You’re Crazy

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“You’re crazy…you’re really crazy…you are aren’t you…” the woman stared at me, her eyes studying my face. “You really are aren’t you.” I looked back at her, confused. Christ, I was sitting in my new Audi wearing a grey turtle neck and holding my toy spaniel, yet there it was. Somehow, in some way, she had identified me as not OK. “Yep, totally certifiable,” I joked back, wishing to god this awkward moment would pass.

She’d come to the car to see my dog who is, I must admit, irresistible. A quick exchange of niceties had followed and then this glazed over moment when she searched my face and proclaimed me insane. I didn’t do anything to start this. I was just being me; just being a mom dropping off her son while holding a lapdog in a silver Audi, yet like puff the magic dragon my crazy had managed to make itself known. Or had it?

This is not the first time this has happened to me. In reality, crazy has been a lifelong companion. It was how my certifiably unstable mother undermined me from a very young age. I remember standing on my neighbor’s porch imagining a story I was telling myself only to be pulled out of it by my mother, appearing like a black cloud from nowhere, saying, “Don’t move your lips when you think, you look like a crazy person.” Later, while splashing in the bathtub I announced my wish to be president of these United States. “Don’t be crazy,” Mother answered, “You’re a poor white girl without an ivy league family. You will never be president.” I was maybe five? Yet the worst was the thousands of different times she and dad said, it’s fun to dream but if you think you’ll ever be anything, you’re crazy, in a thousand different ways over several decades.

Crazy morphed into, Emotional. Emotional became you’re too Sensitive, followed by Fractious, Unreasonable, Weak Minded, Fickle, Touchy, Confused, Flustered, Unbalanced, Irrational, Difficult, Hysterical, Crazy. You’re a crazy girl. Just crazy, girl. Too crazy to be anything!

All of these words have followed me like ribbons knotted in my hair and it’s taken decades to comb them out. And now I’m rich and loved and happy and successful and sitting in my Audi hearing, you’re crazy all over again.

It’s true what they say about your past. If you run from it, it will find you. Even on a good day, a best day, even when your hair is perfect and you’re dressed well, it’ll get you . It’ll sink its teeth into you and it will try to make you bleed. Today it used a closed minded, utterly vapid little rule follower, and it took her wholly and completely.  Like a faithful little puppet, vacant eyed and hungry for the answer as to how I’d got away for so long, crazy unleashed itself in words that flew like dull arrows and missed their mark. Even repeated again and again I felt nothing. No pain, no embarrassment touched me. I stared back in confusion until even the possessed felt the strangeness of the moment and snapped out of it. She said a few more niceties before walking away leaving me stunned. “Well that was fucked up,” my son said and he was right. It is fucked up to tell someone that they are crazy. What made the bite painless this time is the reality that I know I’m sane because I know who I am.

Crazy has been used for centuries to undermine women, homosexuals, rule breakers, and artists all over the world. To call someone crazy is to label them as rebellious, broken, shattered, irreparably insane. Lunatic is another word used to undermine individuality. The word itself is derived from Luna or Moon meaning that a woman on her moon cycle or menstruating was a lunatic when the P.M.S. kicked in.

Women were locked up in asylums for being hysterical. Hysteria is a nineteenth century feminine affliction involving anxiety, depression, overt sexuality, and mood swings. Hysteria was oftentimes remedied with a hysterectomy. (Hystera is the Greek word for uterus if you’re wondering.) So, to recap, we passionate types have been labeled as broken, been “negatively” afflicted by the moon cycles, and driven mad by our own uterus’s to the point where doctors removed them.

So why were woman and the marginalized so afflicted? Because their energies and purpose where stifled. They were allowed no personal exploration, could find no personal fulfillment, and were allowed no personal expression. They were wholly confined to the social norms they were born into.  Thankfully, things are so much better now. We are moving towards personal equality and it’s a beautiful time to be alive.

Equality isn’t women lording it over men, grabbing them by the penis and elephant walking them into a submissive and powerless future. Equality is simply the return of an ancient symmetry; the symmetry of the sacred female and the sacred male. These two, when brought together make a perfect unit. Stable like a triangle, they lean on one another in equality.

