Thursday, December 26, 2013

Random Thoughts for After Christmas

Mom made the decision to come off dialysis. Her last treatment was December 19th.  She was pretty adamant that she didn't want to die on Christmas, and thankfully we have passed that milestone.

This has been a hard journey for everyone involved.  Bittersweet feelings about the holiday.  It just didn't feel too Christmasy to me.  One of the small blessings though is that both of my kiddos said they had a wonderful Christmas. So hopefully future X-Mas times will remain joyous for them.  Time will tell how we adults will do.

We have also been blessed to have so many good friends and family who have visited.  Mom perks up as much as she is able to greet people and say goodbye.  Those who have visited have helped buoy the spirits of those of us here on watch as well.  It is not easy sitting vigil while a loved one dies, even more difficult when all around people are celebrating.

We are at the Hospice House of Mercy in Hiawatha, Iowa.  Another blessing, as many of the things we have done to make Mom's last days so good would have been difficult, I'd not impossible at my folks house.  They even do the dishes, which wouldn't sound like such a chore. But it seems daunting to me as I spend more time here.  They are good people.  There are a couple of outstanding individuals among them as well. Karla and Kramer.  A couple of the RN's who have gone above and beyond in their care for mom and the rest of us as well.

Another strange thing is having a medical background in this sort of thing, knowing the steps most people take while dying signs and symptoms and so forth.  Yet somehow I forget a step here or an indicator there. Almost like my brain is just being a family member and not a paramedic.  Natural to happen I suppose, but strange for me.

Here's the thing about death, though.  When Dad died the first time I remember so vividly starting the drive to Cedar Rapids, pretty sure with my medic background that if they had been working him for an hour, his chances were beyond not so good.  I remember wishing I had said goodbye.  Told him that I loved him and was proud to be his son.  That he had done a fantastic job of being a father, no matter what he thought.  Fortunately he came back and I was able to convey those feelings.  Mom's dying process has been drawn out, and I have had the chance to tell her my feelings and thoughts. I have had that initial shock of grief in realizing that I won't see her again for quite some time. I have had time to mourn the things I will miss about her and reflect on the times we had together.  Don't get me wrong, I am really very blessed to have the chance to do all that.  But now it is just waiting.  Checking her vitals when the nurses do.  Looking for the telltale signs that death is approaching as I was trained to do. Part of me looking at things clinically. Numbly.  Part of me is just really, really sad.  Lump in my throat, will probably cry at cheesy commercials sad.  I am certain that any depression screening done right now would come back with higher than usual scores.

The day is starting. People are starting to visit. Staff is doing their thing.  So I'll go for now.  Watching.
Waiting.
Vigil.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mi Nina

Yeah, that post title is supposed to be in Spanish.  I can't figure out how to do the little squiggle thingy above the "n".  I don't speak Spanish. Can you tell?

A while back, as the kiddos, Grampa and I were out shooting rockets, a group of latino men and women started gathering to play soccer as soon as we vacated the fields.

We had a nice chat with some of them, and encouraged their kids to look at the rockets and have some fun with us, when my little sweet pea realized they were speaking Spanish.

She approached a man who was playing with a son about her age, and asked if he spoke Spanish.

"Si." He said, "Yes I do."

"I do to!" She said proudly. Having watched multiple episodes of Dora the Explorer has given her confidence in her Spanish speaking chops.

The nice man said "What can you say?"

"Glacias!" She said proudly, unable to roll her r's. "It means thank you."

"Do you mean 'gracias'?" The man asked, rolling his r slightly.

"No, no." She corrected him 'GLA-cias'!  GL, GL, GL... like that." Supreme confidence.

The man and the surrounding group got a big chuckle out of my little linguist. As did I.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Not Sure What To Do With All Of That

So, there you have it reader. Some days I look at that picture and wonder if it really all happened that way.  Then I'll re-read my journals and shake my head and ask God, or Wakan Tanka, just what I'm supposed to do next.

I have since joined the board of directors for the Re-Member organization, and have been working hard at getting Bluefeather Workshop stocked up to start doing some shows.  I've had the fun of having my parents living in the hotel across the road while Mom gets back on her feet, and watching the kiddos grow as they have been back in school. Our calender is filled with events.  Weddings, doctor appointments, workdays, play days... nary a day where nothing is happening.

In short, life is moving along. My mind is focusing on a bunch of irons in the fire and trying to stay ahead of them all.  Yet there is the picture.  A daily reminder that something happened to me.  The journals can be put on a shelf and forgotten.  But that picture greets me in the morning and wishes me a pleasant sleep at night.  I think about the Cloud Warrior often.  Wondering if I will see him again before another twenty one years pass. Wondering if there is more that I should be doing.  Wondering where this road will lead.

More Later

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chapter 20 - Meeting Howard Bluebird


None too soon, Jack and his father were headed back to the Rez.  To see the Sundance and to find Howard Bluebird.

