WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Thai cuisine at the Crow Agency Powwow, Montana

What stays with me most from our time in Montana and Wyoming with our Native American elders?

Not trauma, not tears (many as they were). What stay with me are the faith, hope, and laughter in Manny Iron Hawk (who has a hearty, ready laugh) and the squinting determination of Violet as she peers forward while driving her big old station wagon, granddaughters in the back seat, and telling me her tales. The low hills in the distance speed by, as do the gentle pastures of enormous ranches, and I track the progress of white clouds while listening to her.

In New England I have to peek between leaves to see the clouds; not so in Wyoming, where they make interesting shapes. Look at that, it looks like a buffalo! See that one? Looks like a lion crouched over a cave.

I’m reminded of my mother, who has talked about her Holocaust trauma since the time I was a baby. It was one of my earliest and most lasting memories, and I watched vigilantly in later years to see when that will finally fade, when the effects will end. It doesn’t fade, they don’t end. Even when she doesn’t tell her stories, the corners of her graceful lips droop and her eyes go somewhere far away, where you’re not in the room, other people and things are in the room. So while traveling with Violet, I took a few minutes to appreciate what it’s like once more to sit with someone and listen to trauma.

But this is different. Manny and Violet personify faith. Not the heart-thumping, fist-to-the-sky faith, something heartful that has to do with the land. When you’re with them, land and people merge into one blooming life force that goes on and on, unfathomably. Just getting your own true scale in all that brings relief and even laughter, and helps me see my role more clearly.

And what is that role? Look right and left, and ask: What’s your name?

That’s what we did in the beginning of our gathering. Renee led us in a get-acquainted process, and after moving around in response to various cues, you had to look to the person to your right and the person to your left and ask: What’s your name? Implied in that is: Who are you? What do you need?

I return to New England and see how much works and even flourishes here on this heavy August day, the beauty that’s undeniably here as so many struggle all around the world, the exquisite complexity of it all.

I saw a gorgeous jigsaw puzzle at the Visitors Center of Bear Lodge in Wyoming, also known as Devils Tower. Put all together, it showed the picture of Bear Lodge according to Native Americans, an immense bear going after a group of girls who are standing on that rock and praying for help, and the rock climbing up higher and higher and higher, taking the girls out of harm’s way.

If you look at any one piece of the puzzle you can’t see the picture, and in that light I’m dumbfounded by people fascinated and upset by every twist of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, every little tweet of the reality TV star currently occupying the White House. They’re no different from a child mesmerized by every little corner, every little convex and concave bend of the jigsaw pieces, and missing the big, big picture.

In dualistic language, there’s suffering and there’s laughter. But they meet, they surely do, they surely do.