Carefree Admist Reality

Lori10As I read the Weekly Photo Challenge, I was reminded of the best photo op I had the pleasure of being involved in.  I was in the middle of a publicity photo shoot when the photographer said something that just tickled me!  I threw my head back and just couldn’t stop laughing.  She caught the beginning of my carefree-fall.  I remember being doubled over before I eventually regained my composure.

The funny thing is that I don’t remember what she said.  But, I vividly remember the effects.

This turned out to be our favorite photo of the entire shoot.

Carefree hilarity happens at the most opportune times.

Recollections of cancerous sorts

The hospital room was spacious.  It had to be in order to accommodate our entire family.  I remember wiggling myself onto the thick, smooth, cool concrete windowsill.  I loved to look down on the strange green lawn from the third story window.  We were in the desert town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, green lawns were far and few between.  I would watch people picnic and kids play in the grass, as if they enjoyed being at a hospital.  Perhaps, for the short time that they frolicked, they imagined they were somewhere else.

My weekends and week nights were spent inside the institutional green Indian Health Service hospital room during the 11th and 12th years of my life.  I often sat away from everyone and kept quiet.  I occupied my time with word search books, or people watching – strangers and my family.  More than anything, I tried to watch and not to feel.

It wasn’t always this way.  I remember being mesmerized by how cool my uncle Alvin and his friends were.  I even had a secret crush on his best friend, Jerome.  We would pine over how cool he looked in his faded Levi’s and 80’s mullet.  They were so much older than my sisters and I, but we were fascinated by how exciting their lives were.  Even though we didn’t really know what their lives were like, we imagined they must have been simply fantastic!

My uncle Alvin got sick in his early 20’s. His carefree days with friends were interrupted by his new life in and out of the confines of a hospital.  I remember he would stay with us in Albuquerque for days at a time.  I can only assume that it was for medical reasons.  He loved to make baked potatoes.  They were his specialty.  He would eat his potato at the table and ask me questions about school as I saw across from him working on homework, artwork or word puzzles.

As his life changed, so did ours.  We didn’t laugh as much.  My mom and my aunts were always huddled as they talked in muffled voices at the hospital, at restaurants, or at our house.  I knew he had cancer, but I was never told what kind.  To this day, I’m not sure what kind he had, I just know it was aggressive and took him down hard….cancer.

°°°°

Cancer would become a word that rolled off my tongue as I recounted family medical history to any new doctor that came into my life.  I didn’t think it was odd that our family was so familiar with cancer…but, apparently, it is.

°°°°

Mary Sue was the aunt I only knew through stories.  She was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was a child.  My mother’s older sister died in the 1950’s after a long, difficult struggle.  At the time of her death, cancer was new to our family and to the Dine’ (Navajo).  It was back when the “experts” thought that our people were immune to cancer.  Back when they sent dads, brothers and grandpas, like mine, deep into the Uranium mines of Cove, Arizona in the heart of Dinetah (Navajo land).  Those men would come out of the mines covered in yellow dirt.  The smart ones, took rags or bandanas to cover their noses and mouths.  All of them walked radiant paths right up to the doorsteps of their homes – including our family home in Shiprock, NM.

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I was the mother of junior high aged children when I learned that my Grandma, our matriarch, was diagnosed with cancer.  She was in the winter months of her life.  She had lived a long, full life, rewarded with successful children and more than 24 aspiring grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren.  She loved and knew she was loved, greatly.  Regardless, it was difficult to watch that intangible scourge take the life from her.  Her soft hands continued to dole out love pats, and gentle, comforting grips even as the rest of her body succumbed to the internal predator.

°°°°

In Navajo, we call our mother’s sisters, Shima yazhi, “my little mother.”  And they are my mother’s in every sense of the word.  I can call them if I’m feeling bad.  I can call them when I’m in need.  I can call them anytime and I’ll be greeted with “Oh, Shi yazhi (my little one), Bunty….”    Bunty, being that baby nickname that I’ve never been able to escape.

Not too long ago, I longed to hear that silly nickname from my Auntie Lorraine.  I’m her namesake and spent the early years of my life living with her and her husband, my Uncle Jim.  It was at my wedding to my husband, Jimmy that I learned her and my uncle were the original “Lori and Jimmy.”  History repeats itself in the most amazing way sometimes.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Not so long ago, I feared I’d have to carry on the blessing of her name, alone.  I remember her telling me, “I knew it was coming for me.  I just didn’t know when.”  It was heart-wrenching to actually feel the doom in her voice from over a thousand miles away.  They caught it in time, but not without the sacrifice of her womanhood.

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My Auntie Woosie was always gruff, tuff and funny, even though she didn’t realize it.  As kids, we’d always jokingly try to avoid her trailer come evening.  It was not easy, as the front door was at a 90 angle from the front door of my grandparent’s home, which is where our family gathered.  If one of us strayed too close to her trailer, we’d get called to her side and made to scratch her hair or her back “until it bleeds;” because, after all, we were of “slave age.”  We can laugh now, but steering clear was a covert operation as kids.