Jack and his dad headed to the Rez for a four day trip.  Their schedule would be pretty full.  Arriving late Wednesday night, they were going to the Sundance on Thursday, there was a pow wow happening on Friday, and they were heading back on Saturday.  Some time in there Jack wanted to find Howard Bluebird and chat with him.

They had a great time at the Sundance.  It was powerful and moving once again.  Jack and Will had time to talk about the picture and the journals. Will was curious as well as to what Howard would say. As the day came to a close, Jack and Will talked about the Sundance that would be happening next year. 

“I’d be interested in coming out for the whole week next year” Jack said. “Helping out wherever you need me.”

“You could be a fireman.” Will offered. “But you’d need to be here all week.”

“Sounds good to me.” Jack said.  There was a slight pause in the conversation.

“How far do you want to take this?” Will asked.

“What do you mean?” Jack replied.

“I mean, how far down this road are you wanting to go?  You could start off as a fireman, or cedarman, and after a few years, you could learn the songs, and if you are serious, you could even be a Sundancer.”

Jack thought about that for a moment.

“That’s a pretty serious step.” He said.

“Yep.  But if you are serious about walking down this red road, it may be something Wakan Tanka calls you to do.”

The next day Jack and his dad went searching for Howard Bluebird. The instructions to get to his house seemed simple.  The first time Jack had come to Re-Member, the first project he had worked on was skirting a trailer for a man named Bart.  Howard Bluebird lived in a nearby blue trailer, with a blue van out front.  But when they drove past Bart’s trailer, there was no blue trailer in sight.  There were two men standing out on the porch of a grey trailer, so Jack decided to ask them where Howard lived.  He drove up the driveway and approached the two men.

“Hi. I’m looking for Howard Bluebird.” Jack said politely.

“OK.” Said a man leaning against the railing.

There was an awkward pause.

“Do you know where he lives?” Jack asked.

“Yep.” Said the man, grinning now.

Another awkward pause.

“Can you tell me where to find him?” Jack finally asked.

“Sure.” The man said. But he finally let Jack off the hook. “I’m Howard Bluebird.”

Jack smiled and walked up to the man and shook hands.

“I’m Jack Shepard, I wondered if I could talk to you for a minute or two.”

“I know.” Howard said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Jack started to freak out again, his eyes went wide. What on earth was going on?

Howard saw Jack getting startled and smiled again as he said “Ted called a while ago and told me you were coming out.”

Jack let out a deep breath.  Howard was quite the joker.

Jack asked Howard about the painting, and didn’t have to remind him much about the details of the picture.

“I have a lot of military men in my family.” Howard began. “Uncles, nephews, brothers and others.  Sometimes when I am up on the hill on a hanblecheya – a vision quest – I am visited by a spirit warrior and I know I have to paint it for one of those guys. It’s like their guardian spirit.  For this one I was visited by this warrior, but I didn’t know who it was for. I painted it anyway and didn’t know what to do with it.  The painting is called ‘The Warrior’s Dream”.  I finished it the day you bought it, and took it to craft night wondering if anyone would buy it. I didn’t expect it to go to anyone in the military, though.”

Jack told Howard about his time in the Marine Corps, and about the dream he had recorded in his journals.

“Ah. That makes sense then.” Howard said. “I guess I painted it for you.”

“But what does it mean?” Jack asked. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“You had a vision back then.” Said Howard. “He is your Spirit Guardian.  Kind of like a Guardian Angel.  When you go up on the hill to do a vision quest, you can ask him for guidance about all of this.”

“Vision quest?” Jack said, startled. “I don’t know the first thing about doing a vision quest.  How do I even get started in all of that?”

Howard just smiled.

“Just take it day by day.  Don’t try to rush things.  Wakan Tanka has something planned.  Just relax and keep an open mind.”

“That’s what everybody seems to be telling me.” Jack said.

They talked for a minute or two more, Jack presented Howard with some tobacco as a thank you and a sign of respect.  As he left, Jack said he hoped to see Howard again.

“Oh, you will.” He said. “We’ll talk again.”

Back at Re-Member, Will had stopped by to deliver a few things. Jack had a chance to talk with him about his encounter with Howard.

“If you are serious,” Will said, “Pray about it this winter. In the spring you can come back and I’ll take you up to Bear Butte to see some vision questers.  If you feel you have to do a vision quest, we’ll see about making that happen.”

The pow wow that evening was a perfect ending to their time on the Rez, although he had more questions about what the future would hold than before he went out.

 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chapter 19 - More Revelations




The next few days were a bit blurry for Jack.  He had read stories of people experiencing miraculous things, but he was a doubter by nature.  He joked that since his middle name was Thomas, he was destined to doubt unless he saw the proof.  So when people would say things like “I saw a skunk cross the road in front of me, so I knew something bad would happen” or “I had a dream about him dying, and then he did!” His BS meter popped a flag up. 

