My Mustard Seed

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If you had bumped into me seventeen years ago you would have met a deeply depressed person. I was sick and tired of existing and I wanted off this rock. My level of despair was paralyzing. So what to do when you feel washed up at twenty-four? For me the answer was…a hypnotherapy class?

I remember walking into the classroom (a remodeled second story room over the garage) and wondering why in the hell I was bothering. My PTSD was so bad at this point that my anxiety came over me in waives, crushing me with panic attacks so severe that I often felt as if I was dyeing moment by moment.

Hypnotherapy class was…different. I met neat people, I learned about meditation, trance work and how easily humans are lead through the power of suggestion. (We are predictably irrational creatures) I also learned what manipulation looked like and how to identify it instantly. I heard other stories of suffering and felt my heart open little by little to the reality that suffering is universal.

Until then I’d believed that the people I’d met throughout my life were all living “normal,” “productive” lives. I’d honestly thought that “normal” was the universal experience. I had bought into the assertion that I was not a “normal” girl because life felt scary 24/7 and that made me a freak. I believed I was the “late bloomer”, the “overly sensitive homebody” who would never “get a life.” I believed what I’d been told and my belief in my total “failure to thrive” only seemed to confirm my future as an insane baglady   and underpass occupant. Confused, sad, and desperate, I went to our teacher and requested a private therapy session.

At the beginning of the session I prepared myself for a hoax, a well woven fraud. Even though I’d paid for the class and the session, I still did not believe in all this hypnotherapy crap. I wanted to desperately, but I was too jaded for hope, too angry and rebellious for faith.

The trance part was easy. Count down from 25, (I could do that). Imagine yourself in a garden (easily done). Now ask your spirit guide for guidance, (Hellooo…?) No one came. I stood in my idyllic garden, adrift in a silence where no one answered my call.

“So what’s coming up for you?” My teacher asked as I lay there looking over fields of poppies and tulips.

“I’m alone,” I whispered dolefully, “utterly…alone.”

“What message is your body sending you?”

“Pain,” I said, “the usual heavy cold pain.”

“Go into it,” she said.

In the next half hour, I wandered through every dark memory, every lonely moment of my life, every section of violence, stupidity and pain I’d ever experienced until I was so drained I couldn’t feel anxious, fearful, or depressed. I felt empty, abandoned and for the first time in my life I felt enraged by the injustice of existence.

“Now stand in your garden and ask for guidance,” my teacher said. I stood amongst my flowers, glared at the soft sunlight and asked, “Why all this suffering? Why all the pain? Why can’t we all be happy?”

Light comes in many levels of brightness. The light that answered me that day was warm, it was loving, it was everywhere all at once. It offered peace and (for me… maybe not for you) it took the shape of Jesus.

I was raised a sort of Christian. As a baby I was christened in the Mormon temple, as a girl I went to Unity with my parents and as a teenager I went to every church I could, sampling religion like chocolates from a box. At eighteen I was a Buddhist, at twenty an agnostic, at twenty-four I was lost.

Nothing prepared me for the presence of the one man I had never wholly given credence too. Nothing prepared me for the love and comfort he offered or the words he spoke, “What you see as suffering, is in fact a lesson. There is only love.” I felt my rage melt away. I thought of the suffering of Job and understood, really understood how God never left him, how he never left me, and how he is here for all of us. I understood that we are here to reach for the light even when we are surrounded by darkness. I understood that God is our mustard seed; even when we think his love has slipped through our fingers, it’s still there holding us close.

I’m not going to thump you with a bible. I don’t believe I’m right and you’re wrong. I believe in unconditional love, in compassion, in answered prayers no matter what language they are spoken in or to which God they are uttered. I have learned to welcome this world of experience. I accept my own life lessons knowing that some lessons come as soft as angel wings while others cut our throats while refusing to let us die.

So be brave in existence. Be true to your soul’s purpose. Savor your life. Be quick to find the lesson within the experience.  No matter the pain you may be in or how dramatically violent the world around you seems, in the end we are all learning, we are seeking to understand the lesson in the experience, and we are all cradled in loving hands which will never let us fall. We are all the children of a loving creator who is as eager to expand our souls through experience as he is to welcome us home when the lesson comes to a close.

