Friday, September 12, 2008

"My Life Is Not My Own"

Since I returned from Washington DC in July, I have been going non stop. It seems every time I get a break, I get a call or there is some other function that I have an opportunity to attend. I know I can say, “No”, and I have done so, but most of these things I want to do.

I remember a couple of years ago when I was cooking at the Sundance. I loved to do it, but it consumed me in many ways. Yet I look back and still try to recreate in my everyday life those quiet mornings, right at sunrise, when the dew was moist and the haze of the morning was just lifting. The sandhill cranes would fly around and speak to me. It always seemed like I was the only one alive.

Usually, the leader of the ceremony would wander over to the cook tent with his coffee mug in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I’d see him coming and I’d wipe the wetness off a chair for him and look around for the pot holder so I could pour him a cup of the rich strong coffee from the big pot, the one on the fire.

This one day, he sat down and took a drag on the smoke, nodded a “Thank you” when I poured his coffee and started to speak.

“My life is not my own.” He said.

He went on and spoke about the hardships of having a life of your own when the people asked you and expected you to be there for them. People as in family members, community members and friends. Chris is a Medicine Man. A Spiritual Elder and leader of the Dakota people. He lives on the Prairie Island reservation near Red Wing, Minnesota.

He sometimes wants to go fishing, or just have a day to himself. Some time to just relax, take a nap or watch mindless TV. He would like to not have to take the next trip to South Dakota or Japan or where ever to perform what ever ritual, healing or ceremony. He doesn’t have that option and he accepts his path, totally.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish it would have been otherwise and this one summer morning he mentioned it to me over a cup of joe and a butt. I listened. For some reason, the words stuck in my brain and recall him often. I have been so busy since last October that I recall him a lot and wonder if the same is true for me and my life, that it is not my own.

It never really was my own. I thought it was. I thought I had control. I thought that of all the free spirits, I was freer than most. I traveled a lot and have had many experiences that some folks just think or dream about. Yet we really never control anything, least of all, our path in life.

Last year, I agreed to house sit for a friend who went to Nicaragua for three months. That started October 27th. I moved out of my own home and moved in to a strangers place. I had my bag that disguised as a suitcase and a dopp kit. Does anyone know what a dopp kit is? Anyway, I have one and I have been living out of it since October 27 of 2007.

At the end of the three months, January 27th, the home owner was due to return and she did. But instead of moving back home and unpacking my dopp kit, I moved into my 1991 Ford E-150 conversion van and headed in a generally Westerly direction. I traveled to Arizona and visited family, then to Northern California and visited friends that are more like family than the family is. After that, I went to San Francisco and joined the Longest Walk.

I was on The Walk for almost two full months. I got sick and tried to recuperate but just had beaten myself into the ground as I worked to accomplish the goal. I know no other way of living life. No other way than to immerse myself fully into what I am doing and in this case, it was being a Go-To guy with the Longest Walk.

I realized that I am disabled. I haven’t had a job for wages in quite some time. What made me think I could go on the Longest Walk and work like I did and just because I wasn’t earning any money, that I would be capable of doing it? Work is work, paid or not, and I just about killed myself trying to do what I couldn’t really do. It was a friend I talked to on the phone who reminded me that I am not the person I used to be. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just didn’t think about it for one minute.

I returned home after two months and stayed around the house. I was tired and slept a lot. I was very sick and needed to get stronger and return to being healthy and that took about a month. I went back to The Walk for a week when they were in Oklahoma. At that time, I let the leader, Dennis Banks, talk me into returning and I did so when The Walk was in Baton Rouge, LA.

I drove down to Louisiana and stayed with them for another month. When we reached Northern Alabama, I headed North for home once again. I lied to them and told them I’d be back in two weeks when I knew I wasn’t planning on going back to The Walk until they were in Washington DC on July 11th.

While at home, I participated in The Crow Creek Motorcycle Ride. I was a prime force with planning and implementation of that event as well as a motorcycle rider. After the Crow Creek ride, my friend and I continued on our bikes for another 1200 or so miles of joy riding, enjoying fine weather and scenery on uncrowded North and South Dakota roads.

I left to rejoin The Walk early in July. I planned a stop with the family near Chicago to visit my Mother. I had four of the Grandkids with me when I traveled and with the visit to Chicago, returning to The Longest Walk for the last few days in Washington and the other vacation activities we did while on the road with the kids, well, I didn’t get home again for two weeks.

When I did get home, it was right back on the road for the 300 mile trip to the Sundance. I didn’t make the full 11 days this year and didn’t cook, but I was there for four days and helped the cook on the last day when a feast needed to be prepared. I returned home on July 19th.

On the 20th, I get a call from one of the Longest Walkers. She was in Minneapolis and needed a place to stay. She, along with her friend, a guy she seemed to be in love with at the time, stayed at my place. Using the floor in the spare bedroom. Along with them, there were other visitors from The Walk. The Japanese interpreter and her boyfriend. They stayed at my place for a few days, but when she got sick with a kidney infection, my friend Steve let them have a regular furnished bedroom at his place.

While she recovered, I saw them daily. After a while, she left to return to Japan and her friend went back to Lexington, KY to start work. The others left and joined the small town moving carnival show somewhere in rural Minnesota.

I was glad. It looked like I finally would have some peace and quiet and nothing on the schedule. I was wrong. I got another call from yet another friend i made on The Walk. She would be in town and her and her boyfriend didn’t stay at my house, but we went out to dinner and visited for a time.

Between all these things, I had to travel to Ashland, WI for ceremonies and to visit friends I have neglected for the past few months as I was on the road. At last, peace and quiet, until my sister and Mother came to visit. My sister asked if I could keep my Mom here with me while she and her husband took a short vacation. I agreed and my Mother came for a two week visit. I bought a proper bed and installed it in the spare room instead of putting her on the floor or sofa. Just the respect shown to an Elder. I think the other guests that stayed at my place were okay on the floor and the sofa.

Then, I get another call from yet another friend from The Walk. They are in town and I will met them for breakfast. One of them returned home and the other, finding himself with a need for a place to stay, asked if I could help him out. Of course I let him stay at my house. He’d do the same for me.

Then, the Veterans For Peace National Convention was in town and I had agreed to be a volunteer and help with the hosting chores on behalf of our Local 27 Chapter. During that time, I met a fellow blogger from the API blog who is a Veteran and traveled here for the VFP convention with her husband and other friends. Immediately on the heels of that was the four day RNC extravaganza and the massive war protest activities that took place right in my own back yard.

My friend stayed through the RNC and got arrested. I couldn’t help him out as I was in Ashland helping another friend with his wedding over the weekend. It was a traditional Native ceremony and I was honored to have been asked to be a helper.

Now, I just completed a four day drive to Northern California and will be visiting friends here. They had a death in the family, their daughter, and I have been wanting to come here and tell them I love them since it happened.

To say I’ve been busy is a gross understatement. But I wanted to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I went to read some blogs last week and I posted a comment on one of them. They were surprised to see me. They thought I left the blogosphere for good!

I tell you, I can’t wait for those short daylight days of winter and the cold and just crawling around the house in my Homer Simpson pajama bottoms. I’ll do some writing then and actually say something meaningful. I can tell you about the visits and the meals and the ceremonies and the functions.

Until then, “My life is not my own”.

I guess that old man knew what he was telling me. I never get over the idea of how he knew I needed to learn that lesson.

In the meantime, be well and stay safe in all you do. Practice peace.