But now here he was.  With a journal written during infantry school decades ago describing in startling detail a man in a painting he had just purchased because he had been oddly drawn to it.  His wife asked when the journal entry was written.

“May 15th of ’92.” He said.  “Why?”

“What day did you buy the painting?” She asked.

That surreal feeling hit Jack hard once again.  He had purchased the painting on May 15th of 2013. Twenty-one years to the day that he had first seen the cloud warrior.  It suddenly occurred to him that the artist, one Howard Bluebird, had mentioned that he had finished the painting just that day.  May 15th.

Jack contacted Ted and Will on the Rez, hoping for some insight into this whole thing, as he was still a bit freaked out, and had not a clue what to do with this information.  They both suggested meeting with Howard to find out why he had chosen that subject to paint.  Jack knew that he was headed back to the Rez for the Sundance, but the time could not pass fast enough until he could go.

While he was waiting, he had lunch with a dear friend that he had met on his very first trip out to Pine Ridge.  He told her the story, and she made the observation that Jack had first seen the cloud warrior on May 15th before his 21st birthday, and had seen him again on May 15th before his 42nd birthday. Twenty-one years from birth to the first meeting.  Twenty-one years from the first to the second meeting.  Jack was again startled.  What would happen on May 15th before his 63rd and 84th birthdays?

None too soon, Jack and his father were headed back to the Rez.  To see the Sundance and to find Howard Bluebird.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chapter 18 - Revelations


When he returned home, Jack spread out all of the things he had purchased on the Rez on his bed for his wife to take a look at. She looked them over with her appraising eye, asking him what he was going to do with all of it.  He shrugged and told her that he had no idea.

They started talking about Jack joining the board of directors, and she asked why he thought Ted wanted him on the board.  Jack started telling her what Ted had said to him.  He wanted some new blood, fresh ideas and drive to get things done.  He wanted someone with vision…

As he said that word – vision – his eyes fell upon the picture of the cloud warrior.


Like a shot it hit him that he had seen the cloud warrior before.  He knew the man in the painting.  His heart started pounding and his palms started sweating.  He couldn’t breathe.

“I know that guy!” Jack exclaimed.

“What?” his wife asked.

“That Indian!  I have seen him before!”  Jack was a bit freaked out by what he was seeing.

“That’s the guy I saw back in Infantry School! I’m almost certain!”

Karen was not as freaked out as Jack was. She had a higher trust in miraculous things happening, and this didn’t seem too out of the blue for something that God might arrange.

Jack went to look for his old journals from his USMC days. It took some digging and some time.  While he was searching he thought that perhaps he was just throwing coincidences together.  Maybe it wasn’t the same Indian he had seen back in 1992.  Maybe time had warped his memory just enough that the man in the painting looked similar to the one Jack had dreamed about.  

Then he found it.  Two old, battered notebooks looking like they had seen much better days.  Jack started flipping eagerly through the entries. It didn’t take long for him to find what he was looking for.  In one entry he described setting up for an ambush. Lying there for hours needing to stay awake. Watching the inky blackness containing the multitude of stars.

He read about how he had fallen asleep, saw a sky turned rusty red.  Next to him an Indian, dressed in a breechcloth. The Indian had long black hair with a feather in it.  His face was painted red from midline at the nose up. He held a spear and a shield that was green with lightning and some spots on it. And he was a friend.  Jack read this entry to his wife as they looked at the picture again.

 

“What on earth am I supposed to do with this?” Jack thought. “What is going on?”

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chapter 17 - Pine Ridge Trip 2013


Over the winter, Jack stayed in touch with people he had met at Re-member.  Jack helped organize another trip from his church, and that group was all set to head out in the middle of May.  It was another great trip, and a great time was had by all.

For Jack, the trip was a bit mind blowing for more than one reason.  The first night he was there, Ted, the director of Re-member, suggested that Jack join the Re-member board of directors.  His initial gut reaction was “No, no no.  No, huh-uh, nope.”  But Ted talked him down from the initial shock and told him that the board was looking for new blood, people who are really pumped up about Re-member and what they do. People with a good vision of where Re-member should be going in the future. Jack told Ted that he just didn’t see himself as a “board of directors” type of guy.

Jack consulted with his wife, his parents, his pastor who was along for the trip. As the week progressed and he talked more with Ted and others, he slowly came around to the idea of being on the board.  Jack wanted to talk with his wife in person, so when he left at the end of the week, he gave his answer as a solid probably. 
Jack saw many of his friends from the year before, including Erika and Dan, and was able to talk with Will and Lena a bit more as well. Jack made plans with Will to come back again in July for the Sundance, and asked if he could bring his father, who had also known of the Sundance for a good many years and would be excited to attend.  Will told Jack that he didn't call him 'Misun' for nothing, and that any family of Jack's were family of his.  Jack thanked his Ciye (pronounced CHEE-yay and meaning 'older brother') and was happy to have plans to return to the Rez.
On Wednesday’s at Re-member, they host an arts and crafts night, where local artists and craftspeople bring their things and join the volunteers for a meal and to sell their art.  It was a lot of fun, and there are so many cool things to choose from that it was hard to pick what to buy.  Jack had saved up some personal money all year long, tucking away a fiver here and a twenty there, so he was primed to buy.  Not only is the artwork and craftwork phenomenal, but for most of the people selling, this was their only source of income, sometimes for the entire week until the next arts and crafts night.

