Journey to Love
Anger, Guilt and An Eagle
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
I was awake before sunrise. Elder climbed out of his bedroll as I was spreading mine on a bush to air during the day. As soon as he completed the same task we climbed the east wall in silence. The fingers of dawn were painting the east in pinks, oranges and purples as we approached the crest. Elder and I lifted our arms above our heads and greeted the sun as the fiery ball rose above the horizon.
Elder had me rehearse a chant used with the sand painting ritual for healing as we walked back to the camp. Had anyone asked, I would have said I could never draw or paint anything, but since Elder had taken me under his wing, he was teaching me sand painting and the sand painting rituals and chants for healing. “If you are to be a white man healer, why not use ancient Diné medicine as well?”
After we had breakfast, he poured each of us another cup of tea, called me by my Diné name and started talking about what being a Chosen One meant. “Chosen Ones,” he said, “are Diné, and mean chosen to be a blessing to the Diné. You can imagine how strange it seemed to me when Ernesto told me he had met a black white man who was a Chosen One. I thought he had lost his senses but I puzzled over it and still do. We don't give up our beliefs easily, especially when they seem to diminish us in one way or another. If being a Chosen One is something that can happen to anyone, then the Diné are not special. Yes, Derek, I puzzled over that.
“Ernesto is younger than this old Diné, he has been educated in white man's schools and traveled much. I thought he might explain it to me. When I told him I could understand Jayden being a Chosen One, but not a black white man, he laughed. 'Elder, I was expecting answers from you,' he said.
“But the puzzle got more confusing. Lupe and Richard assured me they knew you were Chosen when they first saw you, I found it strange, very strange, since ordinary people don't recognize a Chosen One as Ernesto and I do. It was even stranger when Kathryn, who is only half Diné, recognized you and Jayden were both Chosen. She told me, 'They are not chosen just for the Diné.' I have talked with the Old Ones about this and they were silent.
“Later I was at the Pueblo and heard a group of thirteen and fourteen-year-olds reciting something. I stopped and listened. I learned later it was the Declaration of Independence but what I heard was, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' What I really heard was 'all men are created equal.'” He laughed and said, “It sure puzzled me because I didn't want to hear it. It was like I was being told as a Keeper of the Secrets, there were no secrets.” Finally, he looked up and said, “Us old Diné don't like changes and especially changes which shake our world.”
“Not limited to old Diné,” I said.
He nodded, stood and motioned for me to follow him. We walked along the small stream. All along the banks, plants took advantage of the water and as we walked, Elder pointed to different ones, named them and told me their uses and how to prepare them for use. He also taught me a new chant, maybe an ancient one, maybe one he composed for me, I wasn't sure. It called upon the Twins to bring order to a chaotic spirit. When he was satisfied I knew the chant he said, “Derek, the chant is yours to use when you need it.”
As we continued our walk, he talked more of the basic beliefs, the foundational myths of the Diné, the stories which told them who they were. Finally he said, “We, as all native peoples, have had problems with the white man who has tried to destroy our culture and beliefs. The result is rootless people. Rootlessness, alcohol, drugs, paint sniffing, suicide, disease all destroy us. Unfortunately, white men don't seem to realize that what sustains us has power to sustain them as well. There is no need to exclude our stories for theirs to be powerful.” We talked about that as we continued our walk.
The spring by our campsite was not large and the stream from it became even smaller as it flowed toward the center of the bowl. It was much diminished when it finally flowed over a flat rock into a stone bowl perhaps three feet across and only a few inches deep. When it overflowed the bowl, it disappeared. Elder told me it provided the water for the trickle filling the depression at the base of the mesa.
An old, bent and twisted pine at one side of the pool perfumed the desert air with its scent. Elder motioned for us to sit down, our backs against the tree trunk. We sat in silence for a short time, then Elder said, “You will do a vision quest when the time is right. Until that time, we will explore so you can find the place for the quest.”
During the next week and a half, we explored the top of the mesa and as we did so, it became increasingly clear to me that being a Chosen One was the same as what my African-American mother meant when she said someone had been truly called. Maybe both were too mystical for most in our scientific world, but in very secular terms, it meant a rock-solid conviction that you had a purpose in life and a deep yearning to be at that task, whatever it was. I had been pretty clear that I wanted to be a doctor to people who had little access to good medical care. If Elder was right, I had been chosen to be a blessing to such , but I couldn’t be everywhere. I couldn’t be a Chosen One for South Georgia and the Arizona desert both. Not a complete answer, but I was on my way.
