A Modern Medicine Man
Papa Joe and Me
To Native Americans, health is a continual process of staying strong spiritually, mentally, and physically. This strength keeps away or overcomes the forces that cause illness. People must stay in harmony with themselves, other people, their natural environment, and their Creator. (http://www.faqs.org/health/topics/12/Native-American-medicine.html)
A great author, Elizabeth Gilbert, (Eat, Pray, Love) wrote about her adventure in Indonesia. and explained how the medicine man she visited there told her to mediate with a smile. The gentleman stated to try to smile the whole time you mediate and even go so far as to smile in your liver. There is something to be said about smiles, attitude and gratitude. They seem to hold a power, a medicine all of their own. The Native Americans always asked “what kind of medicine did the white man have?” How does a society, race or group treat others?
One definition goes like this: Medicine- The science which relates to the prevention, cure, or alleviation of disease. (Answers.com)
Does medicine only begin when you walk in a doctor’s office? I think we all have known those amazing people who listen, and somehow without righteousness offer solutions, patience and just themselves in hard times. Maybe it is not just about the hard times either. Maybe it is about what some promote on a day to day level. I have known a man who could be considered magical or at least someone with good medicine flowing through him at all moments. My grandfather is Napoleon “Sudy” “Papa Joe” Falany.
If prevention is part of the process of easing the dis-ease- then advocating for adventure, bliss and following your dreams can be a powerful medicine. My grandfather wasn’t just a grandfather, he was a son, brother, community member, a baker, husband, a father, and friend before he ever got to me. He never once let one of those roles be less than the highest importance. He was present in the most Buddha-Zen way possible. And this is why his medicine was so powerful.
Now the world is full of sickness that is not just physical. There is loneliness, pain, shame, selfishness and many other problems that create strife and heartache and this does not even begin to address peoples more obvious physical ailments. So how do you treat a friend who is lonely, hurt or going through grief? This is the question. This is how I am addressing this issue of medicine. Medicine becomes the way people treat each other. Western medicine has a scientific theme to it. Is it good medicine to keep people alive on lots of medication or to give them chemotherapy when the person does not want it? Having a life-life attitude towards an obvious life-death reality may not be good medicine. For example, if someone has had cancer two or three times and must go through chemotherapy again- is this really pro quality or just methods without deep contemplation of what is right for the patient. Good medicine considers the human and their reality that we are all moving towards our death, this is the only truth we know. This is hard for some to deal with in the medical industry. Sometimes the good medicine is to know that during the last moments that a person is alive, they have quality, not longevity. It all comes down to your attitude toward life and how you treat the people. How do you relate to life and death? It all must be considered. Do you give out good medicine or bad medicine?
Researchers are finding out that the cultural orientation has a lot to do on how one can heal. Do you believe in your doctor? Do you believe in your medicine man? Both have a certain amount of power of over person, a suggestive way about their attitude and healing methods. The medicine administered by a true healer Western, Eastern, or Native America or, alternative depends on many things. Essentially what I am trying to point out is that healing can be on many different levels and if you are around someone who has a positive attitude we may not know scientifically how this affects you.
Modern America is no place to understand the average person’s medicine. Being strong physically, mentally and spiritually is not promoted in such a Western-pro consumer society. So many people want a physician to solve their physical problems. Many doctors could be very good healers, but since our medicine has become an industry there is no clarity on who is advocating true medicine. Treatment of a physical problem has become blurred by a profit margin. Scientific methods do not always mean someone will heal. I am not suggesting that western world abandon the new found scientific discoveries but let’s be realistic. Just because I go to a hospital doesn’t mean I will be healed. If there is a cure the majority would never know because it would mean too many healthy people. The industry of the sick and those who profit from it would go bankrupt and western-Captialism is too devoted to its market and money. This is another story in itself. The concept becomes one of everyday people and the way they treat each other. As the concept extends to the reality, the example of a medicine man is proof of an alternative way to deliver medicine. The medicine man that I propose as proof of an individual in real time, who administers good medicine, is my grandfather. His name is Napoleon "Sudy" "Papa Joe" Falany.
My grandfather, was born with good medicine. I like to think of him as a modern day medicine man. According to a western trained doctor, Laurance Johnston, Ph.D, the Native Americans advocate a different world view and thus a different kind of medicine is attained.