Gay or straight, a balanced couple is a couple where both individuals have a balance of the sacred male and sacred female energies within each one of them. Sacred female is the energy of intuition, compassion, sensuality, and unconditional love. It’s an energy that when embraced balances the male energy away from toxic masculinity into a more open and peaceful masculinity that is beautifully powerful. Sacred masculinity is the energy of compassion, relational integrity, emotional intelligence, fatherly guidance, and leadership from the heart.  And the sacred feminine doesn’t demand that woman set aside their femininity but encourages them to embrace it, love it, honor it.

As we move away from gender identification, and socially enforced gender rolls, we will move instead toward a more classical, creative, and open style of living where we will again create the golden age spoken of in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and by Plato and Socrates. And in this new renaissance we will be able to let go of labels like lunatic, hysterical, and crazy, because radical individuality will have simply become the norm.

I don’t know why that woman called me crazy. I did nothing to call her attention towards me. But maybe my own individuality stood out to her as too different, too free.  Maybe some deeply awkward part of her was trying to use the crazy label to push me back into my place. Thankfully, I live in a time when it’s OK to stand out and be different.

To read more about gender discrimination through labeling others as crazy, read, A Brief Yet Fascinating History of the Word Crazy by Amanda Montell 

Put A leash on It

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“Get off my property. You don’t pay my taxes, and put my rock back.” I point to the granite boulder I purchased months before to stop people parking on my land. “I’ll put it back,” the man said, pulling it from where he’d wedged it behind his truck tire. “I’ll put it back. I’ll put it back where your property begins and city property ends.” The boulder falls at me feet, the man smirks and walks away leaving his truck on my lawn. “Get your fucking truck off my lawn I yell.” My husband walks with me, I hold my older dog in a carrier near my chest, my puppy is grasped in my husband’s arms. I feel vulnerable, angry, and anxious.

This isn’t the first go around, I’ve been in other land fights, lost land in adverse possession, seen my husband slugged in the face for walking his own acreage and I’m angry, I’m so angry that I won’t back down. The man says something else about my land being city land. “We’ve been to the city. We own all the land to the road. You don’t have the right to park on our lawn. Get the fuck off our land or I’m calling my lawyer,” I yell. The man starts in about family rights, how when his grandmother owned our house he parked where he liked. “There’s this thing called real-estate. When your family sold this land, they surrendered, the rights to it you dumb fuck. Call your lawyer if you want to prove you have the right to park on my land,” my husband counters. I follow the man who walks down the alley at the back of my property watching him as I make my way to my back door. He stops and looks down at me. “Keep walking fucker,” I yell. “Your people don’t own this land anymore so stay the fuck off it.”

“Keep walking,” my husband adds coming up to stand beside me. The man looks at Dan and then at me. “Put a leash on your pit bull, man,” his eyes move from me to my husband before he continues on down the back alley towards his rental.

This is the second time this year that a man has told my husband to put a leash on me for speaking out, for voicing my rage. “Put a leash on it,” were the words the other man used. He had been a friend who stopped by after therapy, triggered out of my mind. He sat in my sun room talking about his need to shoot Muslim women for eating in our local bake shop. I confronted him, asked him how he could feel entitled to shoot locals for wearing scarves over their hair while eating cake. “After all,” I added, “doesn’t shooting innocent woman over their dress code make just as big a fucking monster as the Taliban?” Turning from me to my husband this friend of several years told him to, “put a leash on it!” before getting up to leave.

No one has ever told me to leash my husband. He’s told other men to fuck off in corporate meetings. He’s fought hard and fought back in every verbal and legal war we have ever entered into together. He’s been hit, gone to court, stood beside me while we got restraining orders against aggressive neighbors and countered our ex-military friend for talking violence against women and yet no one ever said, put a leash on it with regards to his behavior.

I’m not meek, I’m not demur. I’ve seen where those two passive modes of conduct lead people. I don’t look away from a problem and I don’t back down. I will take down a two-hundred-pound man if he threatens my home. I will sue anyone who trespasses on my land. I’ve voiced my rage over violence against prostitutes, inviting the drunk asshole who talked violence against sex workers to come see just how fast a pretty cocksucker can take down a drunk ass motherfucker in the parking lot. But even that bastard didn’t tell my husband to, put a leash on me.

