Journey to Love
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
REMINDER: I know little of the ways of the Navajo. Any suggestion that Chosen Ones, Keeper of Secret or Way of the Elders is authentic should be dismissed at once. Journey to Love is fiction and should be read as such.
After an uneventful flight, our plane touched down in Denver on time. We had two hours before our flight to Page, time to walk around, stretch and eat. We climbed aboard the small commuter plane for the up and down flight to Page and arrived there in just less than an hour. We had to share the lone taxi at the airport, but nonetheless were checked into the hotel before 9:00.
After a long, hot shower—with love making—Jayden suggested we go to the hotel coffee shop for dessert and coffee. We lingered over our coffee, mostly just enjoying each other without assignments hanging over our heads. Finally Jayden looked at me, his black eyes sparkling and gave me a devilish grin. He didn't have to say a word. Hand-in-hand we headed for our room.
Maybe it was because we knew we would be separated in the weeks ahead but, for whatever reason, our lovemaking was slow, tender, passionate. Finally, sated for the moment, we took another shower, crawled into bed and wrapped each other in arms and legs shortly before midnight, which for us was much earlier than usual. Even though we had gotten some rest while at Grace House, we had not fully recovered from our semester's end fatigue. That and a wearing day of travel had us asleep in minutes.
Before turning in, Jayden had left a wake up call for 7:00. While we had gone to bed earlier than we had in months, the wake-up call at 7:00 was not welcome. Well, maybe it was because as soon as Jayden opened his beautiful eyes, he smiled and said, “We have almost two hours before we meet Kathryn and I don't want you to get bored!” My beautiful Diné definitely knew how to keep me from being bored!
Kathryn called from the lobby promptly at 9:00 and Jayden told her to come up and then ordered breakfast. After exchanging hugs, she asked us to bring her up-to-date with our lives. We were in the middle of doing that when breakfast arrived. She continued to question us as we ate. When she was more or less up-to-date with what had been going on with us, she turned to our summer assignments and some of the logistics involved.
We lingered over breakfast, talking, until Kathryn said, “Well, let's get the shopping done and head for the clinic.” Stocking up on supplies always took longer than planned, but we finished in time for a late lunch and after our last hamburger for awhile, left for the clinic. I felt as though I was going home.
At the clinic, we got busy unloading the Land Rover. We were almost through when the breeze shifted and the horses caught our scent. Both started nickering and pawing the ground. We quickly finished storing the supplies and the three of us went to the corral. Skywalker and Sundancer were as glad to see us as we were to see them. Kathryn said, “You have plenty of time for a ride and I think all four of you would enjoy it.” Jayden and I were soon mounted and, after getting reacquainted with the saddle, were racing down the canyon, horses and riders obviously delighted even though Jayden and I knew we would be sore the next day. We were.
We were up the next morning before sunrise. My heart was overjoyed as Jayden, dressed in a breech clout, walked out of the house and stood, arms stretched over his head and chanted, greeting the sun. I felt that we were truly where we belonged. When he had finished, I realized that I, too, wanted to be able to greet the sun and the new day as he did. When I asked, he was delighted and began teaching me the chant and other chants as well. “As a matter of fact, we'll be spending a lot of time driving and riding. You can work on your Diné.” I remembered I had thought before that the difference between Diné and English was about the same as I suspect the difference between English and Martian would be!
At breakfast, Kathryn said she thought we would enjoy making rounds, seeing some of the people we had known two years ago. She handed us a list of visits with notes about her concerns for the patients. “You'll need to take the horses. Not only will you need them for some visits, but you need to get adjusted to riding again.”
“My butt is reminding me that I am so not used to riding,” Jayden laughed and I agreed.
“Jerry and Sasha Claw are expecting you for the midday meal.” She laughed and said, “Hope you can hold your own with the twins.”
After loading the horses into the trailer, we headed out for the day. Our first call was among a group of houses where we expected to park the Land Rover and have the people come to us. However, after we had seen half a dozen people, a young girl asked if we could go see her grandmother. She explained it was about half a mile away, but we would have to ride as the Land Rover couldn't make it.
