Faith Healer – Footnotes
The Footnotes to our episode on Faith Healer include observations on the elusive faith of the healers and the healed, and on the emotional truth of our memories.
There is a long tradition of faith healers in Ireland who have the power of what is known as the “cure”. The cure can consist of magical or religious healing, occasionally combined with herbal remedies, and according to an Irish Times article from 2013 there are still hundreds of healers operating. Healers are universally reticent to talk about how their power works, and there is very little public evidence available. Advertising is virtually prohibited, and apparently it is taboo to take any money, contrary to Frank Hardy’s practice.
Folklore has that it is only the seventh son of a seventh son, or seventh daughter of a seventth daughter who could be gifted with the cure. Frank recalls that their poster used to say that he was the seventh son of the seventh son – a bogus claim as he tells us that he was an only child. Perhaps it is harder to find faith healers today because there are fewer families with seven children!
More often than not the ritual has a Christian element, and Frank suggests the analogy with the church when he calls it a “a ministry without responsibility, a vocation without a ministry.” There is certainly an association between the elusiveness of Frank’s gift and religious faith, both of which defy explicit proof. The Faith Healer also seems to require that both the healer and the healed must have faith. As a real-life healer propounded: “For those who believe in such cures no explanation is necessary and for those who do not, no explanation is possible.” A maxim for the paradox of faith.
Following her final separation from Frank, Grace visits another type of healer, her GP. The pills he prescribes and the advice he gives her seem futile to cure her “distraught mental state.” This may be because she does not believe in his cure. She knows that only Frank “can put his white hands on her face and still this tumult” inside her.
There is a brilliant observation in the play of the psychology of the people coming to the healer, who do not entirely want to be cured. Frank says that they hated the healer because coming to him was a “public acknowledgment of their desperation. And even though they told themselves they were here because of the remote possibility of a cure, they knew in their hearts they had not come to be cured but for confirmation that they were incurable; not in hope but for the elimination of hope; for the removal of that final impossible chance – that’s why they came – to seal their anguish, for the content of finality.”
But, “occasionally, just occasionally, the miracle would happen…And then… a sudden flooding of dreadfully hopeless hope”.
This hopeless hope might just as well be describing the incurable misery that binds Frank and Grace. And when Frank finally goes to meet his end he removes any more impossible chance, “for the content of finality”.
Joe Gallagher – Faith healer
Photo: Paulo Nunes dos Santos for
The New York Times.
Memory and truth
The different versions of the past that the characters share in the play underline that there is no such thing as objective truth in memory. We each create our own subjective truths. More specifically our memories are conceived not necessarily by what practically happened but what we feel about what happened. What is primary is what happened to us emotionally.
This is concisely illustrated by their differing memories of the weather in Kinlochbervie. For Grace the mist and rain is the enveloping misery of her lost child and her husband’s betrayal. For Teddy the sunshine was the moment his love for Grace shined. He was there for her in her time of need, replacing Frank. For Frank his memory of the picture-postcard view of Kinlochbervie is an invented image that attempts to whitewash the anguish he cannot face at the death of his child, and his own guilt.
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