Those funny memories were endangered once we learned that she too had become a victim of cancer.  She would be the second case of breast cancer in our family.  Her life was spared, but not without her offering of self, body and dignity.  Today, her humor and liveliness is guarded by folded arms and limited gestures; almost as if protecting self.

°°°°

In Dine’ life, there are no lines dividing family.  No aunt, uncles, cousins or nieces and nephews.  We are simply- mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and each other’s children.

One of my younger sisters was in junior high school when she was hit by a car.  Even then, she was a petite young girl with delicate features.  We feared her fragile body couldn’t handle the trauma.  They urgently labored to piece her back together again as we braced against the fact that she might not survive.  If she did, she would probably never walk again.

She walked right out of the grips of death and into young adulthood and later into motherhood.  It was when her youngest children, twins, were just beginning their pre-school experience that she learned she was firmly in stage 4 of a rare cancer.  Her body failed her and did not develop as planned when she was a toddler, giving an opportunistic cancer the perfect environment to grow.

We feared that this would be the end.  Her even more fragile body readied for the long, hard fight. Every day was a new battle against a powerful, unseen villain.  Prayers and tears enveloped her small, bed-ridden frame as she drew back again from impending death.  She went into remission only to be back on the battlefield a few years later.  Again, she drew strength from family, friends and loved ones, alive and departed, to pull firmly back into our lives for good.

Chemotherapy is a cruel savior in our circles.  It is the kryptonite to cancer, yet is the kink in our protective armor called immunity.

My sister battles with the repercussions of her numerous cycles of chemo.  Today, her nearly 90 pound frame braces against the simple invasion of germs, illness and even the common cold. It’s a bitter-sweet reminder of the tears, prayers and faith that uplifted our own vanquished spirits during her most trying times.  But, she survived.  We survived.

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Sadly, our family stories are not unique.  They are not proof of a family curse.  They are stories of Navajo people that are familiar and the same for indigenous peoples around the world.  They are proof that we are not a magical people with the ability to conjure up paranormal protection from universal forces.  They are proof that we are not supernatural beings that can seek help from botanical or animal entities. We are human.

The stories are proof that we are survivors. We have proven over generations that we are resilient. We are determined.  We have stood together and strong against more than most people care to imagine. We are proof that the human spirit is stronger than disease, manufactured myths and genocide.  We stand above the blame and use that strength to lift one another up.

Now and in the future, we will continue to weave our stories of hurt and disease.  But in each, we always look beyond to the outcome; which maybe a new journey in a new life, or a renewed journey in this one.  Either way, the end is always a blessing.

The end is always a blessing.

Thrown back on a Thursday

I worked at Haskell Indian Nations University during the 75th Anniversary of the Haskell Arch.  There had been a lot of fanfare leading up to the celebratory anniversary.

My office was in the Cultural Center and Museum.  For years, I had worked closely with the Haskell Archives.  I had examined photos of famous campus people, famous Indigenous leaders and just about every building on campus.

I remember spending a great deal of time examining the intricate details on one particular photo of the Haskell Arch from the grand celebration in 1926.  The details were amazing.

Haskell Arch, courtesy of Haskell Cultural Center &  Museum

Haskell Arch, courtesy of Haskell Cultural Center & Museum

At the time, I had been in charge of major events on campus, like Commencement and Convocation.  As I studies the image, I imagined what the those little people must’ve been talking about and what they were feeling.  I imagined a bit of anxiety mixed with a healthy dose of excitement.

I knew we were planning on having a celebration in commemoration of the 75 anniversary, but I had not been part of the planning process.  I was excited to see what they had in store.

Each and every morning, I drove by the Haskell Arch.  If I wasn’t rushed, I’d glance over…but most of the time, I knew what was there and I just sped past without much acknowledgement.

One particular morning I was driving onto campus and came to a screeching halt.  My peripheral vision signaled something out of the ordinary.  After I stopped I turned slowly to my left to see the image below.

Haskel Arch, 2001.  Courtesy of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum.

Haskel Arch, 2001. Courtesy of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum.

Oh boy, did I have to readjust my vision and thoughts.  Just a few days before I had been staring at the 75-year old black and white image.  On this day, I was face-to-face with a historical recreation.  Chills coursed throughout my body.  I sat for a moment to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind.  Yes, in the middle of the street.  But, I wasn’t the only one.  Another car had pulled over well behind me in equal amazement.

It. was. real.

Later in the day the long draping flags went up.  It was a magnificent sight. We were witnessing history.  Literally!

All throughout that day, from the little window of my office at the Cultural Center, the past and present were visibly one.