When we arrived, we found an elderly woman in a great deal of pain. The day before she had spilled kerosene on her long skirt and it had ignited, burning her leg badly. I carefully cleaned the wound and treated the burn as Kathryn and Janice had taught me. The clinic had received a gift of new radios and transmitters so we now had portable units and didn’t have to depend totally on the unit in the Land Rover. As soon as I had finished with the woman’s wound, I radioed Kathryn and told her what I had done and what I had told the woman about care for the burn. Kathryn reassured me that was exactly what she would have done, then instructed me to leave her an antibiotic and medicine for pain, which I did.
As we rode back to the Land Rover, I recalled what Dr. Kellogg said about my presuming to offer medical help without being a licensed medical professional. When I told Jayden what I was thinking, his response was, “Derek, if you were that grandmother you would have two options. You could have a person caring for you who, although he was not properly licensed, knew what he was doing and cared about you, or you could leave it untreated. What would you do? Seems to me you'd much rather have someone do something than lose a leg, if not your life.” He was right, of course.
We made two more calls, all routine, before arriving at the Claw home. As I drove up, two brown boys wearing moccasins and breech clouts burst out of the bushes, yelling. When they saw it was not someone they knew, they stopped dead and looked at Jayden and me with wide eyes. Sasha and Jerry ran from the house and embraced us in a tremendous hugs.
After she had greeted us, Sasha patted her swollen stomach and said, “Derek, glad you made it back in time. I wasn't sure the girls would wait!”
“Twin girls this time, I am sure,” she laughed.
Taking his sons' hands in his, Jerry said, “Derek is the man who brought you into the world.” Both boys' eyes got very large, then they ran and hugged me about the legs. “The story of your bringing them from their mother is a favorite bedtime story,” he said.
We had a meal with the Claw family and enjoyed time with them and especially with the two very active boys.
The next day we were scheduled to visit the hogan of the old couple I had been visiting when I had found Jayden. Kathryn told us the woman had died six months ago and she suspected the man would soon follow her into the Underworld.
We reached the place where we could go no further in the Land Rover, parked and unloaded the horses. We mounted and soon approached the spot where I'd found Jayden, beaten and near death. He had never been back, so as we approached it I stopped and said, softy, “Jayden, Beloved Diné, this is where I found you.”
“As horrible as it was, the events which brought me to this spot gave me you and your love. The price was high, but what I gained is priceless.”
We sat on our horses, holding hands, silent for several minutes. I finally raised Jayden's hand to my lips and kissed his palm. He kissed mine in return.
As we approached the hogan, I shouted to alert the old Diné man. There was no response. As we got closer, an overwhelming odor assaulted us. Jayden said, “Derek, look in the hogan. I suspect you'll find him dead.”
Holding my breath as much as possible and breathing through my mouth when necessary, I walked to the hogan and looked in. Lying on a blanket was the decomposing body of the old man. I hoped he had gone painlessly to join his ancestors in the Underworld. I walked back to where Jayden was standing, well away from the hogan. “His body is lying on a blanket in the hogan, obviously he has been dead for sometime. What should we do? I don't know Diné traditions concerning the dead. I guess I need to call Kathryn.”
“I am Diné,” Jayden said. “We will deal with his body in the Diné way. We will destroy the hogan and his body with it, making sure his spirit goes to the Underworld and to keep devils from entering the world through the hogan.” When he pointed out a tin of kerosene by the hogan, I understood what he meant. I wet a side of the log hogan and ignited it.
There was no danger of anything else catching fire as there was nothing near the hogan to burn, so after watching for a short time, Jayden said, “We must wash.” We walked to the small spring where the old couple got their water and washed. When we finished, Jayden said, “We need clean clothes. It is the Diné way. There are clean coveralls in the Land Rover.”
“Then I guess that means we ride back to the Land Rover nude,” I grinned. Jayden nodded. I do not recommend riding naked!
A few days after our visit, the Claw family appeared at the clinic. They started their journey at Sasha's first labor pain, but there was no time to spare when she arrived. Jayden went to get Kathryn from the garden where she was working and Jerry took the boys outside. I began prepping Sasha for the delivery. Half an hour after Kathryn had arrived, with her looking over my shoulder, I delivered Sasha’s second set of twins. As she had predicted, they were girls.