 

Star Catching by Moonlight

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Beauty

Miss Rose lived in a white clapboard house set in a rambling garden where Tabby-Ginger hunted each day. Roses grew in tumbling hedges along her borders, guarding the gate of her frail white picket fence like thorned harpies, their long claws and green hair crowned with red petals. Of all the souls who visited there, Tabby-Ginger was more frequent, not because he was best liked or made welcome, but because he enjoyed the shade of her well established hedge. Whenever Miss Rose saw his ginger tail drift out into the sunlit furrow between the lawn and the hedge, she threw rocks. Miss Rose disapproved of interlopers in her garden; even girl scouts, neighbors and relatives were unwelcome. As for Tabby-Ginger, he did not mind her rocks. They mostly missed, so he mostly came to sleep away the day.

Miss Rose led a solitary life, a life without children, dogs or friends which suited Tabby-Ginger very well. He too enjoyed solitude, doing what he could to avoid worldly chaos. The cat and the old lady were a well matched pair, both unsocial, cantankerous and always opinionated on the subject of what was and was not proper. And so it was a strange thing to be woken one night by the sound of Miss Rose’s bare feet crunching through the browning summer grass, her body swaying in her pioneer night gown, its long lace edged sleeves and ankle length hem glowing with moonlight. It was a strange thing indeed to see the solidly rational old woman twisting and turning, eyes closed, hands outstretched, cupping for starlight just as a beggar cups his hands for much needed bread.

Rising to a sitting position, Tabby-Ginger shook out his dusty sun burnt fur, washed his front paws, and watched the distressing spectacle unfold. It would be wise to move to another garden with a different hedge, he thought. After all, one needs a respectable yard, free of commotion, in which to sleep. And yet unseemly as it all was, he remained transfixed by Miss Rose’s flowering madness. Never in her stone throwing sanity had she been so fascinating; unhinged, she was almost…yet being but a cat, the word escaped him. Miss Rose lifted her hands to the sky, her fingers plucking starlight from the air. Her silver hair, so long it ran in a river down her back, was lit with the light of a million galaxies that gleamed in the silver of each strand. In that moment Tabby-Ginger found the word he felt running through him. He understood the feeling and its meaning. It lived in the iridescent blues of torn butterfly wings, in the jewel-like-faceted eyes of a half killed dragonfly. Miss Rose was…beautiful. The cat remained mesmerized as the full consciousness of beauty swept through his feline soul. And yet even in the midst of his awakening a baser part of his brain asked, whatever will the neighbors think?

Tabby Ginger watched star-beams (those rarely seen silvered celestial fingers of light) kiss her hair, fill her cupped palms, and creep down her moon-bright arms to gather like an immaculate heart at her breast. Miss Rose drooped under her brilliant burden, her arms too filled with light sought, light caught, light held to stand the burden: her swaying soon became so unbalanced by the weight of her catch that she fell slowly, softly to the grass. Concerned, Tabby-Ginger walked towards her on callused old paws that made no sound. He needed to sit with her, to understand the magic that made his heart lift and then collapse under the weight of its magnificence. So he rested in vigil over the woman who threw stones and tended roses while he remembered.

Miss Lilac

He’d not always been a skulking no-man’s-cat. Once, he’d had a home and a garden all his own. It was filled with lilies and iris, daffodils and forget-me-nots. There were fewer thorns in those long ago days when he’d been sought after, searched out, and chosen from the box. A dozen brothers and sisters had mewed and bounced, hissed and swatted around him and yet from among the frolicking rabble Miss Lilac had chosen him. He never knew Miss Lilac’s Christian name. The Sunday cake lady called her Mrs. Joseph this and Mrs. Joseph that but Joseph wasn’t soft or feminine so he called her by the scent she loved best. Like Miss Rose, Miss Lilac was old and solitary and tended flowers. From her flowers she made perfumes to sell. For herself she made lilac. The scent of spring proceeded her through the darkest months, the snow months, the cold months when Tabby-Ginger’s coat grew thick and daylight hardly shown. Miss Lilac was an elder, an old one, a silvered lady so ancient in her methods that she could make lace even in her blindness, her needled fingers twisting the long white threads into patterns as intricate and gossamer as any spider’s web. This was her magic, her body swaying-star catching-magic, done with needles that spun whole worlds out of thread.

A cloud crossed the moon pulling Tabby-Ginger from his thoughts. In the sudden darkness Miss Rose glowed brighter, her starlight pooling across her chest. Is there beauty in every human being? Tabby-Ginger wondered, still struck by the woman before him. A young cat would run; a timid cat would hide. He thought. Only a mad old cat like me would stay to watch.

