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The Stone Path

by Maria Troia Jeffreys

I have two birthdays. One involved my mother's labor thirty-eight years ago. The other involved a dark night on a highway and the approaching headlights of a drunk driver.

I'd been in two serious car accidents before the rendezvous with the drunk driver. One had even occurred years earlier on the same day: July 2. But it took until the third accident, that collision with the drunk driver, for me to catch on. I was in my car that night, at a standstill, stuck in a night construction site. I waited for traffic to move and looked up in the rearview mirror to see headlights careening off into the shoulder with a frightening speed. I knew whatever force had propelled them was life-altering and headed for me. There were no screeching brakes. The drunk driver plowing cars onto the shoulder wasn't even aware enough of the construction site to apply his brakes. After hitting six cars on our side of the highway at full speed, he crossed the divider and crashed into oncoming traffic. Miraculously, no one was killed.

My seat belt undoubtedly saved my life. Without it, I am certain the impact against my steering wheel would have killed me. Stunned, I got out of my car and surveyed the wreckage. It was the kind of accident you'd expect someone to leave from in a body bag. And there I was, battered and bruised, but still breathing. It was impossible not to wonder why I had been spared.

But it wasn't just the accident that left me questioning mortality and purpose. That period of my life seemed filled with heart-rending events. Days before, I buried my grandmother who had suffered from an illness that spanned almost a month. I'd spent my every free hour with her in ICU and I was there with her when she was taken off of life support and passed away several hours later. I was at her side when I thought I saw a golden spiral rise from her chest. I attributed the spiral to lack of sleep during those weeks and my eyes playing tricks on me, but inside I knew. She had left. Then, only moments later, her monitor flatlined. It was the first time I'd seen someone die and while I was honored to be with my grandmother as she made her transition into the next world, I felt I'd experienced something greater than I could understand, something that changed me forever, something as quiet as a whisper.

But my grandmother's death was only part of the story. The day after my accident was the first anniversary of the death of a dear childhood friend of mine, a death I'd spent much of that first year trying to come to terms with. So within a year, I'd lost the oldest person in my life whom I loved, and one of my youngest friends whom I loved. I was clearly at a crossroads.

In the immediate months after my accident, I could focus on little except for my recuperation. I spent eighteen months in physical therapy, as well as treatments with acupuncturists and massage therapists. Each of them helped me learn how to reclaim my life. And while I credit western medicine with treating my immediate injuries, it was alternative and holistic medicine that slowly gave me my life back.

During my recuperation, I was freed to do other things. The accident caused me to leave a job I hated. I developed myself as a poet, began teaching writing workshops, and wrote a literary novel. My creative well had never felt so full.

But something was still whispering and it took nearly four years for me to hear it clearly. Clarity came in Palm Springs where my husband and I were vacationing last October. The confines of air travel still does my body in, so I signed up for a massage at the spa the first day at our hotel. They offered a treatment called a Sacred Stone Massage, a technique rooted in a Native American healing ritual where hot stones are used to work the muscles and increase the flow of energy through the body. It sounded nice.

Transcending would have been a better word. In the shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains, I skipped back to our room after my massage and told my husband I had to learn how to do this. I knew in my gut that my accident, with all the physical and emotional trauma of the event, combined with the trauma of losing two loved ones in that same year had led me to this moment. I knew the whisper I'd heard was calling me to use these experiences to help people heal.

My life began to run in interesting patterns after the accident, and so when we returned home from California, it was no surprise that I received an invitation to an open house at a local school offering a twenty-month program in therapeutic massage. I attended. Within a few weeks, I applied and was accepted.

I am now in my first semester of course work and doing well. The program doesn't teach the hot stone treatment, but as soon as I graduate and pass my boards, I intend to enroll in a certification course out west to bring the stone ritual technique back home. In the meantime, I cannot walk the beaches near my home without reaching down for the water-smoothed stones that wash ashore, palming them, and wondering of their healing power.

While my "second" birth date is July 2, my "real" birth date is September 22, making me a Virgo, the sign of service, and an earth sign. Perhaps this is why the stones whisper so loudly to me. Destiny? I'm not sure. But I know something has brought me to where I am. And more so, it has taught this child of the earth how to listen to the call of the universe and the whisper of the soul.

Maria Troia Jeffreys was born in New York City and raised on Long Island where she attended Hofstra University, earning a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Secondary Education. Her poetry and essays have appeared in various publications including Voices in Italian Americana, Italian-Americana, and Capper's. Her interests include rose gardening, meditation and Eastern philosophy, travel, knitting, bicycling, and music, especially jazz and blues. She is married and has just completed her first novel.



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