When they leave
We’re worst to the ones we love. And even when we know our loved one is ill, that their death is imminent, we still hope, that just maybe they won’t die. Rights of kinship I can see the sunset of your life in your eyes ~
Isaugha and Kunshi knew many things simply by living in a connection with the land. No words had to be exchanged. They just knew that something was going to change.
Now that feeling… that feeling that change was about to enter into Wakinyan’s sense of the world.
He thought about his time he served in the navy. “Petty Officer First Class Gun Case”.
How far off a time that was. He remembered his officer duties of firing off the next missile and how dutiful he was to command. He remembered how he earned the respect of other officers, both Senior And Junior, as he helped to fight off the enemy. How he mourned for the enemy he killed that were unseen.
But mostly he remembered his Ojibway brother that served alongside him. He smiled at the thought of how they built a bond of real brothers as he came to live with him and his Grandparents for many years after they served. His Brother learned many things about ceremony and living with the land from Isaugha. He learned about taking care of himself from Kunshi. He was given the name “Above Them” because he stood in the line of gunfire above the ship deck when the enemy attacked.
One day he said it was time for him to leave and go back to his home in the east. The last image of him walking down the road with his backpack, and wrapped up in his Navy Peacoat, into the fog. That was so many years ago and he never heard from him again. Yet something was different.
He laid in his bed after watching yet another war movie on his satellite tv.
The silence was golden and he listened to his dogs snoring outside his window. They stirred and his senses woke up again just as he was drifting off. In the distance a screech owl started up calling out to her little ones to stick close to her. They we’re always loud at this time of the evening and tonight was no different. Yet it was.
She sang her story once again: Death, the true thief, comes without warning and snatches away those who are important to us.
After all these years he witnessed the passing of many people. Friends, cousins, family. Some of them were peaceful but mostly they were not. Violent passings were always the norm. From alcohol, from drugs, and from the residential school for so many. It was a basket of choice. many chose from that basket. There was plenty choices to choose from. Many hearts beating together but not together.
The shadows grew long before his eyes. They all had dreams. Dreams of hope, dreams of greatness, of humbleness but mostly of loneliness. It’s funny that’s the dreams of dying were the most enjoyable. He listened carefully to the sounds of the families left behind and the suddenness of how the days turned into long nights. Gone. That familiar face going nowhere. He always went to passings and sang songs for the families.
He went back to his chores and kept himself busy much the same way Isaugha and Kunshi did.
“PETTY OFFICER 1ST CLASS GUNCASE!!!!” Came the booming voice from the turn of his driveway.He smiled to himself but didn’t turn around. His brother had come back. After all the years his older brother had come ………. “Home”……….
“BEAT TO QUARTERS AND BALLS TO THE WALL” is what Wakinyan Duuta yelled back. He stood up and turned around to see a much older man but the smile, yes the smile was unmistakeable.
They embraced each other and the memories poured back in an instant. Let’s go have some tea and smoke. Without saying anything more they went to their tasks. Wakinyan went in to make tea while his brother started to make the campfire. Everything was familiar again.
They picked up right where they left off in conversation. Kunshi and Isaugha had left over 30 years ago and they both laughed at the funny stories they heard from them. The years disappeared and they were once the young men who rode their war ponies off the clouds of warm summer winds like skipping stones on a pond of endless prairie.
Fireflies helped to light the night with the moon rising off the Eastern horizon where “Above Him” came from. That are small but have the power to shine and soon they mixed with the rising sparks to disappear into the growing night.
“Walks Above” told story after story of his life.
He related how he went home to help guide young men and Warriors find their tomorrow’s. Even as their tears filled their empty spaces of missing family, history and language. He made their thirst strong with the enthusiasm of children waiting for the day of happy Birthdays where they didn’t have to drown their sorrows of worn out places.
He met a woman who already had family and he took them as his own. He had the boys go through rights of passage and they became good men who went on to find their own paths. They chose not to have family until they were steady in the world.
He worked in the prisons and introduced ceremony to the brothers who were incarcerated and would be there for the rest of their lives. He said that they were still humans and they have a life still that has to have meaning even if they were going nowhere. It was kinda funny though because they became children who would sit and listen for a few hours.Hello teacher. Tell me what’s the lesson today as they looked right through him. They would soon become prisoners of their minds once again when the guards came to put them back in their cells. Back to familiar faces.
For years he travelled across the land meeting with other Human Beings and learning from their ceremonies and their medicines. Each time he would pass on what he learned to them. The strength of their fires gave him the ability to go learn more from what he didn’t know. His universe got bigger and he felt smaller and in turn learned about the feeling of being free. He said he learned that resistance, simply to resist change, is called suffering. If were suffering how can we find freedom?
