Tag Archives: firstnations

Spiritual Errand

Through the front windshield of the bus, I watch the painted white lines on the black pavement of the road passing alongside in mesmerizing, rhythmic order. Thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop, my mind lays down a soundtrack to accompany the hypnotic visuals of the center-line’s fragmented glow under the low beams of the bus’ headlights.

With almost everyone else asleep, I remain awake as we travel through one of the least populated and most desolately beautiful regions of the Four-Corners area of the American Southwest. The time is closing in on midnight, and the highway is relatively deserted. No moon is visible. And, although the interior of the bus is dimly lit, the world immediately around me is bright, filled with spiritual Light.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Sitting quietly, as I review events from the trip, I remain in a state of heightened gratitude for the Grace extended during this excursion of spiritual errand—the Light needed to be reaffirmed in myself and among those whom I visited. Travelling for such a purpose is always humbling. With the aid of Grace, the best and sometimes most unexpected doors open with simple ease.

Sitting in my own bubble of spiritual reverie, I hear the man next to me shift in his seat. The bus is almost full. Then, turning toward me, he leans over to ask a simple question—something about current events. It is an election year. Not wanting to disrupt the thread of connection that is part of the larger picture and my heightened sight, I politely change the subject. Then, after regrouping, he redirects his own conversational energy, asking a series of questions about my religious affiliation.

After a few minutes of polite exchange, where I try to ascertain the general purpose of his line of inquiry, I finally ask him outright, “Are you needing me to pray for you?”

“Yes,” he answers in a hesitant affirmative. Then, with more conviction, “I need you to pray for me.”

The man appears to be Native American.  He may be Navajo, Hopi or from another First-Nation group native to this region. One of the things I learned while living in the Southwest is that most Native-American Peoples, who are still in a state of receptive connectivity, understand the Way. They know how Grace flows and moves and are respectful of the nature of sacred contracts.

“Do you know this song?” the man asks me, beginning to hum quietly—slowly—as he adds a few lyrics.

“Yes,” I answer. “I remember that song. It has been a long while since I have heard it.”

“Yes, it is an old song. I only need you to pray for me when you hear that song, that will be your cue that I need you to pray.”

We lean back again into our individual seats. I am amazed at how respectfully he has put forth his request. The parameters of our agreement are clear, tidy and not overly demanding. I find myself filling with gratitude again; this time it is for this man’s respectful politeness toward my own manifestation of the Light.

Bus Stop

“Would you like some sunflower seeds?” The Native-American woman sitting next to me at the bus stop turns to ask.

“No thank you, but thank you for offering,” I gesture, clamping a hand across my belly. “I just ate.”

We return to silence, waiting for the bus together.

In my peripheral vision, I watch as she continues drawing the sunflower seeds from their package in small groups, creating a well of unhulled seeds in one palm. Then, taking her hand to her mouth after her palm is full, she carefully cracks each seed one-by-one with her front teeth. Her well-practiced tongue deftly picks up the freed seed meat, tucking each along the bottom edge of her cheek. When my bus-stop companion has collected enough seeds, she drags the edge of her jawline clean with her tongue and chews on the seeds’ meat in an appreciative and meditative manner. Ritual eating. She is fully present.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Four-lanes of traffic move without stop in front of us. Two-lanes of traffic move by our joint right. We are parked on the bench. Early. No bus. Waiting.

“I’m going to the Native American Center,” she reopens our conversation. “I had to transfer. Do you have to transfer today?” Her transfer slip is lodged between her ring and pinky fingers on the hand holding the perpetual well of unhulled seeds—her left hand. The story of her hands tells me she may be in her fifties.

“No. Not today. Today, it is just this one bus,” I answer. The sunshine feels good on my face. I turn my face to meet the shifting sun, grateful for my bench companion’s calm presence as we wait.