God Cake and Lace Magic

In the long ago years when he was fresh and new to this world, Tabby-Ginger knew a woman who arrived at Miss Lilac’s home each Sunday bringing God cake (that baked good made especially for those who forgot to go to church) and thread, (spun from the cradle of murdered caterpillars dropped before wings could spread into boiling water.) The God cake was set by without ceremony, but the thread was caressed and celebrated, gone over and described in such detail that even Miss Lilac could see its color through the touch of her fingers. The thread was so soft that it was the only thing Tabby-Ginger wanted to sleep on. But sleeping on it made Miss Lilac angry so Tabby-Ginger slept on her instead. During the day he would hunt through the flower garden, sleep under the full shade of the lilac, or wander into the house to beg milk. Miss Lilac had little but she always had milk enough to fill a saucer. Then, finding his place on a pile of scavenged magazines in the kindling box, he would watch Miss Lilac weave webs of caterpillar thread into table clothes, lady’s lace collars, and bedspreads sparkling with stars as big as a grown man’s hand. It was magic, Miss Lilac magic, but Tabby-Ginger didn’t know that then.

Looking down now on Miss Rose, he could see beauty’s hand decorating his life in hindsight. There had always been a beauty in his existence, yet before this night he’d never been aware enough to see it. Now, awake to her presence, Beauty spread her colorful palette across the remembered canvas of his life. He recalled the beauty in his mother’s whiskers, the sparkle of her large green eyes, the pink glittering touch of her loving tongue. He saw the beauty in Miss Lilac, in the twist of silver hair held high with pins to the top of her head. There was beauty in a warming fire, in sunlight poured through lace curtains, in intricate shadows cast across hand hewn wood floors, and in milk set out in a chipped china saucer. That was such a long ago time, he thought feeling his heart grow heavy. For where beauty’s power can lift a soul to exaltation, it will-in that same moment-weigh the heart with its absence. Every memory that formed in the old cat’s mind was transformed, made majestic, beautiful, before fading into the bittersweet emptiness of loss. What is this feeling? Tabby-Ginger breathed a sigh, his heart so heavy it was want to break. Before him Miss Rose lay unmoving, as still as death.

Going to the Gone

Miss Lilac died in the winter. Having outlived her husband and all her twelve children, she had no one to light a fire or keep her warm. It was a kind death, a falling to sleep and never rising death, a good mother’s death…still…the silence of it…the loneliness…had been terrible. Tabby-Ginger did what he could to warm her, fluffing out his coat, bushing out his tail, spreading his body over hers but he was only one cat, and being one cat his efforts were not enough. And so she passed away while he tried to warm here. What have you found in the secret place? He needed to know. Will I go with you? But Miss Lilac was no more than a husk wrapped in a worn counterpane and could not tell him.

Tabby-Ginger knew many things. He listened and he watched and he read the world as easily as the katydid read the weather. For a katydid knows more of sheet lightning, more of the long thirst called drought than the newspaper man could ever guess at. Tabby-Giger knew Miss Lilac had left for the place called gone; he knew this in the same way he knew the lady who delivered Sunday God Cake bought the lacework for less than its value. Tabby-Ginger knew this because he slept on books and magazines, newspapers and letters. Being a cat, he liked to be where humans were, to know what humans knew, and he knew that he’d seen lace stars the size of a grown man’s hands pictured on the paper. He understood what the blind woman could not see. And he understood that death, no matter how it came, was final.

But what comes after the last breath, after the stillness? Is death a beginning or an end? The questions persisted, but the answer eluded him. Every cat knows the well crunched vole never stirs but how can that rule apply to humans? Miss Lilac had not stirred, had gone to the gone, leaving him a no-man’s-cat which never felt right.

With Miss Lilac, he’d known comfort, kindness, and home. Without her everything had changed. A no-man’s-cat is friendless, homeless and hungry. His fur loses its luster and the cold of the homeless is so terrible that some winters it seemed wiser to give up than to go on hunting, seeking and surviving. Remembering the cold of winter made his coat bristle, is whiskers twitch. How many more winters could he survive? The question frightened him. Maybe that was why he watched over Miss Rose, counted her shallow breaths, and checked for the signs of stillness that led to the stillness that does not pass.

The Way Home

The last of the day’s heat drifted from the earth while the starlight chilled the garden with an otherworldly cold. Miss Rose lay in the grass; the starlight fading from her to light the walkway, silver the lawn, and frost the flowers. It touched the earth with its monochromatic tones, leaving the pale bloomless world looking hollowed and shrunken. Moment by moment Miss rose did not stir. Has she gone to the gone? Tabby-Ginger worried, rising to his feet to pace before her. She is still…too still… With a sudden panic Tabby-Ginger called her name, his deep feline voice breaking up the silence. “Meee…Rowwww…” He rubbed his nose against her nose and batted her chin with his paw. Though he was not hers and she was not his they had shared the beauty of the garden…the sparkle of spring dew on new buds…the light breath of a butterfly’s wing stirring the scented summer air. Besides, hadn’t she thrown rocks, and hadn’t he dutifully run?