Nowhere in history has it been “FUN” to be feminine. Even as I child I was told not to raise my voice or talk back to little boys because someday they would be priest of the church, men, fathers, leaders.

Life has taught me that demure woman are dead women, broken women, silenced women. I heard the stories, memorized them, watched them remembered in whispered tones, listened while the women of my family discussed a wedding where a rape attempt went unnoticed for proprieties sake. Grandma had stood on the other side of a door calling her oldest daughter’s name begging her to come out, knowing full well that she was fighting off a man twice her size. Why didn’t you fight with her? Why didn’t you open the door and fight? I asked. “I didn’t want to embarrass him on his wedding day,” Grandma answered. An hour later that would be rapist married Grandma’s youngest daughter. No one put a leash on my aunts second husband, no one did a thing.

I love men. I love women. I fucking hate this prissy society that says be inoffensive, keep your mouth shut, cover up and keep your head down or you’ll get what’s coming to you. I hate the parents who tell their children to cover their shoulders and dress down or people will think they are flirtatious. I hate all societies that tell women to cover up so they don’t entice, enchant, encourage admiration. And I hate everyone who says to turn the other cheek, that what’s done is done, to forget, dry your eyes, move on.

If someone trespasses in your life, back them down. If someone touches you inappropriately, knock them back, if someone hurts you, string them up in a court of law. If your daughter or sister, son or brother is screaming on the other side of a door, break it down. And if you are broken in the fight, remind yourself that it’s better to die on your feet than live as someone else’s bitch.

 

Tanya

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We were six. You were a Navajo, and a black girl, my soul sister-more sister to me then my own flesh. I loved you. I love you. You were dark brown and your hair hung in glossy black ringlets. We read books on archeology in the library, we giggled over mummies and sphinxes, talking about the ruins we’d wander, the deserts we’d ride across on camel back. I’d hold your hand. You’d hold mine and say, “Shall we?” I’d answer, “we shall.”

Home was hard. My mama screamed, punched, kicked. Your mama drank, smoked, fucked your nameless fathers. Thank god for grandmas. Mine was an immigrant, dancer, nurse, a jitterbugging good time girl grown gray. Yours was a white haired squah, mother to many, once a reservation maiden sent to Indian school and beaten for speaking in her people’s tongue. We both lost our families to violence.

My mama brimmed with poison, spilling her lies into my ear for spite. “You need to know Eleanor,” she said, “Tanya is not black, and she is not Navajo, and there are no people  who will claim her. She has no people. Her mother is a bad woman and her life will be hard.”  I looked at my mother, the red-haired L.A. calendar girl, ex-go-go dancer, and nodded, my heart sinking in my chest because I loved you.

That week we stood in the sun watching your little brothers play, one Mexican, one almost white. “I got something to tell you,” I said, and I poured mama’s poison into your ear in a hushed voice, a loving voice laced with concern. “I need you to be brave,” I ended, “because mama say’s your life will be hard.” I remember how your big eyes held mine, how you nodded at me and said, “OK.”

I cursed you that day, my mama’s words working you over through me. Christ, how her lies laid thorns in your path. No one knew what you could be but mama’s words took everything. You and I…we were everything…until that day. I remember saying goodbye. Mama didn’t want me playing in your apartment because she’d asked your uncle where he was from and when he kept saying, “here, I’m from here,” she’d got angry. But honestly, where else could a Navajo be from but here?

Years later, when we were 13, I heard you got pregnant. You partied drunken like your mama, while I rode fancy ponies in pretty show rings in a tweed jacket and hunt cap. I was told you left school to earn money while I went to college to pursue my dreams. I became an angry person when the dreams fell through, ready to fight the man and the system. Did you fall into the system? I grew up, grew old. Did you get to be old too? I remember everything about you, the way you danced, how the sun lit up your hair. I remember that I loved you…never seeing your pretty color as anything but beautiful.