“You are lucky.” Changing the subject, she continues, “My brother is having a show, an art show at the Center. He is an artist—a pretty big deal. He lives clean. Doesn’t drink. Doesn’t smoke. Real clean, my brother. You should meet him. We are Lakota Sioux. You should come to the show. I’ll introduce you.”

Without stopping, she continues, “I bet you’re wondering why I have this busted lip. Like I said, I’m Lakota Sioux. I was walking home late one night with my groceries a week or so ago when three Chippewa gals jumped me. They were leaving a bar. They’d been drinking.”

“Oh, my. I’m sorry to hear that. Is it healing alright?” I ask, trying not to be overly intrusive.

“Yeah, I had some stitches. They’re out now, but it still looks pretty bad. “Her report is matter-of-fact. “You know the Chippewa don’t like us.”*

I think back to my one history course on Indian treaty rights. Chippewa. Ojibwe. Anishinaabe. My head is swimming with names, given, chosen, preferred, rejected, taken by various First-Nation Peoples of North America. Our conversation has entered uncomfortable, conversational territory—personally, politically and historically—and my knowledge is sketchy. Who names things? How do we name things? From whose perspective do we tell our stories?

I am not sure how to reply appropriately to her report.

“Well,” I pause to take a breath, “you know with so many of ‘us’ out there, I would think that ‘you’—all—would need to stick together. I am sorry that you were hurt so badly.”

The bus pulls up, slowing to a stop. With the familiar expulsion of pressurized air, our conversation comes to a halt. As we stand, my bus-stop companion turns to me, shrugging her shoulders, “Yeah, well, it happens. Come and see my brother’s work. He is real good.”

“Thank you for the invitation.”

*Prior to extensive contact with European traders and settlers on the North American continent, peoples of the Great Sioux Nation were being pushed off of their native lands in what is now the Upper-Midwestern portion of the United States (Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin) by the westward expansion of the Ojibwa. Territorial conflict betweeb the Ojibwa and Sioux intensified after the Ojibwa gained access to European weaponry, resulting in  the Sioux having to relocate permanently.

Going Home

Sitting on a bench under the sun at seven-thousand feet, I wait for the bus scheduled to carry me home. My bus happens to be running late today.

Next to me, on the same bench, a Native-American man is waiting to pick someone up. At some point, he begins asking me questions about who I am, where I live and why I am visiting the American Southwest. In way of explanation, I mention that I have come to visit old friends, dear to me since the time we lived in this region almost ten years ago.

Spirituality
Spirituality

In talking about travelling, the man explains that he has not actually travelled much himself, though he helped to raise funds for his son’s travelling expenses. His son has been as far as Georgia to compete in a national contest as an athlete.

“He had the advantage of training in altitude,” I comment at one point early in our conversation.

Then, the man explains, “I am Hopi. I cannot work for myself. I work for the good of my community.” This explains, in part, why he has not travelled extensively. “I helped raise the funds for my son’s travel. His mother travelled with him.”

The concepts of community service and strength over that of individual wealth and stature are philosophical threads common to both the Hopi and Navajo cultures of this region. Given the historically sometimes brutal and definitely difficult nature of self-preservation, farming and hunting in this region, these precepts make complete sense.

The sun is now at its zenith. I feel my skin growing overly warm, yet I stay in the full sun to soak up its rays and breathe the fresh air of the out-of-doors, anticipating the long bus-ride home.

My bench companion continues, “My home reservation is not far from here. Can you believe two teenagers recently beat up an old man and threw him off the mesa? Meth. It’s terrible. We are having to lock our doors. We never had to lock our doors at night.”

Not sure about what to say, I nod my head in silent sympathy.

His face is full of sorrow. “I told my daughters, ‘Watch your little children. These meth users are not right in the head.'”

Finally, I respond, “Meth is ruining a lot of lives.”

More quietly now, he continues, “I am almost afraid to be there—on the Res. It is safer here in town. Isn’t that sad when you’re afraid to go home?”