging his feet, as being dragged face-down.  So this is the story of how Johan starts teaching Althey, and it's more hurt than comfort.  If you're sensitive to issues of spiritual injury, recovery, and trust then you should think carefully about whether you want to read this poem.

"No Other Teacher"

Johan could not put off
his duty any longer.

Gailah had given Althey
into his keeping, and
the young healer had
no other teacher now.

Johan sighed,
feeling trapped.

He had never wanted
to be a teacher, and
no longer wanted
to be a paladin,
but these things
were demanded of him.

So he began,
in the evenings,
to recite for Althey
the ways of Gailah,
and to sing the hymns
of the bright temple.

It hurt to remember
what had been
and was no more.

The ache of it was in him
deeper than Johan
knew how to heal,
even if he had ever
had any knack for it.

Why would not Gailah
simply let him alone?

Why bind a young healer
to a mentor who knew
next to nothing about it,
let alone one with such
soul-wounds as these?

Well, Johan had gone on
for miles with a mangled arm,
once; he could do this too.

It was not impossible
to ask questions about
common healing herbs,
to see what Althey
might already know --

more than Johan,
it turned out.

The next thing that
Johan thought of
was describing injuries
that he had seen, or
more often, suffered
on the battlefield,
to ask what Althey
would do for them.

Althey recited things
that his father had done,
and guesses of his own.

Johan had no idea whether
any of them would work,
but Althey had kept him
alive after the bandits
had shot him, so perhaps
the answers were good ones.

Althey kept giving Johan
these little sidelong looks,
muttering over how
accident-prone paladins
seemed to be.

That just made Johan's chest
feel tighter than ever, as if
trapped between brick and briar.

Prayer was easier to teach,
if not to perform with
Johan's tattered faith,
and Althey took to it
with eager grace.

Johan taught his novice
the basics of a paladin's magic,
and tried to ignore the way
that the words filled him
with fleeting blue sparks.

At least in this manner,
Althey might beseech Gailah
for those spells that Johan
did not know and thus
could not teach him.

The next time that
Johan hurt himself --
trimming frizzle-sticks
to start a fire with wet wood --
he held out his bleeding hand
to Althey and said quietly,
"Do what you can with this."

Althey was gentle with
the cleaning and the salving
and the bandaging.

Afterwards he sat with
Johan's hand in his lap,
tracing lines up the forearm,
his fingers leaving cool trails
that soothed the pain.

"Better?" Althey asked.
"I know what I'm trying  to do,
but it's hard to tell if it's working."

"Better," Johan agreed,
and it was.

It went much the same when
Johan twisted his ankle in the mud,
or burned his wrist on the skillet,
or blacked his eye bumping a tree branch.

Althey would start with plain herbcraft
and then grope about with his
novice magic, sometimes
reciting a prayer or a hymn,
otherwise just stroking silently
over the damaged flesh.

Johan got used to letting the boy
handle him whenever he was injured.
If nothing else, it was easier
than trying to bandage himself.

Althey got used to listening
to the awkward lessons
and fragments of bitter history,
learning what he could from them.

They were not quite comfortable,
but they were stuck with each other,
and at least they were getting by.

Johan was caught completely off guard
when Althey turned to him one night
after the sunset prayer and said,
"Are you ever going to let me
look at that, or not?"

"Look at what?" Johan asked.
It had been days since he had
rolled a rock over his foot,
and Althey had already
attended to that.

Althey put a hand on Johan's chest --

-- and Johan was across the camp
before he realized he'd even moved.

It hurt to breathe around
the splinters of his faith,
and how had Althey
managed to touch that?

"Sorry, sorry," the novice said,
hanging his head. "I shouldn't
have pushed you like that."

Warily Johan returned to his bedroll.

So Althey had a gift for soul-healing
as well as body-healing.
Well, that was terrifying.

"It was not your fault," Johan said.
"I didn't realize you could see it."

Althey stared at him.
"It's like I could put my whole hand
through your chest," he said.

It felt like he had.

"That obvious?" Johan said.
He thought he'd hidden it better.
He'd gotten used to it, anyway.

"Will you let me see what I can do?"
Althey asked, because that was how
Johan always put it -- do what you can,
not come fix this  or heal it  and
certainly never help me.

Johan might be useless as a teacher
but he made an adequate subject.
That much, he could give to his novice
no matter how shabby his skills were.
"Go ahead," he said.

Althey took out his fallen star
and lit it with a whispered prayer.
Then he took Johan's hand in his own,
the light shining between their fingers.

Slowly the inward ache began to ebb,
seeping away like water through sand,
until Johan could draw a deep breath
without wanting to weep from the pain.

It wasn't gone -- it was never really gone --
but it seemed somehow smaller
that it had been before.

"Better?" Althey asked,
as he always did.

"Yes, thank you," Johan said,
startled by the improvement.
He traced an aimless line
in the dust of the campground.
"You deserve so much more than this.
You deserve a teacher who could
guide you, not just bleed on you."

"I don't care," Althey said.
"I want no other teacher than you."

"Why in the world ...?"
Johan muttered, shaking his head.

"You trust me," Althey said simply
as he spread his hand over Johan's chest.

Johan flinched out of sheer expectation,
but this time -- beyond all reason --
the soft touch didn't hurt.

As miracles went, it was a small one,
but Johan would take what he could get.

* * *


"You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul."
-- Swami Vivekananda

Feeling trapped is a common problem.  You can make decisions to unblock your life.  Johan made his vows willingly enough; he's just not always comfortable with where that takes him.

It's hard to teach what you don't know, but there are tips to help.  One of the best ways to learn is through teaching others

Fuzz sticks may be made from any available piece of woodWatch a video demonstration.

Johan and Althey are working with basic first aid, principles of energy healing, and simple healing techniques.

Althey is a natural at the art of nonanxious presence, which is something that Johan really needs.  This is a core skill for all spiritual workers.  It's also useful in health care, mediation, leadership, and many other areas.

Spiritual injury is a frequent issue for veterans, with many iterations, in which someone's connection with the Divine is damaged.  Closely related is moral injury, when someone is pressured to do things they believe to be wrong.  There is a manual for spiritual assessment and on spiritual care of PTSD.

"Do what you can" is actually a good rule.

Feeling useless can come with working outside one's skill set.  There are ways to stop feeling useless and feel better about yourself.

Feeling unworthy comes from a fundamental lack of self-worth.  People deserve love, respect, and success.  Follow the steps to stop feeling unworthy.

Trust and vulnerability are cornerstones of a healthy, intimate relationship.  The value of trust lies in its ability to connect people more deeply.  Know how to build trust in a relationship.  Johan is doing a lot of right things, but doesn't necessarily realize that; Althey sees him more clearly.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing

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