Wakinyan thought deeply about that as they continued to talk about the visions he held to himself. The sky filled with flash lightning all around them. The thunderbirds opened their eyes to say that they were there but not a sound was heard.There was no need for that. But the earth responded by the sweet scent of buffalo grass embracing the two brothers in the warm wind.
He said that learning how to recover when life breaks you up is a skill that few have. Everyone acknowledges and lives with their sadness. ….but…. most people drown in it.
He said he met a Vietnam Soldier Boy living with PTSD who taught him this.
“Remember when this happened to us?”
Wakinyan nodded at this and started to drift away to those times as the fire enveloped him and took him away. “Walks Above” just looked at him and let him float away.
…..Suddenly…… He was back in the weapons command centre.
Silence… “Toggle on!…” “…Toggle on!” “Toggle off!…” “…Toggle off!”
That phrase repeated in his mind over and over again…
His mind heard once again the “Father to Son”. His uncle would sing that to him all the time. You are a brave young boy and we wish you a safe return. “
My hands have blood on them” Wakinyan spoke out aloud to no one. “I took the life of the enemy because I was told to”. “I was just doing what was asked of me” as he started to cry.
Wakinyan could only cry. He hadn’t cried in years. He thought he dealt with the Trauma but he knew that this had to happen. Falling back to reality as the thunder told him it is time to sit with his brother now.
He opened his eyes to see “Walks Above” sitting across from him laying back in his chair counting stars and looking longingly to Pleiades.
Knowing we’re going to die…. that is the cause of our suffering.
Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation.
Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okay-ness.
When we resist change, it’s called suffering.
But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it – when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality – that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.
“Walks Above” used big words and thoughts. He is really smart Wakinyan thought to himself.
Over the next couple of weeks they worked together on the ranch. Feeding cattle, breaking new horses, and riding everywhere.
They would get the sweat going and people would show up and laughter was in abundance. It was a chance to be family.
Some cried about their losses. The loss of their long hair, language, family, jobs.
They spoke longingly of missed chances at love.
The songs being sung brought comfort and “Walks Above” gave soothing words and hope to replace the tears and sorrow. It was the laughter that made everything be alright.
The Kinship brought memories of good times back to their hearts and that would be enough for that evening.
Wakinyan told him a story about a house that they say was haunted by a young boy.
“I was asked to go there with a few people and see if that was true”
They had all sorts of instruments that showed when spirit is around. Those things started to light up pretty quick right in front of us. It was like sparks from the fire at the Sundance.
They asked me to bring some smudge with me and I did. I lit it up and the lights were really jumping all over the place. I thought I should tell him one of the stories Kunshi and Isaugha use to tell us and sure enough the list settled down into a steady rhythm. Like a heart beat.
But I knew this little boy was lonely. He seemed to be Chinese or something and I found out that the original people who built the house had Chinese servants so this one must have been one of their children.
We rested till the next night when I went in again to the house. This time I took my hand drum in as well.
Children floated around wanting to play and be happy. I don’t know where they came from but they were there. Maybe they were from the residential school down the road a ways or from that old Indian hospital they built a university over. I don’t know.
Whatever it was the spirits there were anxious to be around and they all hovered around the smudge. They would come up close to it and put their faces over it and the jump away with laughter. It was their game and they invited that shy Chinese boy to join them.
Pretty soon he was right there with them.
“Ok young ones”….
Line up in a line over here I told them. “I’m going to sing you a song”
They were all giggles but they did it enthusiastically and teased each other.
The style of clothes were from long ago and not so long ago but they were all there.
“ I have grandsons myself,” I told them. “All of a sudden I became Isaugha to many.”
“All of you here are actually older than me but I was lucky to grow to become an older man so I am going to remind you of times from long ago and that the songs and ceremonies are still surviving but it is still a struggle to keep them alive.”
I started to sing songs. Songs of Sundance, songs of the Red Road, The piercing of our skin to tie to the centre pole. Songs of brother and sisterhood. Songs for the people. Songs for hope.
They all danced in time with the drum. You could see it with the lights lighting up in time with the drum.
After a bit I told them it was time for me to leave. “I am going to leave the smudge here for you but when it dies out I want you to leave and go “home” as well”.
I left the building but the other people stayed and watched the lights and smudge slowly dim down and finally die out.
A family of owls showed up in the high cedar branches above and started singing their songs. They were calling out the children.
“Come with us now…. We will guide you home… we will sing you these songs and you can follow us.”
They sang and flew away.
The children followed and so did the little boy who was stuck there all these years.
The air was filled with calmness and fear was replaced with love.
After he told that story “Walks Above” smiled at his brother. No words needed to be said just the warmth of the summer night, fireflies and the delicate sound of thunder off the mountains to the west.