The following days were busy. When we were not making visits, we were working around the clinic, in the garden and doing odd jobs that needed doing but had not been pressing. Jayden and I continued to work on my Diné and Diné chants.
We had been with Kathryn two weeks when she got a message from the Pueblo. Lupe had given birth to a son and mother and baby were fine. Ernesto was now ready for Jayden which was the news we’d been waiting for. Kathryn said, “We'll leave tomorrow, spend the night in Chinle and go to the Pueblo the next morning.” A night in Chinle meant hot showers—long hot showers—swimming and sleeping late which the three of us welcomed. After breakfast the next morning, we left for the Pueblo.
We arrived in time for a late lunch and a delightful time with Lupe, Richard and their daughter Katie. Late afternoon, Ernesto arrived and asked Jayden and me to take a walk with him. He led us up a trail on the face of the cliff above the pueblo, one I did not know existed. When we arrived at the top of the mesa, we sat in the shade of a bent and twisted ancient pine. As soon as we were seated, Ernesto said, “Derek, you are blessed beyond measure. The elder who has been my mentor for many, many years has chosen to be yours as well. He is the last of his generation. His name is Jonathan Maryboy, but he is known simply as Elder.” I, of course, knew Ernesto Silver was not a young man. I did not know his age, but guessed he was at least sixty and suspected he was a decade or so older than that. If Elder was Ernesto's mentor, he must be one of the Old Ones! “You will meet Elder tomorrow and begin your time with him,” Ernesto said.
Arrangements had been made for Jayden and me to have a private room for the night and facing an indefinite period of separation, we took advantage of it. Between making love and talking, we slept very little, but arose in time to greet the sun. Dressed in breech clouts, Jayden and I climbed the trail I had taken with Ernesto the day before. When we reached the summit, we stood, facing the east, arms outstretched, and welcomed the sun and the new day.
I met Elder at breakfast and he did, indeed, look like an Old One. His face was a mass of wrinkles, weathered from years of desert sun and wind. When I was introduced to him, he looked at me for several minutes, then chuckled and said, “I thought Ernesto had been eating strange mushrooms when he told me you were a black white man and a Chosen One. I didn't believe it and I find it hard to believe my own eyes, but he spoke truth.”
After breakfast, Jayden kissed me goodbye and he and Ernesto left the Pueblo. Elder came to me while I was watching Ernesto and Jayden ride away. “He is a beautiful Diné in spirit as well as body and so are you ...” he said, using my Diné name. “We are leaving in a few minutes.”
I went inside and got my canteens, bedroll, etc. When I returned, Elder was waiting for me. He handed me two large cloth bags which I placed across Sundancer's back, saddled up and we left the Pueblo.
We rode side-by-side talking. I was doing most of the talking, answering Elder's questions. Occasionally he would respond to something I said with, “You know, that reminds me of ...” and tell me a story. It took me awhile, but I suddenly realized he was telling me the Diné myths.
I had long ago decided that all belief systems are based on myth, stories which hold far more important truths than mere fact. As time passed and I learned more of the Diné mythology, I realized I was not only gaining insights into Diné in general, but Jayden in particular. What really surprised me was that the myths of the Diné increased my understanding and appreciation of my own beliefs, my own myths.
The sun told me it was shortly after noon when we stopped by a tiny pool of water. We drank, then allowed the horses to drink. Then sitting in the shade of an overhanging rock, we ate the lunch packed for us at the Pueblo. When we had finished eating, Elder lay back in the shade and was asleep in seconds. I sat, eyes unfocused, and thought back over the morning. I was amazed at how much I had learned during what had seemed like a casual ride.
After a short nap, Elder sat up, wide awake, and said, “Well, I guess we might need to be moving.” We continued our leisurely ride and talk until late afternoon. By the sun, it was 6:00 when we stopped for supper. When we had finished eating, Elder leaned back against a rock and asked, “Why are you here, Derek? What's a black white man doing in the middle of the desert with an old, worn out Diné?”