One afternoon as we were walking along at the base of the southern wall, I looked up and saw a rock protruding from the cliff some fifteen or twenty feet above my head. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the place I was to do my quest and told Elder.
He nodded and said, “Good, but you are not ready for the quest yet. You have demons to deal with first. Tomorrow you begin a fast.” When I tried to ask him about the fast, he just shook his head and said, “You will know.”
It was late when our ambling brought us back to the campsite. “Start a fire,” Elder said. There were still embers buried in the fire pit ashes, so I added small dry sticks and coached a flame from them. As I did, Elder rinsed some beans he had soaked overnight, added fresh water and put them on the fire when it was burning well. He added dried peppers and some crushed, dry leaves to the pot as well.
The day after we'd arrived atop the mesa, Elder had me carry a large, thin flat rock back to camp. Placed at one end of the fire pit, we used it to bake thin corn cakes, a welcome improvement over corn mush. When the beans and corn cakes were done, we ate a very filling meal, cleaned up, went to the west and chanted the sun to bed. Back at the camp site, Elder made more tea from some of the leaves, twigs and bark I had gathered on our walk. After it had steeped, he poured it into a canteen. That accomplished, he lay down and was asleep in seconds. It took me a bit longer to go to sleep—I was thinking about the morning—but soon I, too, was in dreamless sleep.
When we awoke, Elder said, “Your fast begins.” He handed me the canteen with the tea he had prepared the night before and another, much larger canteen of water. “Take these and your bedroll. Sip the tea and water as you need. Eat and drink nothing else until you have finished your fast.”
“When will that be? How long am I to fast?”
“Until it is time to end the fast.” With those words, he turned and started walking toward the trail leading down the side of the mesa. As I watched, he disappeared. He was there and suddenly he wasn't. I shrugged and said to myself, “I suspect that will be among the least of the strange things I see while I am here,” picked up my the bedroll walked away from the camp.
I had told Elder I knew where I was to do my quest but I hadn’t thought about my fast so I just wandered around, aimlessly. Well, maybe it was not aimlessly, but mindlessly because when I became aware, I found myself at the cliff with the rock. I saw no way to reach ledge at first but after searching, I found a handhold and then another and began climbing the face of the cliff. As I climbed I sang the chant Elder had given me, the chant asking the Twins to calm a chaotic spirit. An hour later I managed to pull myself onto the stone ledge. It was not large, maybe three feet wide and six long. I spotted a shallow cave where the ledge joined the cliff just large enough for my bedroll. I sat at the mouth of the cave and looked out across the mesa wondering what my time here would bring.
I dozed off and was awakened by a series of loud, yelps or screams. When I opened my eyes, I saw an enormous golden eagle sitting on a stunted pine growing from a crack in the wall. The eagle stared at me with golden eyes, its head leaning to one side as though in thought. While he was perfectly capable of doing serious damage to a human, I was not frightened and watched, fascinated by the splendor of the huge bird. Gradually I came to realize the eagle was a messenger between me and the Old Ones. After several minutes he again screamed, spread his wings and flew in a widening spiral higher and higher until he was a mere speck in the sky. Suddenly I realized he was plunging toward me. I had turned to crawl back into the cave when he hit me from behind, burying his talons into my shoulders. I think I passed out from the pain.
When I was conscious again, I was being carried high above the ground. I looked down and realized we were traveling at tremendous speed. I should have been terrified, but was not. As the eagle began to descend, I recognized Stanton. Then, as if I were on a movie set, scene after scene of my life with dad played out. “Derek,” the eagle said, “you, DeAngelo, your mom, none of you deserved the pain your father caused. Do you understand why he behaved as he did?”
I knew the answer. In fact I had known it for years. “The anger he felt toward his life found an outlet in causing us pain.”
“He is beyond any anger you have toward him but your anger will cause others pain.” There was no question in my mind as to the truth of the statement. “Can you forgive him?” he asked. I looked deep inside and nodded.
The next thing I knew, I was waking. I sat up, took a sip of water and tea and thought back over my recent experience. When I looked at the sun, I realized three or four hours had passed since I had greeted the sun. I had either been asleep or with the eagle for most of that time. I laughed to myself and thought, 'Yeah, in two or three hours you made a trip to Stanton to watch your life play out before you. Of course it was a dream!' Strangely, given I had that long morning nap, I was falling asleep.