If I could take my white mama’s curse back, I would replace it with courage, with kindness, with the vision of us riding camels in the desert together seeking lost civilizations and buried treasure. If I could change the past I’d hold my hand out to you and say, “Shall we?” and taking my hand you’d answer, “We shall.”

How We Make America Great Again

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This week is a pivotal week in American history. A time of remembrance, of crisis and resistance. I refer firstly to Dr. Martin Luther King Day. a time of solidarity, strength, and remembrance of those who gave their lives in the struggle for human rights.

The tragedy is the inauguration of the right-wing exclusionist nominee for the executive office. I have nothing to say about him. He is too ugly, too stupid, too frightening to comprehend.

Resistance comes on Saturday when the national women’s march begins. Tens of thousands if not millions of people will take to the streets in support of women’s rights. But how can we hope to be seen, heard, and granted the overdue equality we have sought since the beginning when the man we must call president used prostitutes and pussy grabs without consequence? Dear God, how can we hope for anything but further oppression from such a person.

firstly, I pray we are our best selves as we think on Dr. King and remember the good works of good people who risked everything to achieve equal rights and freedom. Then on inauguration day when Twittler takes the oath of office I will turn off my television and computers and I will pray for peace, for love, and for a miracle. On the Saturday following, I will walk in silence and remember the thousands of years in which one half of the world’s population lived and still lives as sub human chattel without a voice or a choice.

It may be true that nothing we do can touch the heart or mind of a prejudiced and bigoted man or his government, but as the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi said, “whatever you do will be insignificant but it is very important that you do it.” As a people, we must pray, show kindness and love to all our brothers and sisters. We must stand against oppression wherever we see it and love each other unconditionally no mater our race, gender or religion. This is how we make America great again.

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 Nazis Next Door: Part 13 of Rain on Cloudless Day

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Granma lives on 5th south in an old home that was once converted into a duplex. It has two kitchens and two living rooms, two bathrooms and two bedrooms. Daddy had to knock down a wall just so Granma didn’t have to go outside to enter the other half of her house. Granma’s house is magical. Like Alice’s Wonderland, it is all topsy-turvy and back to front. It has two different front doors with different shaped door knobs. All the sun floods into the south side of the house, the side with the yellow kitchen where we bake bread and make pudding.

From every window on the sunny side of the house I can watch the Nazis. From the living room I see the ancient grandmother push her push-mower in the front yard. Through their kitchen window I can see her daughter who is Granma’s age. In the backyard I hear the young daughter playing with her son, a boy my age.

Granma is in the garden pulling up weeds and gathering vegetables. When the basket is filled with food we walk over to the Nazi’s house. I feel a chill go up my spine every time the old grandmother looks at me. I’m so filled with the stories of war that I’m always a little afraid she might want to shove me in an oven. The click, click, click of her old black push-mower comes to a stop when she sees us. Her toothless smile and the black scarf she wears tied tightly under her chin, draw the wrinkles and folds of her face into a new symmetry. She wears an old black dress that reaches to her ankles. On her feet she wears black leather boots. Her fingers grip the push-mower and are gnarled and twisted from almost a century of hard work.

She only speaks German. Granma says she’s too old to learn English and doesn’t need to. I hear the creak of the front door as the old grandmother’s daughter comes to greet us. She takes the basket from Granma and welcomes us into her garden. She picks apricots and peaches, apples and tomatoes, placing them into a second basket that she gives to us. Looking around, I see the boy wants to play. We think up a game while Granma and her friend talk. The click, click, click, of the old push mower picks up again and the hours slip by in the easy flow of a long hot summer day.
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When the sun casts long shadows I am thirsty with running and pretending. Going into the house I walk behind my friend who fills two glasses of water. We wander into the small front sitting room to rest. On a table beside the old Grandmother’s chair sit two pictures, one of a very young man in a World War I German uniform and the other of an equally young man in a Nazi uniform. Both pictures are black and white but as crisp as the day they were taken. These pictures remind me of the black and white picture we have of Granma. In it she is twenty-two and wearing her ATS military uniform.

“Who are they?”

“This is my grandfather,” he points to the Nazi’s picture, “and this is my great grandfather.” He gestures to the World War I soldier.