"In The Way of the Scout: A Native American Path to Finding Spiritual Meaning in a Physical World (1995), Tom Brown, Jr. describes how when he was a child an Apache elder taught him to use an “expanded focus,” where the task (i.e., any of life’s pursuits) is but a small part of the whole picture. When we relax an absolute focus, we become more aware of life’s flow around us, and, as a result, assistance in many unanticipated forms becomes available."
My grandfather had such a calm relaxed attitude toward almost all things. And the flow of life was familiar to him, especially when encouraging those around him to follow their dreams. To encourage a child to follow his dream, his inspiration and or talent is just not done enough in our western-business- oriented- work- ethic lifestyle. He was an everyday working-class man who was born into an amazing generation. He was raised during the Depression, joined the Navy in WWII was blown of his ship by a kamikaze, and survived. And it was no small survival; he did not let anything get in the way of his bliss. And when he believed in someone and he believed in everyone one who was immediately within life, it was no small thing, it was a quiet medicine. It seemed as if he breathed life into people. Healed them if they were hurting, gave them magic dust if they wanted to go on an adventure. This is how his medicine came to be, but first there are others who were before me.
My grandfather’s official name was Napoleon Falany the II, but everyone called him “Sudy.” His father was called Poly. In the South everyone had a nick name. My grandfather was no exception. Most people give you a nick name because you remind them of something or you have a particular quality that stands out. For my grandfather it was about being easy going. His mother said “Everything always suits him.” He would respond with these very words when people asked if he wanted to do this or that. He would reply “Ah, it suits me.” It was a simple reply, but deeply held.
In 1935 in the south, things were a little less prosperous than in NY where people were jumping off buildings because their millions were lost. In Florida, there were no big buildings to jump off of. People around there did not have a lot to begin with. In New Port Richey, Florida, on the west coast just above the beautiful white beaches of Clearwater, there were bayous and mangrove trees that bordered the Gulf of Mexico. It was a shallow sea, but at that time, still full of an amazing bounty of sea life. And the bounty that lies beneath the water was something only we modern folks dream of. Blue crabs that scoured around the docks and inlets, scallops just lay in the seaweed for the taking. My grandfather use to fire fish. This is where you would light a fire in your boat and the light would some how attract mullet to jump right into your boat. My grandfather use to get a tub full blue crab and sit by the water, pluck out the meat and have a feast when the rest of the nation was standing in soup lines. This is when many parts of the world were suffering. It wasn’t about my grandfather being smarter or more affluent than others, but only that the flow of the natural world was not far from him ever. He was aware of the bounty that nature provided, and somehow seemed to know that he was apart of this bounty. When the rest of the world was panic from a superficial market crash, my grandfather was simply doing the things that needed to be done, and not in a panic. Why swim upstream against what the natural world has to offer?
New Port Richey was a small town, country style and this saved them all from the World and its confusion. Just because he could get fish anytime doesn’t mean that that was all about feeding 10 children and two parents. Being the type of hard working man that he was just at the age of 7, meant that he was working long hours. If he had to leave school and help dad with the saw mill, he did. If he had to take the cows to get dipped in oil so they would not have fleas, and that was 10 miles round trip by foot, then he would. All these jobs did not really mean anything, especially for the majority of families of the area. What was unique was Sudy’s attitude toward all this lifestyle. His mother always said she could count on Sudy, after working a good 10 hours of hard labor out in the humid hot Florida sun, he would come waltzing home with a whistle and a smile. And she would ask him to take a pie to the neighbors because they were sick, or if the kids down the road needed clothes, he would take them without question. There was not a hesitation from Sudy, he would nod, smile and go about what had to be done. His attitude was well known with his family but it overflowed out into the community into unsuspected places. Even as a young teenager other people picked up his medicine.
The African-Americans were one unsuspecting people because they were separated from the whites in the 1930 through the 1950’s in the south. My great grandfather was country folk, he made his living from physical labor working his own small sawmill. When things were going good he would hire an African –American man to help with the work. He was not a boss who stood by and watched his son and the hired help work, but he worked beside them. So the African-American community who lived on the East side of town got to know my grandfather.
The real proof that my grandfather’s attitude stretched beyond his immediate friends and family was the fact that when the East Side New Port Richey Baseball Team(African-American Only) asked him to play with them, he ran down to the ball field and took his position as shortstop. Whenever the team was missing a player they asked my grandfather to play for them. I find this quite interesting.