Again, the scream of the eagle called me into consciousness. I expected him to repeat his plunge from the sky, but he did not. Instead, he attacked me and before I knew it, he had forced me to the very edge of the ledge where, with a sweep of his powerful wings, he forced me off the edge and I fell toward the mesa floor below. Just before I hit, he snatched me up and flew me to Jayden's father’s study where his father was beating him with his belt. I knew I was witnessing the beating Jayden's father had given him before he was taken to a distant city and dumped on the street. My anger and rage boiled up inside then poured over him, but he did not know it as he continued to beat Jayden.
“See how powerless you are over your anger and the past? Your anger cannot change what was,” the eagle said, “but it can destroy your happiness and goodness and harm others. Can you forgive?” My eyes were full of tears and I shook my head ‘no’. Suddenly I was facing a very ill Diné and knew if I did not do something quickly, he would die. I was paralyzed because when I looked at the ill Diné, I saw Jaden Fulton IV. My anger rendered me powerless. The eagle asked again, “Can you forgive?” I nodded 'yes'.
I didn’t realized I had returned to the cave until I awoke. I saw by the sun it was mid-afternoon. After sips of water and tea, I sat, looking across the mesa and drifted off into a daydream which took me to the place where I had found my beloved Jayden near death. My dream forced me to recall finding my beloved and what Big Walt had done to him before and after he was left to shimmering heat waves over the mesa. As my anger and rage surged and grew, I was sure there was no possibility I could forgive. Then I heard Jayden speaking to me, “My beloved husband, without your forgiveness, your anger toward Big Walt will drink your spirit energy, energy which could bring love and care to those harmed by the Big Walts of the world. For their sake, forgive.” I wept bitter tears for what seems hours for the hurt Jayden had suffered and those tears washed away my anger.
The shimmering heat waves again seemed ordinary as the eagle reappeared. This time I was transported to OCU and the events which resulted in my teammates, my friends and my beloved being hurt. I knew it would be very, very hard to find forgiveness for those who caused all that pain. In fact, the eagle came to me again and again and each time I refused to forgive. Finally, Jayden came to me and said, “Beloved, I will take your anger so you can be free of it. I would rather it eat away at me than destroy your life.”
Again I wept bitter tears, clinging to Jayden and saying “I cannot forgive. I cannot forgive.”
Elder appeared beside Jayden and said, “Derek, can you not forgive because you could not protect those you love? Can you not forgive because you feel responsible for their hurt and pain? Can you not forgive because you cannot forgive yourself?”
I knew the answer to that question and simply nodded ‘yes’.
Jayden smiled and opened a bag of blue corn meal and Elder opened one of red. Jayden removed my breech clout and I stood naked as Jayden and Elder began scrubbing my body with the cornmeal. As they scrubbed, the meal became black, black as night and I felt I was being purified. When they had scrubbed my body, missing nothing, Jayden smiled and touched my forehead and lips with corn pollen. Elder touched pollen to the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet. As they did so I became conscious of the fact that I no longer carried the guilt I had carried so long. After marking me with pollen, Jayden and Elder left me. I felt renewed, recreated, yet very drained. I sang a chant thanking the Twins for having granted my request, lay on my bedroll in the small cave and fell asleep.
When I awoke, I picked up the canteen of water to take a sip, but found it empty; the same was true of the tea canteen. Very strange as I had taken only a few small sips out of each. ‘I’ll worry about that later,’ I thought when I realized it was near sunrise. Facing east, I raised my arms and began a chant welcoming the sun as it appeared. As I finished, I realized Elder was standing below the ledge and had joined me in the chant. The chant ended, we stood in silence for several minutes, then Elder called to me, “Come, Derek.”
I climbed down and the two of us walked to the water-filled bowl at the end of the stream and drank. When I finished, Elder said, “I suppose you are hungry.”
“Not extremely, but I have been fasting twenty-four hours.”
Elder laughed. “Derek, this is the fourth sunrise I have greeted since you and I last welcomed a new day.”
“That’s hard to believe,” I responded, shrugged my shoulders and added, “but it does explain the empty canteens.”
Apparently Elder had made a trip while I was fasting because he prepared bacon, eggs and coarse cornmeal for breakfast. Coarse cornmeal? He had prepared blue grits!
After a huge, leisurely breakfast, I started to ask questions about my experience, but Elder stopped me and asked, “Was what needed to be done, done?” I nodded ‘yes’. Elder nodded and that was the end of that. He then began telling me more about Jayden’s being a Keeper of the Secrets.