No she cannot have gone to the gone, he thought, jumping onto her chest. Gently he caressed her with Eskimo kisses, nose to nose, whisker to cheek. Then, fluffing out his fur, and bushing out his tail, he warmed her with his ragged self and purred life back into her. When the stray cloud uncovered the moon, then cat and woman were fused in one pool of chillingly bright light.

“Mee…roww…” Tabby-Ginger called. “Mee…roww…” he called again, his broken teeth nipping at her chin. Then a movement, a breath indrawn, stronger than the last. Do not go the gone… Tabby-Ginger cried. Miss Rose opened her eyes.

Tabby-Ginger watched wonder and confusion dawn and fade to loss and sadness. Had the starlight been a dream dreamt on sleepwalking feet? Tabby-Ginger saw the question in her eyes and knew the magic of the night was fading in her memory. Humans, ever rational, demote magic through uncertainty; all the worlds wonder cast away in their ceaseless search for reason. Still, an indisputable knowing passed between cat and woman as holding him to her chest she sat up.

Peace

One surveyed the other with the respectful gaze of enemies made acquiescent by proximity. Without words each knew that their stalwart, well organized souls, were bound by the inexplicable events of the night. Miss Rose understood the sparkle of care in the old cat’s eyes and the cat saw the loneliness and confusion that shimmered in the woman’s pale blue gaze. Their memory of gathered starlight, whether dreamed up illusion, or miraculously reality, bound them.

When Miss Rose straightened her gown and rose from the lawn, Tabby-Ginger proceeded her in the same way he’d once proceeded Miss Lilac toward the house and up onto the porch; settling himself with proprietary ownership at the door. Miss Rose stared at Tabby-Ginger, her expression questioning whether her house needed a cat. But after the momentary hesitation she allowed him to enter.

For Tabby-Ginger, this was no small victory. This was a gain in earth, a movement of the ginger cat’s Maginot’s Line, his domain repositioned from the distant hedge and sunlit rose beds to the warmth of a homey house where no rain or snow could ever find him. Entering the kitchen, Tabby-Ginger spotted a pile of newspapers in the kindling box near the cook stove. Making himself a bed, he let his eyes close with feline contentment and purred the soft purr of the well housed cat. This is right. This is good. He thought. I will make this house my home.

Comfort led to sleep, and sleep led to dreams in which Miss Lilac spun a world, his world out of thread; her silvered lacework spread out from the place called gone to where he lay, luring him with its soft comforting warmth all silky, smooth, and inviting. The dream called his old bones to home, while his gentle knowing answered, soon…soon…I will rest with you soon. But the dream was broken by light footsteps and the sight of Miss Rose holding a saucer of milk.

It is forbidden to despair

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This is a reblog of Anita Diamant‘s beautiful peace.

July 11, 2016 by Anita Diamant

“It is forbidden to despair,” said Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a 19th century Hasidic teacher who suffered from depression. I imagine him pounding his fist on a table in a dimly lit room, shouting those words to his demons.

Fifty years ago, TV screens flickered with images of policemen unleashing dogs on peaceful civil rights leaders and demonstrators, who were also brutalized, imprisoned and murdered. Forty years ago, Black Power movement leaders posed with guns and spoke of self-defense; white America panicked and had the “justice system” systematically and brutally get rid of them.

People said:
“What is this country coming to?”
“Why can’t we just be civil?”
“There will always be prejudice.”

Then the boys burned their draft cards to protest an unjust war, the girls refused to sit down and let them men take care of (mess up) things, the gays refused to climb into the back of a police van.

People said:
“There is no respect for anything anymore.”
“Our children are lost.”
That chaos turned the world upside down and a lot of things got better. Not easier, but better.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to jail, his home was bombed and his family was targeted. But he never stopped preaching about his dream. He could not afford despair, which is the thing that paralyzes hope, imprisons the soul, and does not set anyone free.

I am not going kumbaya. I am not naïve. The day after the Dallas shootings, I watched the governor of Texas talk about Texas exceptionalism, its way of life and its values (open carry, anyone?). He waved the state flag and told Dallas, “We’ll get past this.” As if “this” was a hurricane or a flood, for which there is no explanation. As if you could just clean up the blood and pretend not to know that the cause of that unnatural disaster was the wages of despair taken to a toxic extreme.