 
 
 
Jack picked up four or five dreamcatchers, a beautifully beaded headband for his little girl, a beaded bracelet for his wife, and a couple of amazing chalk drawings from a man named Kevin Poor Bear.

As he was browsing, he came upon a man selling some beautiful pictures.  Ink and paint on canvas.  He had three paintings, two of which were of medicine wheels with spiritually significant scenes in them, and behind them were larger animals.  One an eagle, the other a bear.  Inside the eagle medicine wheel was a scene of a white buffalo looking over a landscape.  Inside the bear medicine wheel was a scene of the White Buffalo Calf woman.  Both were really neat, and Jack was having a hard time deciding which of the two he wanted.  As he was trying to decide, his eye kept getting drawn to the third painting.  It looked like a spirit warrior riding a white horse through the clouds over the Black Hills.
 

 Eventually Jack decided to buy the eagle picture, but really felt like the cloud warrior picture was calling to him.  It was very strange. He was seldom pulled towards a piece of art that way.  It was a really powerful pull towards this specific painting.  Jack wanted to ask the artist about it, if it had any significance, but the night was coming to an end, and he had to get inside for the speaker of the night. He decided to buy the cloud warrior painting because he felt like he would be missing something if he didn’t. Jack felt a little silly about the strange attraction to the painting, so he didn’t mention it to anyone, especially the artist. He paid for the two pictures and thanked the artist, who just smiled back at Jack.  He thought that would be the end of his interactions with the artist… but it would only be the beginning.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chapter 16 - Back on the Rez


16. When He returned that August, he was welcomed at Re-Member like family. Erika and Jack, along with another Re-member staffer named Dan, all went to Will and Lena’s house to run through songs.  They stayed up late into the night working up harmonies to songs they were hearing for the first time.  The next day they all headed up to Rapid City to record. It was a lot of fun, and a little stressful since they were doing all the recording for the backups in one day.
The name of the album, Will told them, was going to be "Back on the Rez" which would also be the title song.  The music was fun and upbeat.  Sticky, as Jack's wife would say.  The tunes catchy and memorable.  Jack hadn't been in a recording studio in quite some time, and he had a blast.
After the final tracks were down, Will and Lena took their backup singers out for dinner, where the group bonded even more.
The night before Jack left, he and Will sat out in Will’s backyard talking for hours. They talked about their families. They talked about the similarities and differences between Christianity and Lakota spiritual practices.  There are so many more similarities than differences.  The only real differences are how prayers are offered, and the level of spirituality of the practitioners.  The Lakota pray every day for everything.  They believe, as did Jack, that God is everywhere and in everything.  They are thankful for what they have, and are better attuned to spiritual signs than most Christians.
Jack asked Will what Misun meant, since Will had addressed him as Misun in many e-mails and in person a few times.
"It means 'younger brother'." Will said.
Jack left the next morning knowing that he probably wouldn’t be back until the Spring.  But the important thing was that he would be back.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chapter 15 - The Sundance

Authors note - This is the first I have written about my experience at the Sundance. I share it now because I feel that people should know about the ceremony, but also should know of the sacredness involved in it.

Chapter 15 -


Jack and Erika followed Will and Lena out to the Sundance the next morning. Jack went with the expectation of being an "outside observer" sort of like when he had attended other religions ceremonies. When they first arrived, the dancers were just getting ready to go into the circle again. Will told them that when the dancers were dancing, it was respectful to stand with them, to encourage them and pray with them. So the two outsiders stood politely for the first dance, as a good Lutheran and a good Catholic should.

The dancers danced to the four directions singing and praying at each cardinal point, then moving on. Will pointed out his sons, and his grandson - who was participating in his first sun dance. His daughter was there too, she was one of the gatekeepers. There were about 25 sun dancers, around a half dozen 'red sash' wearers - kind of the officiants, and four women - one for each gate at the cardinal directions. The dance area was about 250 feet in diameter.  A circle of posts with coverings ringed the area at that distance, creating a sort of booth effect where spectators could be in the shade. This encircled the Sundance Tree, a special tree that had been ceremonially chopped down, brought to the circle and erected in the center at the beginning of the week. Inside that circle, about ten feet or so, was a cloth wrapped sage circle going all the way around, about as big as a wrist, wrapped in the appropriate colors for the directions. At each gate were two sticks marking the door, tied with ribbons of the appropriate color for the direction as well.