For three days, we walked, talked and I, especially, ate and slept. After we had said goodbye to the sun at the end of the third day and had eaten, Elder told me I would begin my quest for a vision the next day. “Sleep well,” he added and I did.
Once again I greeted the sun, took the two canteens Elder gave me, walked to the ledge and climbed up.
I sat looking out over the mesa, my eyes and mind unfocused. As I sat, I saw a tiny movement near my foot. When I looked down, I saw a large bug of some kind crawling along. In a flash, a scorpion ran from inside the cave. “Strange, scorpions are nocturnal,” I thought. Soon the bug was engaged in a fatal dance for its life. The bug managed to avoid the scorpion's sting for what must have seemed to be an eternity to him, but the scorpion finally won. Just as he was ready to enjoy his meal, a bird swooped down, grabbed both making both diner and would-be-meal his meal. The battle seemed to hold a message for me, but I wasn't sure what.
I kept thinking about the bug, scorpion and bird with a sense that something was just below my consciousness and was not going to let me go. Finally, I took a sip of tea and water then lay back on my bedroll. As I lay in the cave, I thought, 'The bug, scorpion and bird were all following basic instincts, following age-old patterns. The bug was going about its day-to-day bug business, having bug thoughts, when suddenly it was battling for its life. The scorpion, following its scorpion instincts, caught a bug for dinner with no thought beyond eating to live to eat again. The bird simply spied dinner and took advantage of life's bounty.' As I thought about that, I realized that since life was always tossing us a surprise, it would be easy just to say, 'To hell with it!' and drift along as mindless as the bug, scorpion and bird, following some basic instinct.
But life, real life required effort and thought, not just drifting along. Sure, there were surprises. Sure, as Robert Burns so aptly put it, 'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley,'** but I am more optimistic than Burns who followed that line with 'An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!'**** Life is uncertain. Even in my few short years, my plans 'Gang aft agley' when life threw me a surprise. Certainly some were mighty painful—being essentially thrown out of my home, failing to gain an adequate scholarship, being beaten by a mob. Indeed there had been grief and pain. But—and that's a big but—sometimes the surprise was not at all painful. Thrown out of my house, I gained two wonderful men as my dads. Not having gained an adequate scholarship for college, I met a benefactor who not only made college possible, but gave me a life richer in material things than I could have dreamed of. But all those paled when compared to the surprise of finding my beloved Diné. The truth of the matter is, life is full of surprises, but we are expected to prepare for the future even in the face of life's uncertainly. And for me, a major part of that preparation had been accomplished when I finally had to turn loose of my anger and guilt. I was very, very clear about that. Now it was time to make plans knowing that many would ‘Gang aft agley’, but to do so I needed Jayden. How could I plan alone? As though he were right beside me, I heard Elder’s voice say, “Seek a vision, Derek, seek a vision.
“Seek a vision, Derek, seek a vision.” Elder’s words echoed in my head and I longed to be able to grab the ancient Diné by the shoulders, shake him and yell, “And just how am I to go about that?” Of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t, but I was frustrated. I took a sip of the tea Elder had given me and was vaguely conscious that the taste was different from any I had had since we arrived at the mesa. I sat on the edge of the ledge, my feet hanging over and thought, “Well, it’ll happen or it won’t and nothing I can do about it.” I was gazing across the mesa, eyes unfocused, half asleep when the eagle again buried his talons in my shoulders. Pain shot through my body as though a fire was burning away every nerve and I passed out.
A sense of Jayden’s presence called me back to consciousness and as my eyes opened, I gazed into the smiling face of my beautiful and beloved Diné. I reached out to touch him and felt nothing. “Only our spirits are together, Beloved,” Jayden said, “our bodies are elsewhere. We are bonded for life, Chosen Ones; our path lies together, but before we speak of the future, what of the past?”
I knew Jayden was asking about the feelings I had harbored inside, feelings I came to the desert hoping to be freed from. I told Jayden what had happened while I was on the mesa. When I finished, I asked “And you?”
“Derek, I had spent hours and hours with Ernesto learning what I needed to know and do as Keeper of Secrets.” He laughed and said, “One of the things I have learned is that you were quite right when you suggested that one of the secrets kept by a Keeper of the Secrets is what a Keeper of the Secrets is. Of course, as a Chosen One and husband of a Keeper, you will learn the secrets and participate in the activities, but we’ll have years to deal with that.
“Of concern to us now is what our being Chosen Ones is all about.” He laughed again and said, “Ernesto has had a struggle with your being a Chosen One. Every time I reminded him you are, he'd shake his head and say, 'And he’s a black white man.'”