People say:
“If they keep on killing us, why not kill and be killed for a cause?”
“The NRA will never be defeated.”
There are no “two sides” to this story. Despair can be given no ground.

Listen to the voices of black women and black men telling the truth of their lives on every possible stage — virtual, viral, and face-to-face. Writing, blogging and reporting with passion and intelligence, anger and resolve, black men and black women are also making music and poetry that howls with pain and calls out injustice. White allies (we are legion) are with them, aching, marching and speaking out. We will not stand down, either.

“It is forbidden to despair” are fighting words.

If I were to get a tattoo (and that’s never gonna happen) I would make the message visible, so I would have to explain why despair is the great enemy that must be resisted at every turn.

It is forbidden to sit in the dark, to cluck your tongue and shake your head and say, woe is me.

After every setback and loss, Dr. King rose up. And as he predicted, even after they murdered him (with a gun), the dream did not die. Justice, justice we shall pursue.

Think of Rabbi Nachman, shouting at his demons, “I am forbidden to despair.”

Hope is a muscle. Optimism is a muscle. We’d better get in shape because we have a lot to do and long way to go.

Anita Diamant

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Thunder Dog’s Last Ghost Dance

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Thunder Dog—mad man of the Blue Mesa—had not been seen in seven days. When on the morning after the eighth night he stumbled into town, the people of Pueblo Blue took notice. Dragging a buffalo hide behind him he sent red dust rising, the trailing pelt masking his foot prints with the tracks of its wide sweeping folds. As he walked towards the village well, Thunder Dog sucked his empty gums, his blind eyes fixed on the cloudless sky. His feet alone felt for the worn path to water. Thunder Dog had been born in the rainy season in the year of the bad snow but he could no longer put a date to the event and thus had lost his age. With his tangled silver braids hanging down his bony sides, his age, some thought, could lay anywhere between 70 and 100 years.

Thunder Dog was half man, half ghost: the only undeniable evidence of his continued existence was his strong voice and distinctive scent. When he spoke the people of the mesa listened, and when the wind caught his tall thin form it lofted the scent of long ago camp fires, crushed sage, and faraway grasslands. He wore a red Hopi shirt, a gift from the village, and an ancient pair of buckskin breaches with the symbols of his tribe stitched into the legs. His feet were bare and callused to the thickness of a hoof. Besides his tattered appearance and fragrant scent, Thunder Dog had a gift: he was a story teller. The moment he had quenched his thirst at the village well he lifted his hands for peace, his voice calling out to anyone who would listen.

“I am a Human Being come from across the world and I have seen many strange and terrible things,” he began, stepping backward onto his old buffalo hide like an itinerant preacher stepping onto his soapbox. “I am Thunder Dog, called Many Horses in the Sioux Nation, and I have fought the devils in many lands.” He paused here in respect to his declaration. Little feet came to listen. Thunder Dog folded his long legs beneath himself and sat upon the hide. “I was born in the year of the great snow. I saw Conquering Bear fall, I fought Custer at Little Big Horn, I learned the Ghost Dance from Kicking Bear and Short Bull, and saw the killing at Wounded Knee. I knew the land when the Buffalo were many.”

By now Thunder Dog could hear the movement of children sneaking close to touch the buffalo hide. Such a huge brown beast had not been seen near the high plateaus in many decades. Thunder Dog felt the shadow of a form pass between himself and the sun and raised his hands again to speak.

“In the times before evil we ate the buffalo, we made our clothes from the buffalo and we covered our teepees with their thick hides. What is a teepee you will ask? It is not a pueblo made of mud and planted like a tree upon the earth. No, it is a moveable home of hide and pine that smells of sweet grass, earth, and the scent of roasting buffalo meat. That was how we lived then. The teepee and the grass lands were our home.” Thunder Dog looked again in the direction of the sky and was quiet. He felt a tug on his braid, heard a giggle, but said nothing.

Behind shuttered windows women passed shuttles through looms, ground maize to meal, and poured water from jar to pot as they listened. Whether they listened out of interest or respect did not matter. What mattered was that the stories were told, that his people were remembered. Another child pulled his braid.

“You have lived here for all my life Sioux Uncle. Why don’t you cut your hair like a Hopi man?” The child asked, coming to sit beside him. Thunder Dog raised his hands for peace and answered only when the giggling stopped.

“How would Wakan Tanka know me as a Human Being cast as I am among Corn Mother’s people? How would he hear my words? How would he hear my prayers? If I forget myself I will forget my people. If I let their stories die, they die with me.”

