Thanks to Hope Edelman for taking a page in my notebook to share a little about her story today.
TAKING THE SHORT WAY HOME
When my husband first expressed interest in traveling to Belize, I confused it with Ibiza. I thought he was talking about an island off the coast of Spain.
That’s how meager my knowledge was about Central America. After a few days of internet research, however, I learned that Belize is the smallest and least populated country in Central America, tucked between Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula; that until 1984 it was known as British Honduras, which is why the national language is English; and that for such a small country it has exceptional cultural diversity, with citizens from an entire rainbow of races and ethnic backgrounds: Mestizos; Mayas; Creoles; Scots; East Indians; Lebanese; Taiwanese; and Garifunas, who are believed to be descended from 19th-century shipwrecked African slaves. It seemed to be a safe country, and also an interesting one for a family that included a three-year-old daughter.
Belize also has the second largest coral reef in the world and my husband is a diver, which is why we planned our family vacation there in December of 2000. But as our departure date approached, it became clear that we were also going there to find help for our daughter, whose relationship to her imaginary friend had become increasingly more troubling over time. Maya healers claim good results with such situations, and my husband was eager to give it a try.
Me, I wasn’t so sure. I was the resident skeptic of our family, and didn’t quite buy that a shaman in a rainforest cabin would be able to accomplish what a pediatrician or a psychologist in Los Angeles could not.
I didn’t really expect to find a solution in Belize, so I was seriously surprised—shocked would not be an exaggeration—when the healers were able to help our daughter. Years later, when I went back to Belize to research a book about our experience and to take a workshop in Maya healing to learn its principles, I was again surprised to discover how simple yet how effective the methods are.
The Maya make little distinction between physical and spiritual illness. They believe that if a person is having physical symptoms it’s because of a disturbance in their life force, and so they always treat both. (Not so different from what we call the mind-body connection, really.) Their healing involves a combination of incense, prayer, and bathing, and often includes plants and flowers from the medicinal rainforest to be used in either bathwater, ointments, or prepared teas. At first it’s hard to wrap your mind around how so little can result in so much. Maya healers are testimony to the power of making use of your own backyard.
I didn’t come back from Belize a wholesale believer in alternative healing, or a convert to the ways of the Maya. At home in Los Angeles, I still take Advil when I have a headache and our pediatrician’s number is programmed into my phone. But now I look for doctors who also have training in non-Western modalities. And in Central America I developed a deep respect for the wisdom of an indigenous culture and the generosity of a whole culture. The people we met there embraced us with their hospitality and friendship, and shared with us their method for problem-solving—a belief system we would have scoffed at back home.
Never again would I succumb to the arrogance of believing my way is the only way, or the only right way. It’s already hard to remember the time when I thought otherwise. As the oft-quoted Edward Albee line goes, sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly. I had to go all the way to Belize and back. And I’m so grateful that I did.
Hope Edelman holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master’s degree in English from the University of Iowa. She is the author of five nonfiction books: the international bestseller Motherless Daughters (1994), which was translated into seven languages; Letters from Motherless Daughters (1995), an edited collection of letters from readers; Mother of My Mother (1999), which looks at the depth and influence of the grandmother-granddaughter relationship; Motherless Mothers (2006), about the experience of being a mother when you don’t have one, from HarperCollins; and The Possibility of Everything (2009), her first book-length memoir, set in Topanga Canyon, California, and Belize.
Hope has lectured widely on the long-term effects of early parent loss. She has appeared on national and local television throughout the U.S., including the Today show and Good Morning America, and has also appeared on TV and radio in Toronto; Vancouver; London; Sydney; Melbourne, Australia; and Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, New Zealand.
She began her journalism career with a part-time job at Outside magazine, and soon after interned for three months at the Salem Statesman-Journal in Salem, Oregon. Her first full-time editorial job was at Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tennessee. From there, she went on to the University of Iowa, earning a master’s degree in creative nonfiction writing in 1992, one of the first of its kind.
Since then, her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications, such as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, Glamour, Child, Parenting, Seventeen, Real Simple, Self, The Iowa Review, and The Crab Orchard Review, and many anthologies, including The Bitch in the House, Toddler, Blindsided By a Diaper, and Behind the Bedroom Door.
She is the recipient of a New York Times Notable Book of the Year designation and a Pushcart Prize for creative nonfiction. Nearly every July you can find her at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City, and periodically at other conferences and festivals throughout the U.S.
Hope plays piano and guitar (sort of); cooks a mean French Toast; and has discovered an unexpected aptitude for sixth-grade math. She lives in Topanga, California, with her husband, their two daughters, a fat cat named Timmy (”No, Mom, tell them he’s buff!”) and their pet tarantula, Billy Bob.
You can visit her website at www.thepossibilityofeverything.com.