He is seven.
I had finished walking late Friday afternoon. Grateful. For all those who had accompanied me. Grateful. For all those who helped. Grateful for the end of the strenuous prayer --like at the end of a fast, a was ready to re-enter... I was ready to begin to change my pace.
I had a blister on the ball of my foot. I had worn a hole in it. When I took my shoe off in the car on the way home, there was serum and blood all over my sock. I decided to wait to take my sock off... and laughed at myself. Well girly, when you offered your whole self in prayer, you knew it might cost you a little flesh and blood.
The People here understand that. In the Sun Dance, those who dance offer their flesh and blood, literally, for the sake of the People. So, my walking days past the time it just hurt would not be extra-ordinary. This type of prayer, this type of offering your whole self is formation and practice... as well as the real deal.
It is not mortification. It is different. I don't quite have the words for it. There is an exaltative joy in it.
And then we had dinner. S had arrived. I was still spinning. We all went to bed early.
Early Saturday morning --about 4am, I received a call to meet a family at the ER. Baby had stopped breathing. I didn't rush. I knew they were coming from Cherry Creek. I was deliberate in my preparations, saying my morning prayers as I stuffed healing oil in my pocket, found my keys and wallet in the half-light of pre-dawn.
In the hospital parking lot, I saw the ambulance had just arrived. The dad was pulling the truck in to the lot at the ER entrance. He parked it crazy-like, askew between lines that didn't matter and bolted for the doors.
I had to wait in the waiting room. The grandma arrived with the weeping teenage girls/aunties/sisters. The grandma was called back. The girls waited, crowded in to a corner by the TV running its neon green ads amid orange and blue headline banners.
They called me in to the back. I breathed. Deeply. Not knowing what to expect. As I rounded the corner in the exam rooms, I heard the infant scream. I looked at the nurse who was escorting me. 'That's good news!' I said. 'Exam room one,' she said. All business.
A seizure caused by a high fever. We would wait to see if her fever would go down. It did. She had a bad ear infection. She would be alright. The parents wept. Buckets.
I returned home, did some preparation work for Sunday and all else that might come. Then S and I went to the family powwow in Iron Lightening. Traditional powwows lift the spirit. They are partly family reunion. Partly a time for teenagers to test a first love. Partly a time to honor accomplishments. Partly a time to celebrate and teach culture. Partly a time to pray, to name, to wipe away tears.
It felt good to sit in the heat. To shake hands. Someone wanted me to come and speak into the microphone and tell folks about the walking. I didn't. It didn't feel right to blast it electronically all over the place. I spoke one on one to those who asked.
When the women Traditional Dancers --mostly elders, got up to dance, S asked me --is that it?! In the women's Traditional, the moves are subtle. The knees move to the down beat, heels lifted. It is extremely difficult to do --it takes tremendous stamina and skill to keep the down beat going when the drum changes to an up-beat, which it does... frequently. I think I giggled at S's question. I think I said 'Lakota women don't run, they don't shout or talk loud; they don't draw attention to themselves. This is the dance of humility.'
The back bone of The People. Humility. Gentleness. Generosity. Stamina. Endurance.
'This is really a patriarchal society, isn't it?' I heard asked. 'Yes. And sometimes matriarchal --depending upon the type of leadership that is needed...' I explained that there were no such things as 'chiefs'. When the People needed to change camps, the one who was best at that led them. When major decisions were made, the elders conferred --sometimes the grandmothers, sometimes the grandfathers, sometimes together --depending upon the decisions. When the hunt was on, those who had those gifts led the People. Leadership was shared. Depending upon the circumstances.
'It's like the sign on the airplane --put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others... the men are put first in line in somethings, to feed them first, because of the jobs they are required to do... sometimes it's the elders first, sometimes it's the children first --it depends....'
The Traditional Dance of the women --it is prayer, it is preparation, it is practice, it is offering, it is the outward and visible sign of the way to be.... It is the real deal.
For the children, it is glory....
The heat of the day bore down on us. We watched the foot race. We watched the champions being honored. From the memorial softball tourney. Hand-shaking all around. Then the volleyball tourney. All the games. Children's division. Adult's division... Then the "suicide" horse race --up and down hills that usually unseat a rider or two --or, some horses refuse to go all...
--the woman has won that race four years in a row now... !!!!
We went home after the horse race... and crashed in to bed. The fireworks ground the night to bits. The dogs cowered. Refused to go out....
Sunday, I returned to the powwow grounds. We have church there. Once a year. I have baptisms there -almost always. This time, there was lightening and rain all around. Thunder. We took refuge under the tent that usually provides shade. It is an old tent, greatly repaired, still full of holes. The winds were so fierce, the tent perimeter poles began to fall. We gathered towards the center. We asked the storm to go around us. It poured harder. The water in the baptismal font was being stirred by the wind...
And so we began. And we baptized. And by the time we shared bread and wine, the sun had come out. Everything was fresh. And new.
A meal was provided. And we sat and watched the men take the rest of the tent down. I sat with the women... a whole row of us... 'Hey,' I said, 'I was taught that the women were supposed to take down and put up the tent.' We all laughed. That is the Tradition. The house belongs to the woman; she puts it up, she puts it down, she decides who can sleep and eat in it. One of the younger women said, 'Yeah, but if we had taken it down, it would be done already.' And we all laughed....
I had to move on to the next service. I thanked everyone. The horse shoe games began. I drove through the mud, the places where it had rained, the puddles along the road the evidence of the downpours. As I neared town, Joel called me. 'Go to the hospital. You are needed.' I still had time before the next service....
Was she sixteen? Was she seventeen? I don't know. But her life had ended. No one was sure if it were suicide or murder. There had been an awful fight. She was found in the morning, hung in a playground on a side street in Eagle Butte. The FBI would not let the family view the body. Suspicious circumstances required a forensic autopsy.
I prayed. One of the grandmothers sang the mourning song. Where have you gone? I look for you, but I do not see you. Tunkasila (Grandfather), look at me and pity me. Absolute. Devastation.
I returned home. The next service had been relocated due to the rain. The children ran to my fence. Mother! Mother! We walked/ran over. Sang. Prayed. Shared what we heard, shared bread and wine. Amid the chaos of late afternoon shadows and crying, running, pew-hopping children.
Over dinner, the adults talked. Their fears and hopes for their grandchildren. Tears were close. The boy sat next to me. He said it quietly. Over his supper. Not quite a question. More of a statement. "When does the suffering end..."
He is seven. He has suffered greatly. Already.
I looked at my plate. I had even eaten a huge serving of cake and ice cream. I opened my mouth to respond, not even yet knowing what would come out.
"When does the suffering end..."
"When our hearts change," I said.
He nodded his head. "I need to learn to read," he said. He turned towards me. "I failed First Grade." I knew that already; his grandmother had told me. He had lived six places this year --six different schools before he came to live with her just before Easter....
"We can do that," I said.
And I prayed.
At prayer this morning (Luke 23:44-56a)
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.
It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Today, I will prepare the spices and ointments.
Today. In exaltative joy.