“Sioux Nation is still strong in the north, Uncle. You should go home maybe?” A boy shouldered his hoe and walked towards the maize field.

“My village is dead,” Thunder Dog called after him, “and I will die among strangers. Believe me, I am the last Sioux of the Piney Wood and I will tell you my stories.”

Thunder Dog’s stories grew and changed like the seasons. Sometimes his friends were ambushed by monsters, sometimes they fought in the open like braves. Sometimes they fought Custer, and sometimes they fell at Wounded Knee. Either way the children listened, grew quiet, and saw what the blind man had seen.

“How did an old Sioux warrior come to live on the pueblo?” Father Francis of the Church of the Immaculate Heart asked, his eyes fixed on the old man. The young priest had come to buy blankets to sell in the mission shop but was more interested in the old man’s talk.

“Some kind of mix up at the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Mildred Corn Daughter told him, folding a blanket as she spoke. “Bad papers can get an Indian in a lot of trouble.” The priest only nodded.

The people of Pueblo Blue had accepted the old Sioux with his bad papers but his shifting stories of war, monsters and devils were far harder to accept. For one thing he could not be old enough to remember the first battle of the Sioux Wars. So they made up their own stories of how Thunder Dog had come to be among them. Some told tales of how he was prospecting for gold in the Superstition Mountains when he was caught off his rez. Others said he was a scout left for dead in the desert by a band of robbers. One man claimed he was a runaway rebel chief hiding from government agents. Whatever he was, he was stuck in Arizona. The pueblo was small and poor but they had enough food for an old mouth. Besides, the villagers were grateful to Thunder Dog, for his roving blind eyes and wild hair kept the Spanish and the government men away. As the tallest and loudest madman on the pueblo, Thunder Dog had a reputation in the other villages for a dark kind of magic that only the truly mad can know. Because he was feared, no sheep or burro were stolen by Navajo and there was peace among neighbors.

The priest continued to watch Thunder Dog with interest. He’d been warned to watch out for the crazed Sioux, but being Catholic he had a vested interest in devils. “Thunder Dog’s mind is a mess of spider webs. Follow one thread and you’ll find a thousand others, all wandering, lost, wandering like his stories,” Mildred Corn Daughter added, bringing a new pile of blankets to the table. The priest nodded, but asked no more.

In the red dirt of the village center Thunder Dog sat, his face turned to the sun, his mind at ease. He had told the story of his brother’s death in the Mormon Cow War. No one would forget that story and so his brother’s memory would live on. Thunder Dog ran his fingers rhythmically over the thinning fleece of the buffalo hide. Here and there a shadow passed across his skin, stopping the sun’s warmth for only a moment. When one shadow lingered long, Thunder Dog raised his hands, smelling a bowl of rabbit, beans, and corn meal.

“Eat, Uncle,” Maria Walks Far said. Her shadow, broad and womanly, cast a coolness Thunder Dog could not mistake.

“You are like Yellow Feather, my last wife: generous, thoughtful and round as a summer woman.” He reached out a hand towards her but caught only the breeze from the hem of her skirt.

“I thought your wife was called Annie Red Moon,” A boy asked, rolling a small stone through a pattern cut into the dirt. Thunder Dog shook his head and frowned. Setting his bowl in his lap he raised his hands for silence though only the boy remained in attendance.

“Annie Red Moon was my first wife. She was lean like a hard winter but bore many sons. Annie Red Moon was a gift wife from a northern tribe. She could cut down a hundred lodge pole pines, raise a village of teepees and bear two sons all between sunrise and sunset. And though she ate and ate she never grew fat like Yellow Feather. No, never has such a woman walked the earth before or since.” Thunder Dog shook his head, his matted braids swinging into his bowl. His old hands rose again, this time to cover his face. “I see them as they were. Though they are no more than dust now, they live on in here.” Thunder Dog struck his bony chest, the force of the blow making a hollow thumping sound. “But who will remember?”

“I will remember.” The boy struck his chest as Thunder Dog had. “I will remember their names.” Thunder Dog nodded his thanks, memorizing the soft pitch of the boy’s voice, the sweet scent of youth rising up around him.

When Thunder Dog raised his bowl again it was spiced with the peppery flavor of black ants. Thunder Dog smiled to himself. The boy would remember and the others as well. Yellow Feather and Annie Red Moon would live on in their memories, be woven into their stories, and would not die the second death of the forgotten.

