I could say “Natives,” but that doesn’t quite capture it. It’s more about spirituality, and respect for same, which simply doesn’t exist in most of the places I’ve lived.
Last Friday night there was a very sad accident on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. At around 9:00 p.m., a 34-year-old driver (possibly drunk and carrying a suspended license) crashed at what must have been very high speed into the back of a car carrying four members of a Navajo family from Naschitti, north of Gallup. The impact was so violent that three cars in front of the vehicle that was struck were also involved. Killed in the crash were two sisters, 17 and 20 years old, who had just come from playing in a Class AAA girls state basketball tournament. Their parents are both in serious but stable condition in the hospital.
But this is what happened yesterday: Santa Fe police blocked off the southbound lanes of busy Cerrillos Road at 3:30 p.m. for a whole hour, so that a 66-year-old Navajo medicine man from the family’s home community could conduct a healing ceremony, asking for “physical and spiritual healing of those who were injured, those who helped the injured, and those who were left behind to grieve.” There were 50 people present from Naschitti and 20 cars parked right in the middle of the road. The mayor of Santa Fe was present, and the police chaplain assisted in the service.
From this morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican:
Nez prayed in Navajo and used an eagle feather dipped in water to bless members of the gathering… The medicine man, with the gathering following him as a cold rain began to fall, then proceeded to the exact spots on Cerrillos Road where the two sisters were struck, and more prayers and blessings were offered.
Friends and relatives placed roses in the median dirt, and planted other flowers and laid balloons along the west side of Cerrillos in remembrance of the sister.
There are five surviving siblings, all of whom had played for the team at one time or another. Another sister on the current team had injured her ankle and didn’t go to the game!
It’s not often that an article in the morning paper makes me cry, but this one did.
It made me cry too.
It made my analyst in Zurich cry, too. It’s making EVERYBODY cry.
Would they shut down a busy highway in Queenland for an aboriginal healing ceremony? Just curious. I’m surprised it happened here, frankly, even with the heavy emphasis on the spiritual in Native culture, because those guys don’t run things.
When you think you can’t take living in the terrible high desert, remember the spirituality that lives there – as a reminder as to why you ARE there…
Jan: It’s not that I can’t take living in the terrible high desert so much as the fact that after 10 years, I still haven’t lifted us out of the poverty we fell into after the dot-com collapse! You’ve no doubt heard the expression “grinding poverty.” Well, I now understand the grinding part. It traps you, wears you down. Can’t move, can’t buy things to improve the dump. We don’t socialize much because we can’t really invite people here, etc.
A little more dough would open up more choices. I expect all that to happen. And in the larger picture, it’s beautiful, all right. I’m not actually looking to move, just get a better domestic situation.
My thick hide was also pierced. I wondered whether I would have been similarly touched if the parents of the two girls had been Episcopalians or atheists and if they had grieved in accordance with their own strictures. I like to think I would have. It is really the tragic event itself that makes a person cry. The form of the coping or consolation or understanding – whatever you want to call what we who remain do – is infinitely variable, and, I would say, infinitely acceptable. Underneath the formal differences the Navajo way is likely not so different from the way of any number of other human communities and cultural traditions.
Anyhow, I hope the blessings and ceremonial rites of the medicine man made a difference to the parents, the community and, just maybe, to the little girls themselves wherever they are. As some famous words say, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see all things clearly.” I wish I could believe it, but I like the words.
A late response …
“Would they shut down a busy highway in Queenland for an aboriginal healing ceremony?”
Possibly, though I wouldn’t say ‘probably’. It depends how busy and what sort of chaos it might cause. At any rate, it would be far more likely for an aboriginal ceremony than for any other reason.
KW raises an interesting point … made me aware of my own prejudices.