The dancers were dressed in "robes", essentially fabric wrapped around their middles running down to their ankles - long straight skirts. The colors and stripes on them were personally meaningful, but there was a lot of red - the color of honor. They all had red wrapped sage bundles making anklets, bracelets and crowns, some of which had eagle feathers sticking up from them. They all had eagle bone whistles on lanyards around their necks which they blew on in rhythm with the drums as they danced. Some danced barefoot, some wore moccasins. Again, personal preference.

The young cottonwood tree, about eight inches in diameter in the center of the circle, was draped with ribbons of the four colors, plus blue and green. There were also buffalo rawhide cutouts tied to the tree. One in the shape of a man, representing all of humanity, and one shaped like a buffalo, representing all of the gifts from that animal and all of our animal/insect/bird brothers and sisters. There were many coils of ropes attached to the tree. These were for the sun dancers when they pierced.

Jack was one of a few wasicu's in the crowd (white people) but he did notice a red headed white guy was in the circle as a sun dancer.

As the dancers rested between dances, they had the chance to talk and learn. Will and his wife Lena were excellent teachers. The first lesson was to listen and watch. Most questions, Will told them, could be answered by just doing that.

As the Sundancers prepared for the next dance, a buffalo robe was brought out and spread out under the tree. They took one of the coils of rope down and extended it out to where the sun dancer would be dancing. Then the one to be pierced came in with a medicine man and they made their way around the circle. When they reached the entrance again (the West) they stood to the side, and as each Sundancer entered, they shook hands. The rest of the dancers spaced themselves around the circle and the one to be pierced went to the buffalo robe, along with the medicine men and the one doing the piercing, in this case, one of Wills sons.

After prayers at the tree, the dancer lay down on the robe and was pierced. They used new surgical scalples, so the medic in Jack was OK with that.  Then they slid pegs through the holes and attached the rope to the pegs. The dancer rose and walked out to where the rope was taut. Then he danced. Four times he danced in to the tree and prayed against it, and four times he danced back out to where the rope was taut. On the last time out there would be calls of encouragement and women would make the tremelo. The dancer would lean back until the pegs tore free from his chest.

It was really powerful to see. Profoundly powerful. Jack was moved to tears the first time he saw it, and had a lump in his throat every other time.

The dancers also pierced for the buffalo skull drag. In this case the same procedure was followed, but the dancers back was pierced and attached to a train of six buffalo skulls. The dancer would then drag the skulls around the outside of the circle four times. At the end, the assistants (who were keeping the skulls upright and in line during the procession) would press down on the skulls, acting as gravity brakes for the train. The dancer would then pull until the pegs tore free from his back. It was also a very powerful thing to watch.

In either case after the pegs broke free, the dancer went back to the tree and the scraps of flesh left on the wound were trimmed away, placed on sage, and wrapped in red cloth. Then a sacred medicine was rubbed into the wound. It's a secret blend, but is a coagulant, and stopped the bleeding immediately.

Contrary to what the movies show, there really wasn't a lot of blood. Jack noticed a trickle or two, but was not worried about anyone bleeding out from their wounds.

Will explained the thought behind piercing very simply. In the Lakota culture, men have nothing in this world. Everything they "own" really belongs to their women. Mothers first, then wives. They just borrow their weapons or robes or whatever from the women in their lives. Women have menstruation and childbirth. In this they already suffer and bleed for the people, and from this comes life. Men have nothing physical to give, so the Sundance creates a ceremony whereby they can give the only thing they truly own, their flesh and blood, and bleed for the people, so that the people can live.

Jack listened as Will explained that the Lakota had no problems believing that Jesus bled and died for them. After all, their culture had seen men bleeding and dying for the people for many, many years before Christians got there.

For both Jack and Erika, it was hard to just stand there and watch. Physically hard, as Jack’s back was pretty messed up from the hospital drive on Sunday, and emotionally hard to feel like a pent up Lutheran when he wanted to be supporting the dancers. So he danced, too. So did Erika. Everybody else in the crowd danced as the Sundancers danced. Soon he found himself dancing and praying for them, supporting them with his prayers. He prayed for other things, too. Prayers for Mike and his leg and his doctors and nurses. Prayers for everyone at Re-Member that week and every week. Prayers for his family, especially his Mom and Dad. Interestingly, when he told his Mom all of this later, she told him that Wednesday was the first day that she had felt really good in years. She felt like her old self again, able to get up and do things. She was nearly giddy with the telling of it, and she had felt that way most every day since. Coincidence?

They had a 'doctoring dance' where the women made trails of sage leading from the North and South gates in to the tree, with the exit to the West. Will said that anybody with health problems, or spiritual problems or just prayers to send up could go out and pray with a medicine man at the tree.

Will knew about Jack’s PTSD from conversations they had had during the year, and he suggested that Jack go into the circle and pray. So he did. Barefoot at the gate, one of the dancers gave him some herbs to 'cleanse' himself with, wiping it all over his body to be pure enough to approach the tree. As he approached, he wasn't sure if he should pray for all hundred or so of 'his people' or what. But when his turn arrived, he placed his head against the tree, and as the medicine man covered his back with the eagle wing, he knew who to pray for.