The wind shifted as the day grew cool with coming night. Father Francis loaded the last of the blankets onto his mule, glancing occasionally at the Sioux. Thunder Dog lifted his eyes and stared blindly at him. The scent on the breeze troubled Thunder Dog. It wasn’t of corn or sweat or dust, but of a sweet smoke, more rich with oil than a desert flower. When the scent became a shadow, Thunder Dog reached for his knife.

“What are you?” he asked the shadow who came to sit on a low adobe wall beside him.

“Don’t you know me?” The shadow asked in Father Francis’s voice. “I come here to buy blankets.”

“What is that scent?” Thunder dog pointed at the shadow. It laughed.

“Incense I suppose. But never mind that. I heard you say you have fought many devils! Tell me, are your devils red and scaled or do they wear white skin and uniforms?”
Thunder Dog did not relax his grip on the knife. Though he’d lost his blade in the great surrender he felt the shadow of the weapon where it hung heavily at his side.

“I have no story for the likes of you. You are not a Human Being.”

“But I am as much a human being as you are.”

“Then you are half ghost. My stories are for the living.”

“How did you come to live among the Hopi?” The priest persisted. Thunder Dog rose to his feet, towering over the incense scented shadow. He drew his great knife and held it out before him. In his mind’s eye he saw late summer sun glint off the blade.

“I have spoken white man. Be warned.”

The priest laughed at Thunder Dog, his rolling laughter echoing off the pueblo into the distant canyons. “Your hand is as empty as your stories, old man,” the priest said. “You have fought no devils.”

Long after the priest had gone and the sun had set Thunder Dog remained in the village center. He listened as windows were covered, fires crackled, and people spoke in hushed tones, yet he did not seek shelter. In the seven days spent in the desert, Thunder Dog had eaten very little. He’d walked night and day praying for a vision that would help all Human Beings. The vision Wakan Tanka sent was of Grey Fox crying in a lightning storm. Grey Fox was wise. He was a messenger sent from Wakan Tanka and yet Thunder Dog felt his faith slip. Was he still a Human Being? Did Wakan Tanka hear his prayers? Had he dreamed up Grey Fox in his madness or had he really had a vision? A deep well of grief overtook him. He had fought so many battles, protected so many villages, and yet the white men still came, still took, only now they also laughed. Thunder Dog felt his age hanging on his bones, the cold chill of the night stealing into his chest, rattling his soul. I have lived so long and come so far but for what? Raising his blind eyes starward he prayed again for a way to help all Human Beings find peace.

Short Bull and Kicking Bear had brought the Ghost Dance to the Lakota Sioux in the belief that it would cover the white people with earth, raising the Human Beings high above the world. Lost brothers and sisters from all tribes would live again and the buffalo would return to the plains. Thunder Dog, once called Many Horses, had danced the Ghost Dance. He’d prayed to Wakan Tanka for the unity of all Human Beings but the white man still came and the tribes were divided.

Thunder Dog rose stiffly from his buffalo hide. He shook the dust from its well-worn folds and swung it over his shoulders. Lifting his hands palm up, he prayed to Wakan Tanka for answers. A slow shivering chill ran up his legs, numbing his connection with Maja Earth Mother. I need more time to understand, he prayed, stomping his feet to restore feeling. In his heart he heard the battle song of Crazy Horse rise until it was a whisper on his lips. Wakan Tanka, the great mystery is unfathomable, unknowable; who am I to question my vision? And yet doubt remained. Slowly and with great respect he let the song rise from his lips into a chant, the words moving his feet into a rhythmic dance.

As his voice grew, Pueblo Blue listened. Doors opened and the people watched the lone dancer singing in his native tongue. One man got his drum, another his flute. Thunder Dog, once called Many Horses, was dancing and his voice called to them all. They came with masks and with rattles, ankle bells, trumpets, and rasps. They danced and sang with Sioux Uncle late into the night.

When Thunder Dog’s legs could no longer hold him, when his hands could no longer grasp the buffalo hide he wore across his shoulders, the old Sioux leaned against the adobe wall of Pueblo Blue, and listened to Corn Mother’s people. They chanted Crazy Horse’s song even though they did not know the language. They did it for Thunder Dog, for his lost people, and because no Human Being should dance alone. As they danced the air grew thick with clouds. When the first rain drops fell Corn Mother’s children rejoiced with loud cries of gratitude, for the summer had been long and dry. The dancing grew wilder, more energetic, more filled with life. In the rumble of the coming storm, Thunder Dog heard a young brave call out in the voice of Grey Fox, screeching the, “HOWWW. . . HOWWW. . . HOWWW,” of the silver dog. Thunder Dog raised his hands to Wakan Tanka in gratitude as rain drops, like salty tears, washed down his face.

