Growing up, I always wondered why healers chose to be healers. I understood that they were helping people, and yeah, that sounded great, but they themselves would be hurt in the process. The pain they were enduring, all self inflicted made no sense.
You can always spot a healer, you know. They almost always are crippled, some are blind, others always have the worst coughs. There are scars all over their skin, and usually they aren't the prettiest people in the world. The younger ones usually aren't as bad off as the more aged healers. It's some sort of spoken agreement, that the more time you spend being a healer, the worse the ailments you cure become. Every once in a while you'll find a young healer missing a limb, but it's very rare.
But every healer I've ever come across has the kindest eyes, if they have eyes that is. Their smiles are always warm, and they never seem in pain. I was always perplexed by this, never really knowing what drove them to do what they did.
That is until my brother lost his fingers.
He's a craftsman, my brother, one of the best metal workers known. Without his fingers he would be nothing. He had a family to support, and his wife had died the year before. I tried to help, but I could never make up for him not working.
A month after the accident, a healer came into town, asking if anyone needed help. I saw her in the market, relatively young for a healer. She was able bodied, with only a few scars to show where she had helped people, and I was reluctant to bring up my predicament.
A neighbor pointed her towards me where I had been working a stall in the market.
"You have need of a healer?" she had asked. I was half tempted to lie and say no, she seemed so happy and had so many years ahead of her. But her smile was so kind, her eyes showing her eagerness to help, and so I told her.
As I spoke her smile softened, and her fingers flexed. She glanced down at her hand, thinking for a moment before coming to a decision. I almost expected her to say she couldn't help, but instead she asked me to bring her to my brother. I did.
She took my brother into another room, talking in a soft voice with him before closing the door, leaving me to look after the children. At one point I pressed my ear up against the door. I heard the healer grunt in pain, and the faint sound of a sob a moment later. I almost burst into the room to pull her away from my brother, but I didn't. An hour later the two emerged, my brother flexing his fingers and staring at them in wonder, the healer wiping at her eyes subtly. She was missing three fingers.
I insisted on her staying the night, and prepared the best meal I could with what we had. She thanked us for the hospitality, but I still felt guilty for what she had sacrificed for us.
I found her sitting on our porch, cradling her hand in her lap and gently humming, the breeze whipping her prematurely gray hair around her head. I sat next to her.
"Why?" I asked. "Why do you give up so much for complete strangers?"
She smiled at me, a genuine smile, without a hint of sadness or regret.
"Your brother has three young children to feed, and lost his only way to do that in an accident that was no way his fault. I don't need my fingers as much as he does, and so I am willing to give them up to help someone more in need. All the pain I help get rid of, all the lives I have saved just by allowing someone to continue working, all the gratitude that friends and families show me, it makes it worth it."
"But you risk your life."
"Not necessarily. A healer chooses how much of the pain they take upon themselves, and so I can make a grievous wound into a mere scratch, and still survive. Much better than leaving someone to die. No, I have chosen my profession, and am willing to give everything to it."
The next morning she left to continue traveling, only taking the money I offered after I pleaded with her for a good ten minutes. Her words never left my thoughts, and as my brother got back on his feet I felt the need to help others.
Half a year after my brother got his fingers back I began studying to be a healer. Since then I have saved careers, families, lives, countless numbers of things. It's always worth it, each cut, each break, each illness. I have never once regretted my decision, no matter how much it pained my brother when I made it.
So, when you ask me why I give up so much for strangers, it's because I know that they need it more than I do, and that I'm helping make people happy. And maybe I'm hoping that one day I'll run into the woman who gave my brother back his fingers, and I'll be able to thank her properly.