One of his first calls as a medic was to a 3 month old SIDS case. He and his fellow medics had worked the baby hard, but to no avail. It was pretty rough. So Jack prayed for him. He prayed that whatever higher power there be would take that little boy and be sure he was happy.

Jack was a little teary as he left the circle, and near the exit - before the gate, the women were giving ladles of 'spirit drink' - a wild tea that grows along the rivers there. It tasted a little minty and sweet, and was very good. Then he rejoined the crowd on the outside. It was very powerful as well. Even more so since the Sundancers were helping others as they came into the circle. These guys had been dancing for two and a half days, yet they were there to serve others.

There was more piercing throughout the day, both skull dragging and chest piercing. Each time was moving, and brought a tear to Jack’s eye. How many in the Christian faith would bleed for their brothers and sisters? Their world? Bleed even for those that hate them? He couldn’t think of any, with the exception of the few who are "crucified" in the Phillipens (or was it Mexico). But even that is looked on with some disdain from western culture.

But as Jack watched these guys do it, most with family and friends gathering behind them to encourage them as they danced, it was obviously not done for 'show' or for emulating anyone else. Each dancer was piercing for the people. All people, and the world.



Jack thought the whole thing was thickly sacred. Heavily holy. If that makes any sense. Like the Sweat Lodge, it was interspersed with laughter and chatter and irreverence, and that was OK. Even the red sashes and Sundancers were goofing around a bit between dances.

Will went to the drum and sang with them a few times. It was all wonderfully, informally formal. jack felt very welcomed, and very much a part of it.

In between dances, there was a side alter set up, sort of a narthex, with a buffalo skull in front of a red blanket covered with sage. A pipe rested against the skull and a thick, foot long peg was pressed into the ground near the skull. This was a place where the crowd could come and give flesh offerings. They knelt on the blanket and sage and held the pipe. As they prayed, the piercer (Will's son again) used a small lance and a scalpel (all new, of course, and disposed of in a red hazardous waste bucket after) and lifted a piece of skin from the upper arm and sliced it away with the knife. No one did more than four. Some did less. It was, again, individual preference. The wound was about the size of a pea, not terribly large. The flesh removed was then placed on sage and wrapped in a red cloth. These flesh offerings were then tied together into a chain and wrapped around the stick. When the stick got full, it was replaced with a new stick.

Will explained that on the last day of the Sundance, all of the flesh offerings from the dancers and from the crowd would be ceremonially burned in the fire and all of those prayers would be turned to smoke and sent up to Wakan Tanka. It was a powerful image.

There were 'firemen' who tended the fire, and 'cedarmen' who danced with cans of smoldering, smokey cedar for people to cleanse themselves with. After each round, one of the red sashes would choose a dancer to move his pipe. There were two pipe racks near the West gate. One for all the pipes to rest on at the beginning of the day, and an empty one to receive the pipes after the rounds. Each dancer could choose to have the crowd smoke the pipe out. Not an easy task when the pipe comes to a non-smoker like Jack. But he had learned a little from the sweat, and didn't choke this time. They used the bark from the willow tree to smoke. It could only be collected between the time the trees start cracking and growing new bark to the first thunderstorm. Then it it’s sacred again until the next year.

After the last dance of the day, there were about 10 pipes left on the rack, so the remaining dancers went to collect their pipes and do the processional around the hoop, and the red sashes chose people from the crowd to assist. Erika and Jack were both chosen for the last one. They gave each a stick of sage and escorted them around the outside of the circle. Then they lined up across from the dancer and the dancer presented them with their pipe in a sacred way, offering it four times. On the fourth time they accepted the pipes, and were instructed to hold the pipe in their left hand and the stem on the right, and to hold them together at all costs. Then they were all taken to different parts of the crowd and helped others smoke the pipes out. Jack was glad for this job, as it involved no smoking for him. But he felt honored none the less for being chosen.

After the last dance, the oldest woman there was brought to the tree for a special prayer by the holy men for the elders. As she came out in her wheelchair, the dancers lined up to kiss her and hug her and thank her for her wisdom and years, and for blessing the circle with her presence. It was quite touching.

After all of this, there was supper to be had. Will was doing a sweat for kids, and any newbies like Jack. It ended up being about ten people, half kids. It wasn't nearly as hot as Larry's sweat had been, and Jack was able to concentrate more on the songs and prayers. When they finished the sweat, they joined in the feast. Good soup, fry bread, another kind of bread called ga boo boo bread. Jack asked them if they were just messing with the white guy by calling it that. But they laughed and assured him that it was indeed called ga boo boo bread.