“Part of it—most of it—is a puzzle to me but some things are clear. I came summer before last because two of my professors, two mentors, wanted me to see what being a doctor in an under-served area was like. I came here and worked with Kathryn. Last year, to get a different perspective on the problem, I worked in rural South Georgia. So that explains the reason I was here before, but not this summer. I met Jayden the summer I was here, we fell in love and eventually were married. I have been told that Jayden and I are Chosen Ones. Now I suspect that's important, but I have no idea what it means. When I have asked, I end up right where I am now—in the dark. I am told that Jayden is a Keeper of the Secrets and that I, as his husband, have some part to play in that but,” I chuckled, “it seems what that means is one of the secrets being kept.”
Elder was laughing like a mad man. When he stopped, he said, “I've never heard it expressed better, but it is really no big secret. There are some things the Diné keep among themselves and some things the elders alone know but, to be honest, a Keeper of the Secrets is one who is chosen and chooses to remember the stories, chants, rituals and ceremonies which tell us who we are. They are those things which inform our belief, which tell us what it means to be Diné. I would say they make us, shape us into who we are. Without them we are nobody. Why secrets? Because some of the stories are stories for those such as Jayden, you and myself. They are stories which give us strength and power to be elders to our people. Yes, strange as it may seem, you have been chosen to be an elder. You will not be an elder in the same manner as Jayden or I, but you will be a Diné elder. Of course, you can choose not to be. You can choose not to be a Chosen One, but you will not.”
As Elder continued to talk, I learned that as husband to a Keeper of the Secrets my first and primary role was to be friend and husband to my husband. Finally I said, “I know being husband and friend is not always an easy job, but from what you’ve said I hardly think being husband to a Keeper of the Secrets warrants the awe I sometimes think I see and hear when Jayden and I are called Chosen Ones.”
“Oh, Derek, Chosen One, being Keeper of the Secrets or husband to Keeper of the Secrets is certainly nothing trivial, but it is only a part of what being a Chosen One entails. Being Chosen One means much more than being a Keeper of the Secrets. There are many Keepers of the Secrets, but there are few Chosen Ones.” With those words, Elder got up, looked at the sun and said, “We need to be moving.”
Late afternoon of the following day I saw a very large mesa ahead of us. When Elder saw me looking at it, he said, “Much of our remaining time will be spent there, atop that mesa. We will spend tonight at its base. It is about ten miles away so we have a couple of hours more riding yet. We cannot linger as we don't want to be riding after dark. There will be little moonlight and it'll be dangerous to ride, as a horse could step in a hole, stumble and break a leg.”
Shortly after Elder spoke, the terrain began changing, becoming quite rough and making talk nearly impossible. We rode in silence and I thought over what I had been told. It was almost sundown when we reached the base of the mesa. There was a sheltered area with a trickle of water coming from a crevice in the mesa wall well above our heads. It collected in a bowl formed in a rock. While I gathered fuel for a small fire, Elder collected water in a pail, ready to boil. When he had the water he needed, he allowed the horses to drink. It took a while for the horses to drink their fill as the trickle and bowl were small.
The trickle was small but it did provide enough water for a patch of grass. “There is nothing to eat beyond the grass here and there is water, so we'll just take the saddles off the horses and let them roam as they will. They will not go far. When you have the fire started, give Sundance a good rub down and turn her loose.” He did the same with his horse, Rattlesnake.
Elder kept an eye on the pail of water and when it was boiling, he added some crushed, dried leaves to it and set it aside. When it had cooled enough, we drank the tea with some 'travel food'—a mixture of cornmeal and other things. When we finished, we rolled up in our bedrolls and slept.
We were awake before dawn and the two of us faced east and greeted the sun, chanting together. Our breakfast was boiled cornmeal with bits of dried meat and a different tea made by Elder. When we finished eating, we gathered our bedrolls and supplies and began climbing the steep, switchback trail up the side of the mesa. Well, I suppose it was a trail, but I could not see it and even when Elder point it out, I could hardly believe it existed.