“I have seen the vision, Wakan Tanka. Grey Fox leads me into the storm. I will follow him. I will not die among strangers. Here, all my story will be told.” Thunder Dog pulled the buffalo hide closer around his shoulders, and with the last of his fading strength he rejoined the dance.

The University of Washington Anthology

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I’m very proud to tell you that my short story, Thunder Dog’s Last Ghost Dance, is included in this years University of Washington anthology. Sadly, it is the last year the University will be sponsoring the anthology. Hopefully they’ll reconsider. The cover art is by my good friend, the fabulous Seattle artist Urban Soule. You can find her at Urbansoule.com. She kindly allowed us to use this painting for the cover free of charge. Click here to purchase a copy for only $3.55. Maybe if we sell enough books they will continue to support the anthology.

Blessings to you all,

E E Orme

When Henry Beeped

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Henry BEEPED, the digital sound echoed through the pool deck so perfectly that the swimmer before him dove, a perfect arch of girl slicing through the water, streamlined, rising without breath into a free and furious stroke. The official raised his hand, the whistle blew as understanding dawned and the girl was removed, ejected, disqualified from her race. Henry had BEEPED, not the starter so the race was done.

“Not Cool!” a mother yelled, striding toward him, the sobbing rejectee running on wet feet to her coach. Henry felt the weight, the reality, the price of having counted down the time to start too quickly, of anticipating the buzzer, making its sound so perfect-yet imperfect because it fell in the wrong second, the before second, the quiet second when all the deck was still.

“I didn’t mean…”

“Not Cool” the mother repeated while his team mates glared.

“I didn’t mean. I was just…” but he couldn’t explain the counting or the sounds that happen in his head, the perfect rhythm of the world living in synch inside his mind to surface in involuntary noises; digital-analogue-mimicry rising from his cords without permission. So he stood, the girl cried, the team glared and the meet went on.

“Swimmers take your marks!” the starter called, “Ready-set-BEEP!” It was the free, the hundred meter free, not the fly or the back or the breast. Definitely not the breast. Henry dove, a perfect arch of boy rising, springing, slicing into streamline perfection to break not with arms extended cutting the water with the tearing strike of free but the prayerful, elbows bent motion of breast. Rise, plunge, rise plunge as swimmers past in blurs of speed. Rise, plunge, rise plunge, hands prayerful, extending, parting, colliding again into prayer.

Coaches yelled, the official raised his hand, parents shook their heads embarrassed by the boy whose actions no one could account for, understand, fathom. At one minute, fourth-two seconds, the whole pool waited as the last swimmer returned, focused fully on doing the wrong stroke, the punishing stroke, the prayerful stroke that cannot make amends for a girl’s tears or the accidental BEEP!

The Bittersweet

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When I first held my baby I could already see the man he would become, tall, kind and strong. I saw our lives laid out before me; joined at the hip for years before being severed by age and distance. I felt the rush of bittersweet love, the love that says I see you right now and I love you right now because right now is all there is. I’ve watched him grow for thirteen years and loved every bit of it. He is a magical wonder, a joy in this world and his enthusiasm for life and living astounds me. What must it be like to be so purely in love with being? What must it be like to just exist where you stand without the bittersweet pull that says; this too shall pass, shall end, will fade into the shadows of time.

I’ve long watched happy people and wondered what it would be like to be happy while secretly hating the fakers for their fake joy; their grief hidden behind a fraudulent smile. Why lie, why fake, why smile when it isn’t real. To act out anything other than what you feel is to tell your soul it’s wrong to hurt, to grieve, to question or be real. Feeling isn’t wrong, it can’t be a mistake, it just is.

The bittersweet of living isn’t something everyone experiences. This universal view of our lives as tiny fragments of a greater whole is something reserved for just a few of us. So why? I wish I knew. Maybe the bittersweet perspective is born of hard history, singular loneliness, or pain so intense that to see the world as you once did no longer seems possible.

Among you stand the walking wounded, riddled with emotional bullet holes patched over with plastic smiles and empty pleasantry. It’s our jobs to heal one another, to be real and open in our kindness. It’s our job to see the pain and ask, “How are things going. No really, how are you?” and if they’re not ready to put aside the “happy” even for a moment it’s our job to be willing to wait.

P.S. If Thanksgiving tomorrow feels like a warzone you have to slog through then go to the beach, order pizza, have a beer and find a happy that feels real for you.