It was really an amazing day. Before Erika and Jack left for the day, Will asked if they would like to come back in August and do some backup vocals for his second album. It was a no brainer for Jack. He knew he’d be back if at all possible.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chapter 14 - Manic Monday


Monday was thankfully injury free for the group of volunteers and staff, and that night the speaker was Will Peters again. He greeted Jack warmly when they met again, and Jack asked if Will wanted some back-up vocals for his song that night.  Will was open to it, and Jack wondered if he had heard a twinge of doubt in Will’s voice about allowing an unknown variable into his performance.

But Jack knew it would work out alright.  He had a pretty good voice, and had made up a harmony part to the song Will would sing on the way home from the Rez last year.  So when the time for the song came, Jack sang along with Will.  He sang from his heart, and it sounded pretty darn good.

After the song, while the crowd was applauding, Will came over and shook Jack’s hand.  Leaning in close he said “That was bad-ass, man! Really, really cool! Thanks!”

“Thanks for letting me sing along!” Jack said.

After the talk and the usual crowd of fans wanting autographs and chat with Will, Jack walked Will and his wife Lena out to their car.

“Sorry we didn’t get much chance to talk, Misun.” Will said.

“Me too.” Said Jack.

“Hey, if you want to, my family and friends are having the Sundance this week. You could come hang out with us there if you want sometime this week.”

Jack was shocked and thrilled by the invitation.  The Lakota consider the Sundance to be the most important, most sacred ceremony.  Jack had heard about them, had read about them for years.  But he never expected to actually see one in person. He didn’t hesitate to accept, and after some arrangements made on Tuesday, Jack and Erika – one of the staffers and a new good friend of Jack’s – were all set to go see the Sundance on Wednesday.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chapter 13 - A Better Ending for Sunday


When they were returning from the hospital that afternoon, Jack got a call from his friend Allie, one of the Lakota that he met and was friends with from the last trip.

“I was wondering if you would want to join us for a sweat tonight.” She said.

Jack had read about the sweat lodge ceremony over the years.  So he was very excited to participate.

“Yes! Of course! Yeah!”

Click HERE to read Jack’s first hand report of his experience with the sweat lodge ceremony.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chapter 12 - Scary Start to a Sunday


              12.  Stress free was not in the cards.  Sunday began normally enough, breakfast, Wisdom of the Elders, and then they loaded up the buses and headed for the Badlands.  Usually the tour went to Wounded Knee first, but today because of the heat they would begin the day with the hike to the Sanctuary.

                The buses first pulled up to the small visitor center welcoming people to the South Unit of the Badlands.  It was little more than a double wide trailer, painted in the same State Park Tan as a thousand other government buildings in the country.  The group wandered around a bit, some using the restrooms, some looking at the displays, others staying on the buses. They were given a choice to stay at the visitor center because of the heat. Some of the volunteers were pretty aged, and some not in the best of health.  But for the most part, everyone wanted to go hiking in the Badlands.  Jack and his dad both decided to make the trip, mostly because they both loved the Badlands.

                Soon enough those who were hiking loaded back onto the busses and headed into the park. Jack saw the old familiar hills and buttes, and soon the busses pulled up to the hiking area. Volunteers and staff flooded out into the prairie and were soon making their way slowly and warmly to the Sanctuary.  Jack’s dad was not ready for the dry heat and the altitude and decided that at their first stop he would set up a chair and wait until everybody got back.  One of the staff members, Erika, said she’d stay back with him so Jack could go ahead, but as Jack hiked back towards the Sanctuary he realized he would rather spend time with his dad and headed back. He found his dad and Erika marveling at a small circle of rusty ground.

                “Hey bud!” His father greeted him. “Come and look at this.”

                “What is it?” Jack asked.

                “Fossilized turtle shell.” He said. “I was just sitting here and saw it.  Pretty cool, huh!?!”

                “Very cool!” said Jack. He sat on the ground and started carefully clearing dirt from around the shell with a pair of nail clippers.

                Erika found an old cow rib that she used as a back scratcher, and the three were having a delightful conversation when they noticed a staff member running back towards the vans and busses.

                “What’s going on?” Erika asked.

                “Somebody broke their leg!” The staffer yelled, not even slowing down. “I’m going for the emergency bag!”

                Jack’s dad looked at him.

                “Think you should go check it out?” He half asked, half stated.

                Jack was silent for a moment and smiled at his dad.

                “Guess so.” He said. “You going to be OK here?”

                “I’ve got Erika!” He said, “What could go wrong?”

                Erika promised to stay with Jack’s dad, which pleased his dad immensely.

                “See ya’.” Jack said, and started walking towards the Sanctuary.

                Very soon he was being passed by a parade of volunteers heading back to the busses.

                “You’re heading the wrong way!” They told him. “We’re all going to the busses. Where are you going?”

                Jack just smiled and nodded, waved good naturedly. What was he doing? He wondered.

                “I’m no longer a medic.” He thought. “Well, technically I am still Nationally Certified until next March, but I got out of the business. I haven’t had a patient for months. I have nothing with me. What difference will I possibly make.”

