| [Photo: Yvonne Berg,
Ronnie, or Shakosientha (he who heals), is an Algonquin shaman who does emotional and spiritual healings in his native traditions.
Last week my 12-year-old son announced, "A healer came to the class today."
"A healer?" I asked. I'd heard of visiting police officers, physicians and firefighters, but a healer in an elementary school?
"He has special powers," my son told me.
Surprised, I approached the teacher. "I studied science and am completely logical," she reassured me, "but I want the kids to learn to think for themselves and to decide. I can tell you that kids at this age are so interested in life and death and different perspectives on it."
Wondering how parents reacted to the news of a visiting healer, I was surprised to learn that it was a student's mother who was responsible for bringing the healer into the school.
"Just think about it," said Laurie, the mother, "this guy from the native community is being accepted, even into the kids' schools. Kids are starving for spiritualism. Prayer is a dirty word. And he's up there talking about spirits and ESP and being intuitive -- a guy who doesn't want to sell a book and doesn't have an axe to grind. If you can't pay him, he doesn't care. He works on donations."
And how did the kids react? "They were so fascinated," said Laurie. "Every hand was up."
Later I found out that, actually, not every hand was up. Apparently, a few students weren't comfortable with the healer, and some mothers were aghast that he had found his way into the school system.
"As a parent, maybe I would have wanted to be advised beforehand that he was coming in," said one mother. "He's a bit mystical. My daughter said it bothered her. I question whether he should be there."
But Laurie thinks spirituality in schools is long overdue. "People don't want to talk about what's happening in their spiritual life. I even hide the books [on spirituality] from my husband."
I decide to pay the healer a visit. Ronnie, or Shakosientha (he who heals) as he likes to be called, tells me, "I'm a natural-born Algonquin shaman, which means that I do emotional and spiritual healings in my native traditions."
His office is the size of a postage stamp and very basic. There is little furniture. Calming music is playing.
"Call me Shakosientha, please," he says. "That's what I'm known as."
"I can't," I tell him.
"Why not?" he asks.
"Because you look like a Ronnie."
"OK, call me Ronnie."
Ronnie tells me he's often asked to speak in schools. "Every child who goes to school has stress because children are being bullied, misunderstood and ignored," he says. "And kids are more accepting to the kind of thing I do than adults. At least they will listen.
"When I go into schools," he continues, "they know that I'm a healer so they want to know about that. But I was asked the strangest question by a Grade 6 student recently. He asked, 'Can you bring someone back from the dead?' After that question, I talked about death because I realize that these children really don't know what death is."
Ronnie also tries to help children with day-to-day issues like bullying. "I don't believe in fighting," he says. "I say to the kids, 'You're being bullied because the bully is afraid. Maybe he's had a miserable life, he's not understood.' " Show kindness and try to talk your way out of situations, he advises.
"I teach people from eight to 80," he says. His adult clients, he says, include doctors, lawyers and therapists. "I make people take a look at themselves. Most people are not happy with who they are." As one of Ronnie's clients told me, "it's not that when he puts his hands on my head I feel better, it's that over the next few days I can handle things better."
And does the healer have any advice for coping with the stresses of war? "What I tell my clients is to every day take a few minutes and do a little meditation and send positive energies toward the battle and the people who are fighting. Not necessarily to stop the war, but to see things in a different light, to look at how the other person feels."
He then announces with great fanfare that he's going to give me a healing.
"But I don't need one," I tell him.
He insists, and I sit patiently as he wraps his hands around my head for what feels like an eternity, but is actually about a minute. I have to admit that it is relaxing.
"Can I put your phone number in the story so people can reach you?" I ask him, figuring he'll jump at the chance to advertise his services. "No, please don't," he says -- he doesn't want crank calls. "If someone really needs me, they'll find me."
As I'm leaving, he hands me a gift. It's a piece of suede with feathers and beads and a native drawing on it. It's almost two feet long. "I made this for you to put in your car," he tells me. "It'll protect you while you're driving."
"Do you give this to everyone?" I ask.
No, he assures me, telling me I need it (I wonder how he heard about my driving). He attaches the gift to my rearview mirror. As I wave goodbye, I decide I'll just let it hang there until I'm out of sight.
But it's still there. Who couldn't use a little protection these days?