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42 Aging with Grace and Power A Puerto Rican Healer’s Story Selina Morales Let me introduce you to a woman who works as a traditional healer. Her stories will help reveal how attention to the roles of traditional arts and community -embedded cultural practices in one’s life can widen our understanding of the process of aging. In this case, I tell a story of a woman who stays connected to her community through her use of traditional healing arts. The story focuses on ways that storytelling about these healing practices has helped to build power, contributing to her ability to continue to labor for others as she approached the age of ninety. I ask, what role does her ongoing healing practice have in maintaining her own well-being? How does this community-centered work heal the healer? I have had the special opportunity to learn from this healer for nearly four decades. As I have aged, her stories have changed, offering me age-appropriate touchstones as well as different ways of understanding her choices. Like many before me, I have chosen to write a personal account of my experiences as a listener and as an actor in the production of stories I’ve shared here (see Kirshenblatt and Kirshenblatt-Gimlett 2007; Myerhoff 1978; Hurston 1935; McCarthy Brown 2001; Trinh 1989). In this chapter, I sift through eighteen years of recordings of fluid conversations about a life as a healer, giving special attention to the ways that Jerusalén Morales tells stories about her power and her grace and to the ways that community healing work combats the loneness, isolation, and uselessness that might have disrupted her vital role as a community healthcare worker: I have a special grace; people sit down to talk to me for hours. They tell me, “You know what you are doing is special; not everybody can do what you are 2 The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 42–54, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.03 Aging with Grace and Power | 43 doing.” Not everybody can do the things I do. . . . You don’t have to be an espiritista [healer], but a person that when you speak or talk, you enter [another] person’s heart. Like if you are a singer, when you sing a song, you move the audience. . . . When you cure a wound, it hurts; but after a while, it feels much better. The same thing [happens] when you talk to a person, maybe the person cries or maybe they feel mad at you; but after that moment, you [change] that person. And that is the grace of a healer; a spirit goes through the hands of the healer to make a moment so beautiful, like when you light a match, you light that person’s life. That is how you know you have the power to heal. . . . You have to be humble, accept it with dignity and grace. (Jerusalén Morales, age seventy-two) My grandmother, Jerusalén Morales (fig. 2.1), is a Puerto Rican espiritista healer.1 She communicates with metaphysical beings, with spirits, in order to offer advice to her community. She also concocts remedies to cure a range of ailments from stomachache to heartache. Her own proficiency as a healer is measured by her facility with the aesthetic codes connected to espiritismo/spiritism. For more than fifty years, her communities (Latinos in the Bronx, Puerto Rico, Orlando, and people across the world via telephone) have relied on her wisdom and her proven connection to the spirit world as they move through their daily lives. Her critical community work keeps our heartaches short, puts our planes Fig. 2.1. Jerusalén Morales at her home in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. Photograph by Selina Morales, 2006. 44 | The Expressive Lives of Elders on course, cures whatever ails us, and even (and often) saves our lives through a practiced mixture of listening, advice giving, spirit channeling, and medicine making. Over her lifetime as a worker, she has moved from the Bronx, New York, to rural Puerto Rico to St. Cloud, Florida. The manner of delivering of her services has shifted over her lifelong career. And over this time, she has had opportunities to demonstrate her expertise and proficiency as a healer as she has risen to environmental challenges (urban, rural, and suburban), always proving that she has the power and grace needed to cure her community.2 These gifts and her work as a healer have had an immense impact...


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