In the area of Florida you had B baseball leagues who played each other and if we think about the giant picture of African men playing ball back in those days and today with all your leagues and teams both professional and B leagues, then we can say these team that played in local communities are some outstanding ball players.
Sudy Falany had to be a great ball player, and had to have the right kind of medicine. The African-Americans were not dumb; they were not going to invite someone who would give them trouble. And let’s think about how many white men would go and play on team that could possibly be hostile. African- American did not trust white folk. This is the bottom line, so why in the world would they ask my grandfather to play? It had to be his attitude. My grandfather just played ball, as it should have been. This is all anyone has ever wanted, to be on a team because they are good, and to simply play, do your best and everything will be fine. At least there were tiny moments of justice between men just being men without all the racism. At least for a couple hours on a Sunday a white man and black man were just being themselves. Good medicine overflows in tiny unexpected moments.
The medicine that my grandfather had must have come from some mysterious deep source because he was MIA in WWII and returned like a hero returns with a boon for his village. The mystery of the medicine man continues with his survival of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in 1944.
"The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the "Battles for Leyte Gulf", and formerly known as the "Second Battle of the Philippine Sea", is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and also one of the largest naval battles in history.(Wikipedia)
In the Navy, Napoleon became Joe Falany and he was on the USS Suwannee CVE 27. On the morning of October 25th, 1944 the battle stations bell rang. They were right in the middle of the Leyte Gulf ready to do their duty.
Joe Falany was just a baker. He kept all the officers and everyone else fed sweets. So this is not a big glorious heroic stereotype. Most underestimate the little jobs of the military during the war. It is more exciting to hear about the great battles and warriors who stood up to fear and won. My grandfather’s position was that of quiet offering of his service in the best way he knew how. A good medicine man provides some spiritual counsel in the form of food. The Navy was a harsh reality. The USS Suwannee was a floating city of men. Who feeds the men? Who supplies men with something resembling home when they have been away from their mother’s or wife’s kitchen for three years. Who will remind them that they are humans gathering together to a feast to celebrate life? It is the cook and baker that use their medicine when they make food for the soldiers everyday. It is the little things that matter when you are traveling around the world on a boat. Our navy didn’t even have the luxury of Italian or Greek food made by beautiful European women like the army did in Europe. Joe Falany was who put a little of his special medicine into the things that he made, and thus the ship and most of the crew survived including himself after two kamikaze aircraft dove into the ship.
So on Oct 25th, 1944 the battle bell rang and all men had to report to their battle stations. The kamikaze hit the USS Suwannee and my grandfather was blown off, and was floating semi-conscious in the SouthSea. His flesh was on fire. Since he was in the salt water it must have helped with his burnt skin. He unconsciously put his arm around a medical can that was sealed and thus stayed afloat. He floated out there for who knows how long. A CVE boat came looking for him eventually. They found him and wrapped him up like a mummy. They hung all the burned survivors on a medical ship, upside down because their flesh smelled so bad. If the burned victims didn't twitch their heads or move their bodies they would throw them over the side. The Japanese hit the medical ship too. So my grandfather was burned and hanging upside down and the ship were on fire too. They finally transferred him to another ship that was going to the burn unit on New Guinea.
In New Guinea my grandfather was treated for his physical problems but that did not help his memory. He could not remember anything of the explosion or who he was. He was officially missing in action. My great grandmother was notified. My soon to be grandmother was writing my grandfather faithfully and he returned her letters before the explosion. They were courting each other through letters. So my grandmother also knew he was MIA. The priest would come daily and ask my grandfather if he remembered anything and he didn't for two weeks or so. Then one day the priest came and did not ask my grandfather directly if he remembered anything. Then everything came flooding back. He wrote my grandmother first and when they received the letter in Boston, my great-grandmother called my other great-grandmother about his location and condition.
Not one bitter word was uttered by Napoleon “Sudy” Falany about the war. He always told the story with grace and ease. Sometimes when speaking of the kamikaze, he would say “those damn Japanese” and that was it. He moved to California as many of his generation did after the war. He moved to central California and started his own small fence business. He raised four children and his only daughter is my mother.