From time to time, we stopped briefly to take a sip of water. It was midmorning when we took a longer break, resting on a ledge which gave us a view of where we were. We were surrounded by desert. Even though I could see we were less than half-way up the side of the mesa, it was a dizzying height when I looked down. After our break, we continued climbing and I was surprised that as close to exhaustion as I was, Elder seemed to be tireless. Finally, a short time before noon by the sun, we reached the top. Spread out before me was an unbelievable sight.
The top of the mesa was an oval bowl. The northern wall soared hundreds of feet into the air, sloping down on both ends to the low eastern and western walls. While not nearly as high as the northern wall, the southern wall was also higher than the eastern and western ones. The north-south axis of the bowl was probably fifteen or twenty miles while the east west one was much shorter--I guessed five.
After a drink of water and a brief rest, Elder took up his bedroll and pack and said, “We will camp at the base of the northern edge. There is a spring there.” As we walked toward the wall, he point to a line of green which began at the northern end and became smaller and smaller until it disappeared before it reached the center of the bowl.
When we reached the camp site, we set to work building a fire pit, clearing an area for our bedrolls and gathering dead wood for a fire from the scrub bushes along the stream. When we finished, Elder asked me to bring water from the spring while he started a fire.
I found the spring water cold and good. I drank my fill, then filled two pails to take back to the camp. Elder drank too, then placed a small pail on the fire and made tea. When he finished his tea, Elder leaned against a stunted pine and was immediately asleep. I laid my head down on my bedroll and watched a bird high in the sky sailing on a thermal until I also drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke, it was near sunset. “You know how to greet the sun,” Elder said, “now you learn how to tell it goodbye.” We walked the half mile or so from the stream head toward the western wall where there was a trail to the top. As we walked, I began learning a new chant. As the sun sank below the horizon, we—mostly Elder—bade it goodbye for the night, reminding it of its promise to be back in the morning.
After the sun had disappeared below the horizon, Elder and I walked down into the shadowy bowl of the mesa to our campsite. Elder asked me to get a small fire started while he fetched a pail of water for tea. Once the tea was made, we sat in the gathering night sipping it. When I commented that it was different from the tea we had had earlier, Elder nodded and said, “You will learn there are many teas with many uses. What we are drinking is for clearing the thoughts.”
We sipped in silence for several minutes, then Elder said to me, “Derek, there is something you seek, something you have not told me about.” I nodded and sat silently for a few minutes. Finally I spoke. “My overriding concern is the anger and guilt I have inside. I want to be free of the turmoil that things in my past have caused, and that continue to trouble me. I then poured out my story—beginning with being rejected by my father, of my betrayal by Wolf and finally of the attack which not only placed me in danger of death, but also nearly cost me Jayden. “Elder, I have spent hours in white man's therapy—and regret not a moment of it, it has been of great benefit. However, I am no longer making progress and I harbor such deep anger that it threatens to destroy me, my relationship with Jayden and my possibility of becoming a good doctor. So far I have—most of the time—been able to keep it under control, but I know it can erupt at anytime. If I cannot overcome it, no, be free from it, the time and trigger will come. When that happens, my anger will burst out like a tornado and destroy everything in its path, including me. Jayden, who has endured much more than I, has freed himself from his demons and I believe it is through his work with Ernesto. I want what Jayden has achieved. I believed that I can, with your help, find it here in the desert.”
Elder listened and when I finished, said nothing. We sat in silence for a long time, maybe half an hour. Finally he spoke. “You are you and Jayden is Jayden. What Jayden has overcome, and what he has yet to overcome belong to Jayden.” He fell silent again. Again, after a long silence, he spoke. “Derek, you hold great anger inside. You hold bitterness toward the god in whose name the attacks were made. You ache from the pain caused not only to you, but also to those you loved. You are quite right that it can become a raging devil destroying much. It is good that you realize the power anger and bitterness have and that, sooner or later, they will overcome you. In truth, it is dangerous for a healer to harbor anger and bitterness.
“There is more. You have guilt because, somehow or other, you feel you could have prevented the attacks.” I nodded in agreement with his words. “Guilt, too, can destroy. Tomorrow, we greet the sun, the birth of a new day, and we begin.” Elder then rolled himself in his bedroll and was asleep in seconds. It took me longer, much longer.
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