Photo by Suzanne Webber of me at Greyston Job Training facility

I’m on a plane to Denver, then switching to another flight to Rapid City, South Dakota, for a weekend of meetings planning the Zen Peacemakers’ Native American retreat this coming summer.

Notwithstanding my 3 am wake-up, I haven’t made a good start. We waited by the gate and on the runway for 2 hours verifying that one of the generators is kaput, requiring more fuel, and finally de-icing since snow began to come down. Chances are very good that I’ll miss the flight from Denver to Rapid City.

My fellow passenger, a small, blonde woman in her 40s, immediately called the airline to curse out their agent. Then she walked out of the plane in search of better routing, a faster flight, and a generally more efficient and productive life. When this didn’t turn out so well she returned to the plane and, using her middle seat as her private office, yelled angrily into her phone for close to an hour, making asides like “This is insane,” or “How dare they?” or “I can’t believe this!” to the rest of us whenever she was put on hold.

Her diatribe kept her so busy she never noticed the pilot coming down our economy class aisle, inviting passengers to ask questions, offer suggestions and options, patiently explaining the problem again and again and promising to do whatever he could to get the plane into Denver as quickly as possible. Lucky for him she was content to just yell into her phone, not so lucky for the agent on the other end.

Aren’t our lives important?

In Rapid City we will start, as usual, with a dinner with Manny and Renee Iron Hawk and Violet Catches, together with some of their children, at Perkins. Opening dinner in one of the Perkins chain restaurants is almost a tradition for us now, along with coffee and a slice of lemon meringue pie.

We’’ll catch up on what happened since we last met in August, the progress in starting a Lakota language program, the challenge of getting through a ferocious winter (temperatures below zero every single night, 1 degree highest on Sunday day), births, deaths. Theirs and ours.

This is the only time I eat lemon meringue pie. Not because Perkins’ lemon meringue pie is so terrific but because I can’t imagine these meetings without it. By the end we’re tired, slightly jet-lagged. We’ll probably talk of Bergil Kills Straight, of the Oglala Lakota, whose funeral took place the day after Bernie’s memorial. Those two men watched each other warily and respectfully, often at loggerheads. We’ll have that slice of lemon meringue pie thoughtfully, having covered a lot of ground, ready to start the next morning more business-like.

Which reminds me of a story Bernie loved to tell. The Russian Tsar visits a hospital of wounded soldiers. He greets one in his bed and says to him, “You’ve fought long and hard, mon brave. What can I do for you in return?”

The soldier says, “Your Excellency, all I want is peace on earth.”

“Good man!” says the Tsar.

He visits the next soldier. “You are a credit to your unit,” he tells him. “ What can I do for you?”

“Love, Your Excellency,” says the soldier softly. “I want all people to love one another.”

“May it be so!” says the Tsar. “What good people these are.” He reaches the bed of a Jewish soldier. “And you, my fine man, what can I do for you?”

“I vant a corn beef sandvich,” says the soldier in Bernie’s best Brooklyn Yiddish voice.

I want to hear the news of people living in Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations: Who got into college and who spoke on a radio show. Who has a new job and who is selling their horses because they’re too sick to care for them. I want to admire the gorgeous beaded earrings hanging from Renee’s ears. And finally, I want to share a slice of lemon meringue pie in Perkins on Rapid City’s North Lacrosse Street, practically on the corner of I-90, before finally getting into bed late tonight.