I was a small little child when my grandfather, Papa Joe, became like a second father to me. He waited for me at airports to take me fishing. We rode horses, went on secret trails to hidden lakes. He waited for me on boats in Central America so that we could live on a key near a barrier reef. At eight years old I was snorkeling in the Blue Hole in Central America. He stole me away like Peter Pan stole Wendy, sprinkled me with Tinker-Bell dust and we went flying to Never Never Land every summer of my childhood. I did not know on a conscious level what this did to me. Just like when you take medication that fights an infection, you don’t see it work, but you feel the difference as you heal. Spending so much time near my grandfather as a young child, was like being in a sweat lodge singing the ancient songs of my ancestors. It helped me know what to be aware of in this life. He reminded me what had value without telling me directly, but showing me what life could be. This was medicine so unknown by most. It was the medicine of high adventure.
There was no righteousness behind my grandfather; he had no wisdom in the form of words, except for simple words that all people could understand. “You only pass this way once” He was all about action, and the most adventurous, hard-working-smiling-constantly-building-things-kind of man. He built fishing camps out in the Gulf of Mexico that still stand. He built a log cabin in Stanley, Idaho. He built a long dock out from a Half Moon Key in Belize. Sudy Falany was not a sit- on- the- sidelines kind of man.
Henry Falany, Sudy’s first born son, took him down the 250 miles of the Colorado River on a rubber raft. Henry made this adventure a lifestyle by creating a river rafting business in the Grand Canyon and the North Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. It was if Henry was the chief of our tribe for a while and my grandfather was the medicine man who advised and supported his son to lead us all in the direction of adventure and success. The value did not stop at our pleasure of adventure, it was extended to all those my uncle took down the Grand Canyon. My uncle made his life about bringing people beauty, adventure and freedom. This might be medicine in itself. Promoting people to explore, to be near our beautiful Earth and to find the “awe” in the world around them is a valuable life.
My grandfather had enough medicine to extend it to outsiders who were searching for something more than the absence of something profound. My father, aunt who was from Holland found a man who welcomed them into a tribe. My grandfather provided this different attitude willingly, but not with righteousness. My father learned how to be a good father from him and was taught to follow his dreams too. For example my mother and father wanted to build their dream house on the side of a mountain in Northern California. They literally wanted to build it alone, no contractors and so they did. They had help here and there, but essentially they stacked log by log by their own hands. My grandfather was present when the moment came where his help was needed and he found pleasure in helping and this was not with money, but with his good ideas and hard work. I am sure that his magic dust seeped into those logs and were falling on me everyday I lived their on the side of that mountain.
Sudy’s final days of writing long letters and being there when my father passed on was the final proof for me. (I was 30 something then.) He sent me a letter and or an inspiring card every two days. One ultimate form of medicine is a hand written letter. We know when words form on a page with true intent it can inspire nations to revolt or promote a belief that has given birth to mystics. Imagine a man throughout his life never missing a birthday of all the people he ever knew. I cannot even count the number of letters my grandfather has written. He was a poet in his own right. In his day if you were working class then writing was nothing you would attempt to do, but he sent out and transformed people with his greetings. He was devoted to each person he ever knew and never waited for a return letter. He never complained when a person did not return his greeting. There wasn't any attachment to anything. And I received much needed medicine when my father suddenly passed on. My grandfather never spoke to me in depth about my father’s passing, but he knew there was a rip in the fabric of my heart. A rip existed in his heart too, for he plucked my father out of his dysfunctional family at 17 years old and welcomed him with open arms into his family. He sent me something two times a week for several months. The postman was so use to these letters that some of the ones that did not have an address came into my mailbox miraculously.
Medicine in the modern world is buried under technology and scientific methods which help to advance our approach to healing people. The problems arise when the approach is too narrow to consider other possibilities. We cannot continue to ignore other methods because “evidence” is not attainable. Extremely narrow views of healing will only yield a narrow result a small percentage of healed patients. When we relax our view and step back, use our intelligence and honor other type of methods then we will open the doors to true healing. True healing is a holistic intelligence and calculation of all possibilities to attend a living being. My grandfather is an example of a person who promotes good medicine with every breath that he takes. He lets life be apart of him. I refer to him as an old tired Indian Chief who spread a wondrous medicine to all those he knew. I’d like to think, with respect, if my grandfather was ever honored enough to meet a true Indian Chief of this land that he would also say that my grandfather has good medicine.