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Finding Walker's place Add to ...

"What, all three of you?" one friend said.

"Yes. We went to a native healing centre in an incredibly nondescript building. It looked like a rec room - industrial carpet, fake pine panelling. I was worried Walker might wreck the shaman's karma by freaking out. But as he walked in, he became completely calm. So that was weird. He seemed to find some peace.

"There was a blanket in the middle of this basement floor. A woman, the shaman, was sitting on the blanket. There was an interpreter, a guy who explained what the shaman meant. You had to give her some money and some tobacco as an offering. So I gave her 50 bucks and put a pack of cigarettes on the blanket."

"What was Walker doing?"

"Walker scooted about between the shaman, me, Anita and the interpreter. I was nervous, but they didn't care, so I began not to care.

"The shaman lit a pipe. She lit some sage grass. She began a long introductory incantation. She spoke Walker's whole name: Walker Henry Schneller Brown. She called to the east wind, and then all the other winds, and then for Walker. By now there was a lot of smoke in the room, and I had a crashing headache. Then the shaman said: 'The gate appears.' And the guy, the interpreter said, 'Okay, it's starting.'

"The shaman said, 'I see a tree.' It was old and new. Parts of it were dead, and parts were alive. There was a light on the tree. It was full of singing birds. On the other side of the gate was a well, or pit. The shaman was singing all this, and the interpreter was interpreting. I'm

condensing it. 'I see a well so deep you can barely see the water,' she said. And she said, 'I see a lot of elders.' "

I was still in the hall, jacket on, listening.

"The elders had come to see Walker, the shaman said. There were more than the usual number. Maybe they knew him? Maybe Walker was one of them. Maybe Walker was an elder. She couldn't tell. But they seemed to know him, anyway."

"The shaman said Walker was an elder?" This was the other friend.

"She wasn't sure. After the ceremony, the interpreter said the tree was Walker's life and the singing birds in it were all of us. The well was Walker's quest. And Walker's quest, the purpose of his life, was to see if he could see his reflection in the water at the bottom of the well."

"Get out." This was me.

"That's what he said. 'This is the path that he has chosen for himself, to see if he can see his reflection. He may or he may not, but this is his quest.' Then the interpreter asked if I had any specific questions for the shaman. I said yes: What about this new group home, is this good for him? Should I let him go there?

"And the shaman said, 'It will change his path. But his path is his path. He has to go down his own path.' Then I asked why he was injurious to himself, why did he hit himself. And the shaman said he was trying to find the shape of his reflection in the well."

I wanted to lie down on the hallway floor.

"It was a huge relief to me," Johanna said. "Because for the first time, the only time, someone wasn't trying to fix him. They were just describing him. There was no judgment or fear. It was just very accepting. And I do think it was a turning point for me. Instead of trying to fix Walker or make him better or diagnose him or see what was causing his state, it was just what and who he is. This is what he's doing. It wasn't a triumph or a tragedy. It just was."

Silence. "Well," said one of her friends, "if I'd known he was an elder, I might not have let him look down my blouse all the times he climbed up into my lap. Turns out he's a dirty old man."

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