And I could see how much they had grown. One had turned from a toddler in to a kid. The oldest, one of the Primo Snake Killers, had grown out of his baby fat. Lean. With a stick.
I knew they saw me --I knew they were looking for me. It has been five months since we buried their infant brother. And there was a resonance then --a wave length in sync with these three boys. So, even though I could see them in the mirror of the sacristy --I knew they were hiding, waiting for me to come out around the altar --I pretended to be surprised and drop all the papers as they leaped in to the air and shouted "MOTHER"!
Snake killers. Sweet, bright-eyed, happy, rambunctious, laughing, jumping, leaping, rolling around before the altar, stick carrying snake killers. I love them.
Mother! We see you! Mother! Look here --look what I can do! Mother! I have new shoes!
And the littlest ones had no idea what they were doing, but copied the gestures and words and twirls of the older kids --trying it all out. --trying not to fall.
I sat down in the chair --Tell me how you are. How was Christmas? What is your teacher like? Do you like the snow this year?
We went to visit Little Brother, they say. But all the toys we left him are gone. Do you think he took them?
Oh, I say. He's with your Sister and your Grandma --what do you think happened to all the toys? I didn't want to say I thought perhaps they had blown in to the next county....
Our father says the spirits took them --our mother says the toys are where they are supposed to be. But we think Little Brother hid them from us.
Oh, my, I say. They crowd up around my knees. They touch my shoulder and cheek --like I am something entirely foreign, and they want to see if I am warm. Am I real.
You have really short hair, said the oldest. Are you sad? (It is customary to cut one's hair off while grieving.)
No, I am not sad --I just like short hair, I say. And I run my fingers over his forehead, and make the sign of the cross.
Me too, me too! they say. Do that to me!
So, I get out the healing oil, and one by one pray for them, whispering in to their ear, telling them that I am always praying for them --that when they grow up I hope they will be a great man for their families and a great leader for their people.
At dinner, a young father tells me about his daughter who just turned thirteen. I know her. She is tall and slender --bright eyes. She's been all week in the hospital. Oh --why? I ask. She tried to kill herself, he said. But she didn't quite know what to do with the belt and didn't slice her wrists deep enough.
I have no more appetite. I have no tears. I look down at his trembling hands. I thrash around inside while trying to keep my composure. I will go visit her, I said. No. No visitors allowed, said the young father. They took her to Bismark. I think she was trying to copy her mother. Her mother hung herself too. But she died. Three years ago. Let me pray for you and her, I say.
Peace that passes all understanding....
Those bright eyes. Only three or four years older than my Snake Killer friends. This is what happens when true consciousness begin. Seven attempts since I've been here. All under the age of sixteen.
It's an epidemic. It's been this way for decades. The Native Traditionalists in town claim it is a dark spirit that walks the streets looking for the children, and will lure them, preying on their innocence and weakness, lull them in to doing it.
Yes. I say. I understand. And I think, the Lakota Pied Piper, so to speak --stealing the children. But far more insidious....
And tonight, we will have another comfort service --the series of evening prayers offered before the wake and funeral. A young man. Diabetic. On dialysis. Found dead in his bed with a stab wound to his side. The FBI called in. The family at odds with itself. Who is the suspect? Who did this?
I visited the home, but they waved me away at the door --not now, not now they said, waving fingers at me through the screen door, as though they were moving marionettes --shadow puppets amongst the bags and boxes of garbage in the hall and on the front porch. We're cleaning, they said, we're not ready. The stench of consumed alcohol filled the air. And I wept as a returned to the car, dry tears that couldn't fall, weeping I could not afford. Tears gathered in the deep well. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dead dog in the front yard, and the children gathered in the yard next door, looking on. Curious.
And I thought of my Beautiful Snake Killers. They lived just around the block. This is their 'hood. When will they realize that they are not happy too? I say to myself.
At prayer this morning (Mark 8:1-9))
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.”
His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”
He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They said, “Seven.”
Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
Now there were about four thousand people.
I am reminded of a story my sister told me... she was working with some kids that were VERY needy, and she always finished the day extremely worn out --wrung out --nothing left. She told a friend about it --and the friend said, just think of yourself as having the cookie lady. The cookie lady? my sister asked. Yes --the kids are very hungry, and so they come and eat you up because you are sweet and irresistible --and you are perfect for them. And at the end of the day, the cookie lady is all used up--eaten up, but you are still there --perfect and whole.
It was a piece of imagery that worked....
I think of this story whenever I hear the story of Jesus feeding thousands.... But, instead of being cookie, he is bread.
And we are all called to be bread --baptized in to Christ's eternal priesthood --bread for the world. Sweet. Irresistible. Perfect bread. All. Eaten. Up.
And, I must remember the Bishop's words to me --you are not called to "Save" --this is a ministry of presence....
So... I will be present. And offer bread. And prayer --making the sign of the cross where none need be made....