The night before my kids went back to school this year, my eleven-year-old son sliced off the very tip of his left index finger while finishing a back-to-school project. His dad and I took turns holding pressure on it for 3 ½ hours, until the blood finally stopped bubbling to the skinless surface, which was just about the time we finally got to see a doctor at the Children’s Hospital ER. There was no need for stitches, the resident explained, because the hole was too big to stitch, so they just cleaned it out and sent us home with a lot of gauze. I didn’t believe the attending physician when he said my son would be playing guitar again in a few weeks, but yesterday he resumed his guitar lessons.

The finger now looks so good I was tempted to pull out my phone and show the guitar teacher the bloody stump that my son insisted on photographing a few days after the incident, just to prove I wasn’t exaggerating when I cancelled three weeks of lessons. That was all it took—in less than three weeks a whole new layer of skin grew over the spot that was so gross a few weeks ago that my son wanted to post a picture of it on Facebook just to shock people. (I didn’t let him.)

I’ve been thinking about healing lately—how miraculously the human body can heal itself and why sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t pretend to understand a thing about this; I’m just convinced it’s really interesting. I’ve seen an acupuncturist over the years, and that’s really interesting, too, though a surgeon I know scoffs at it. All I know is that the acupuncturist has helped me and many other people. Intuitively, it makes sense to me that we have energy running through us and that there are ways to help that energy move better. How that relates to an allopathic understanding of medicine and the body, I don’t know, but I suspect that will be one of the frontiers of medicine in the 21st century. In the 19th century, the guy who first suggested that doctors wash their hands between patients was scoffed at, though that’s now common sense. I’m curious what “alternative” therapies will seem like common sense in a century, and which will seem as foolish as leeching.

I also can’t help wondering about the times when the body doesn’t heal itself—when love, prayer, and modern medicine are not enough. A member of my Quaker meeting recently died of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease—and many of her friends were left wondering why such debilitation should happen to someone so young. Some members of our community are fundraising for ALS research, and though I can’t walk the morning of November 6, I want to support them. Here’s a link to one of the participants sponsor page, if anyone wants to contribute to a good cause.

It seems to me that there are many issues regarding healing that relate to “the wisdom to know the difference.” On the one hand, life is a mystery, and sooner or later we will all have to accept the demise of our bodies. On the other hand, we can raise money to research a terrible disease and wash our hands to cut down on infections. It’s not a contradiction. Both acceptance and action can be healing.