                Another volunteer ran past. This one Jack recognized.

                “Hey!” He said. “Need a medic?”

                “Yeah, man! I’m glad you’re here! We’re going to try to drive the van in to get ‘em.”

                “Guy or gal?” Jack asked.

                “Guy.” He said, running on.

                Another staffer came running.

                “How bad is the break?” Jack asked.

                “Not too bad.” She said. “I think she’s fine.”

                Jack was confused, but the staffer ran on.  Was it a guy or a girl? Was it serious or not? He kept walking. Soon he saw one of the members of his group being helped along by two other staffers.

                ‘Well, at least she’s walking.’ He thought. ‘Can’t be too bad.’

                A few seconds later he saw something much more frightening.  There was a group of staff and others carrying a man on their shoulders.  It looked like a scene from a movie where they took Christ down off of the cross and carried him.  But in this case someone was holding his feet very carefully.

                Jack arrived just as they were setting him down for a little break.  He introduced himself to the man with the broken leg, and examined the break.  It was bad.  Broken through both of the bones, the foot hanging loosely. Fortunately there was no broken skin, but the area around the break was already bruising.

                One of the staffers had wrapped it with an ice pack and ace bandage.  It was the best they could do with the supplies that they had on hand.  Jack called for his backpack, which by chance had a SAM splint in it that he had brought along as an afterthought as he packed up before he left. 

A van came bouncing along out towards the group.  Soon they had both the man and the woman with the hurt leg into the van, along with the group leader of the man’s group.  As they drove, Jack took the foam lined malleable metal splint and carefully unwrapped the break.  It was worse than he thought.  The muscles on the leg had pulled the bones into an overlapping position and was causing the man excruciating pain.

“How long until we get to the hospital?” Jack asked the driver.

“Twenty minutes to Pine Ridge, but they’ll only send him to Chadron, so we’ll head there.  Forty minutes to an hour.”

Jack looked at the break again.  The man’s foot was turning purple from lack of blood flow. Jack worried that an hour of this might compromise the chances of keeping his foot, so he made a quick decision.

“Mike, I’m going to have to readjust your leg bones a bit, and it is going to hurt.  But when I’m done, it should relieve some of your pain.”

“Do it.” Mike grunted.

Jack had never reduced a fracture in the field before.  In fact, as a medic he was trained to just immobilize the break and get the person to a hospital ASAP.  But in rare cases, it was OK to reduce it, such as lack of blood flow to the area and long transport time.

He smoothly pulled the foot away and felt the bones scraping along each other.  Mike let out an agonized grunting scream.  After what seemed like an eternity to both men, the leg was back in line and Jack braced it with the SAM splint. Mike said that he was immediately relieved from the intense pain that he had been feeling.  With the roads as bad as they were, Jack held the man’s leg for the entire 45 minute ride to the hospital. The end of that story was that after many surgeries and much therapy, Mike got to keep his leg thanks to Jack’s actions.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chapter 11 - Back to the Rez


11. As he prepared his church group to go to the Rez, he tried to answer as many questions as he could. But each time he answered, he felt like a five year old being quizzed on physics. He knew a very little, but also knew he had so very much to learn.

He asked for permission to start a funding drive for shingles at his church.  After it was OK’d he gave a short presentation to the congregation asking for funds for the Remember Shingles Drive. He also sent out a plea online and to family and friends for support. In the weeks between the trips, he was able to raise almost $3000. He was astounded at the generosity of the Social Mission team at his church, the support from the congregation, and the very generous amount that his parents donated.

How on earth would he get $3000 worth of shingles out to the Rez, though?  They were heavy, and they would already be hauling eight people and all of their luggage. Jack talked with Ted, the director out at Re-Member. He suggested just putting the money into a Menards gift card. Then they would use it when they went up to Rapid City for supplies.  This idea appealed to Jack and so he built a little trailer (skirted, of course) and used gift cards as shingles on the top.

He was kept so busy by the preparations for the next trip that he didn’t have much time to ruminate on his first experience.  Although he had been in contact with some of those he had met, he was still nervous as he headed back to the Rez with a church group. But his dad would be along for the trip this time, and Jack was thankful that he could share the experience with him.  It would be a strange and wonderful week for him, though not for the reasons he expected.

Jack was excited to be back on the Rez. He felt like he was heading home as he drove the last few miles to the Re-Member camp.  He was shocked to drive up to the buildings and be greeted by a whole bunch of staff that he didn’t recognize. He would later learn that staff members are there for four to six weeks at a time.  The amount of work they do leads to burn out pretty fast, so they have short stints to avoid that.

He did see some familiar faces, and as Saturday passed he felt right at home again.  The groups from other places were fun to mingle with, and Jack was soon in the rack for the night, reflecting on the fact that he had not put his watch back on since the first trip out.  He fell asleep hoping for a stress free, fun week.