“Where are they now?” I look for other pictures of the two men but don’t find them.

“They were killed. Great Grandfather died when my grandmother was a baby and Grandfather died when my mother was a baby.”

I nod my head, thoughtful. Looking up at my friend I realize that he has his grandfather’s large dark eyes.
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It’s late when we walk home. I’m thinking of all the men my Granma nursed throughout the war, of all the suffering and death. Looking up I ask,

“How come our enemies are now our friends, Granma?”

“Those ladies were never our enemies. They were farmers like we were.”

“But their men fought in the wars. I saw the pictures.”

“Yes they fought.” She’s silent for a moment. “It was a terrible time but it’s in the past now. Let the past be the past, let the dead bury the dead.” Smiling she adds, “and let’s you and I make a pie.”

I smile, my thoughts turning from loss to the light crusty joy of hot peach pie. I realize in that second that Granma isn’t angry or sad anymore because Granma is too alive, too busy living, too alight with life to waste time being angry. Angry isn’t fun so it isn’t worth her time.

We make a pie and we talk about everything we loved about the day. My heart glows happy even as my eyes grow heavy because I see life, I see living, and I understand what it takes to truly thrive. When Granma tells us to have, “no regrets,” she is really telling us not to let our past ruin our present. Let the dead bury the dead, share food and friendship with old enemies, and turn all life’s peaches into magnificent pies.

The Imitation Game

alan-turing

Alan Turing

“When the bombs were dropping we didn’t run. To have run would have shown panic and to panic was unpatriotic. So we walked. Even with the bombs whistling down overhead we walked.”

My Grandmother rarely spoke about her years as a nurse with the British forces. Her memories were too hideous to recall.

Tom Brokaw named her generation the Greatest Generation because they were strong in a way that we can hardly even imagine today. They were the right people in the right time, raised in the depression and hardened by war.

We try and try to comprehend what they went through. We try to understand the level of depravity that occurred under fascism but our minds are unable to fully grasp the atrocity that was world war two. No matter how many movies we watch or books we read we will never fully comprehend just how terrible it was.

One key member of the Greatest Generation was the brilliant British Mathematician, logician and cryptanalyst, Alan Turing. Turing was the genius who broke the Nazi Enigma Code and shaved an estimated two to four years off the length of the war. In short, he saved millions of lives.

When Turing broke the Enigma code, Britain was able to translate German radio transmissions and gain the advantage in the key battles that ended the war. Britain was never invaded because of Alan Turing. I owe my life to him. My mother owes her life to him as did my courageous Grandmother. Alan Turing was the right man at the right time. He was a genius and a war hero. He saved our lives.

And yet, his story doesn’t end there. He also created the forerunner to this laptop I’m now holding. So because of him I’m alive and I have computer through which I can see and communicate with the world. Alan Turing’s contribution to our lives is immeasurable.

And yet only a handful of years after giving such service to mankind, he was oppressed by the very society that he had worked so hard to preserve. He was arrested and oppressed for being gay.

I’m at a loss for words as I write this. I’m at a loss because this great mind, this great man, this genius who saved millions, died because of the oppression and degradations from a homophobic government. Turing, who had hurt no one, and saved millions was sentenced to chemical castration for being gay. He committed suicide a few years later.

So this is how we treat our hero? England apologized decades later for “the appalling way he was treated,” but how can that be enough? It isn’t and can never be.

If it wasn’t for this man everything we are and know would not exist. Our entire way of life would be exterminated. Many of us would never have been born. Whole races, whole societies would have been obliterated from history under the Third Reich.

I’ve wrestled with this Post War atrocity ever since seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant portrayal of Alan Turing’s life in The Imitation Game. I’ve wrestled with the uncompromising sensibilities of a society that put such importance on its version of propriety that it could not see a hero past its archaic concept of right and wrong. And I’ve been enraged by the ongoing homophobia that my son has seen in his own elementary school. When will this stop?

It comforts me to think that maybe Turing is again, the right man at the right time; a hero in the war for the freedom of every individual to live and love as he or she chooses. None of us has the right to judge anyone for being other than what we expect them to be. After all, the one you judge and persecute today may save your life tomorrow.