I responded, “Elder had a more difficult time. He told me that while he had always thought Chosen Ones had been chosen to be a blessing to their people, that meant the Diné. Now he realizes Chosen Ones are chosen to be a blessing to their people, but who those people are and how they were to be blessed takes new forms. Made sense to me. Now I am asking to whom and how you and I are to be a blessing.”
“Exactly my own conclusion and question,” Jayden said.
The two of us talked and talked and talked, stopping occasionally for a sip of tea or water. We greeted the sun and said goodbye to it twice and still we talked. Finally we were clear on our intended path, both realizing that vision or no, life no doubt had surprises for us. Having reached a conclusion, we stood facing west and said goodbye to the sun.
As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, I headed back to the campsite. On the way, I met Elder and the two of us walked in silence. He handed me a cup of tea and said, “Derek, our work here is done. After we greet the sun, we return to the Pueblo.”
I nodded. After a few moments of silence I laughed and said, “Elder, Jayden and my spirits spent two days talking only to conclude what I think we have known for months, maybe years.”
Elder laughed and said, “You really are a black white man, Derek. You keep thinking time with the spirits is like ordinary time. You were gone one day.”
Next morning, we greeted the sun, had a quick breakfast and cleaned up our campsite. We were taking back much less than we brought, so the trip down from the mesa top was much easier and quicker than the trip up. Even so, it was mid-morning when we reached the mesa’s base and the horses. We mounted for our ride to the Pueblo and rode at a bit faster pace than we had coming. Even so, I was surprised when we arrived a few minutes before noon.
Jayden was waiting for me at the bottom of the Pueblo’s cliff and I was in his arms as soon as my feet hit the ground. Our kiss was deep and passionate, but we cut it short out of respect for Elder who had looked away as soon as Jayden embraced me. As he did, I heard him say under his breath, “First a black white man Chosen One, now he is kissing a Diné Chosen One and Keeper of the Secrets and the Old Ones are whispering their approval in my ear.” When we broke our kiss, I opened my eyes, I saw neither Elder nor Rattlesnake and as I looked around, I did not see him riding away. He just wasn’t there. Jayden noticed it as well and said, “He’s got the disappearing act down better than Ernesto.”
“He’s gone as well?”
“Yes. We got back an hour before you and Elder. Ernesto left me standing here as Elder did you. Let’s get lunch. I think the Pueblo menu calls for spaghetti, garlic bread and a wonderful green salad with tomatoes and cucumbers.”
“Only on the bottom of the Italian garlic bread!”
Hand in hand, we climbed the trail to the Pueblo.
After lunch, we rode into the desert to a spot Jayden had discovered when he was at the Pueblo. Shaded from the afternoon sun, we talked of what we had experienced in our time apart and when we were together as spirits. “It was an amazing experience, Jayden,” I said, “especially the dreams. They were so real I can hardly believe they were dreams.”
As sure as any couple could be, we finally had our plan for the future and kissed in agreement and celebration. The kiss soon became one of love, lust and passion. We broke the kiss and Jayden removed my shirt. “Beloved, your shoulders and back look more real than a dream to me,” he said in awe. By twisting my head as far as possible over each shoulder, I could see some of the scars left by the eagle's talon's. A faint a kiss on my shoulder soon reminded me of the matter at hand.
Jayden and I made love the rest of the afternoon and actually chanted the sun to bed standing nude in the desert air.
After we returned, Jayden and I sat down with Kathryn, Richard and Lupe to talk about our time with our elders. We told them the highlights as we recalled them including, at Jayden's insistence, showing them my scars. When we finished with what we had experienced, Richard asked what our next steps were.
“Without going into detail, I will return to Old Commonwealth and complete my degree first semester. During that time, I will apply to med schools. I intend to become certified in Rural Medicine.”
“I still have a ways to go before I get my degree,” Jayden said, “at least three semesters, so I’ll have a year after Derek graduates. Where he gets into med school will determine where I compete my degree. I’ll have an additional two years, minimum, earning a master’s degree. By then I will have determined the shape of a Pueblo-like program geared to troubled and at-risk young men who do not have a real culture or who find their culture constricting. I hope that together Derek and I can create a place and way for those young men to have a healthy mind, body and spirit.”
A week later, two confident young men left the Pueblo, plans in place.
**Usually translated, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
****And leaves us nought but grief and pain for promised joy.”
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