Hindsight

My daughter asked me a tough question the other day.  “Why did you have us so young?”  I was stumped.  But I eventually mustered up an answer….and it went an little like this:

When I was in high school, I believed I was glorious.   Not only that, but that I was headed to more (personal) glory in the future.  I wasn’t the most internally confident person, but by all outward appearances, I knew that I was certainly a force to be reckon with.  I was assertive and I knew where I was going in life….straight to Broadway.Me1980s

Now, I was still a good girl at heart.  I had dear friends (boys and girls) that I was fiercely loyal to.  I was always the first to help a person out, if I could.  I had a deep conscience.  That would be my saving grace.

In college, I was a volleyball player and a budding thespian.  I knew I had what it would take to “make it big” one day on the stage, on the screen or on TV.  I just knew it.  Again, I was my biggest fan…as most of us are in our late teens and early 20’s. 

To make things a little more interesting…I am a Leo, leo….LEO!  In my early years, I frequently teetered on the brink of a “self-absorbed” Leo and the caring, loving and loyal kind.

By the time I turned 20, I had achieved a great deal…including becoming a mother.  By 22, a mother of two.  I told my oldest daughter (after a looong pause) that I needed to have my children then.  If I had not, I would not have had them at all.  I was on a fast track to self-fulfillment and they became my fortuitous salvation. 

Misa and Nani1My children grounded me….more importantly, they humbled me.  I learned to become self-less.  I learned to love unconditionally.  I learned to see the world around me, through their eyes, rather than seeing only me in the world.misa nani2

Their lives aligned with my own journey.  As I look back now I see that our lives today could not be possible had I not become a mother at the time I did.  I fumbled, cried…..and grew as a US1mother.

As the day to celebrate Mom’s near, I want to begin the celebration by honoring my children, Chamisa and Briana.  I know, without a shadow of  a doubt, that I would not have matured into the person I am today without them.  US2

I read a poem a while back that said, “the love you have in your life is merely a reflection of the love you put out into the world.”  I can honestly say, that my world is filled with happiness, joy and an abundance of love.  Thank you, girls for allowing me to be your mother.Girls2013

Girls2013-2

Smiling souls

Give a look

­deep into a soul.

Then slowly…smile

teeth are a must.

Watch the reaction

uneasy at first.

Their eyes will avert-

don’t break the gaze

or the grin.

They will return a few quick looks, most likely.

Offer a “hello, or “hi”

or heck, “how’s it going?”

Shoulders will drop.

Eyes will soften.

Corners of the lips will curl.

a smile returned

a day made

souls connect.

No worries…no commitments

simply give the gift of…a smile.

For the history buffs….

So, by history I mean Lori’s history.  I live in Lawrence, KS right now.  I’ve been here for more than half of my life (gulp).  I am often torn between home (New Mexico) and home (Kansas).  I have an especially hard time leaving “home” to go “home.”  You still with me?  I still have friends that ask me all the time, WHY (in a derogetory way)???  I also have other friends that still ask, HOW (in an inquisitive, not derogetory way lol)???

So, I guess the question is, “how did this Navajo, high-desert deweller end up at sea-level in middle of America where grass grows in the cracks in the street?”

When I was asked a while ago to write something that could express what my journey to Kansas has been like, it came out a little like this:

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At 17, I imagined myself on top of an open mesa
The world at the tip of my toes
The wind begging to help me take flight
Promising to hold me high and carry me far…

Far          far            far away…I went…

I came to rest in the lush green rolling hills of the Midwest
A place that yearned to be called my “home”
A place that swathed me in warm wet air
A place anxious to help mold me into something magnificent
A place that held me captive by the roots that took quickly to the fertile soil

A new home…far from the ancestors that raced the prairies to visit me each morning

A new life…a fresh beginning…so, so long ago

Today, I stand at the peak of my mountain
Facing into my future
Hands on hips
Feet firmly planted
Not swaying one bit

From time to time, I turn and peer down through squinted eyes
I see my path…the journey so far…
It’s twisted, crooked
Backtracking and looping
And so narrow…and thin that sometimes it disappears
…and I smile.

Sometimes I chuckle remembering where I’ve been
Yet, always thankful
for the people I’ve met
for the experiences that have shaped me.
But…always most thankful to my ancestors who traveled so far from home
To journey with me, side-by-side
Making sure I wouldn’t forget…
My history, my creation, my destiny.

baby, baby

This week I have the priviledge of basking in the company of my niece.  She commands googly attention.  She demands ooohs and aaahs.  She insists on kisses and belly razzies.

and I humbly oblige.

As I sit and stare at her in amazement…with a somewhat silly smirk on my face…I am reminded of just how magical babies are.  Magic in the sense that she is full of wonder…and magic in the sense that they seem to enjoy an invisible world of their own…and magic in the sense that they have the power to stop, even the toughest of chaps, in their tracks and reduce them i

A while back I wrote a short piece about the wonder we call babies…..

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First, a gasp, and then a cry-

We slip into this world cold and scared;

Searching for the familiar.

We listen in trembling awe to the crystal clear voices of

our mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings.

We emerge prepared for the long journey ahead.

Armed with an incomprehensible knowledge;

we are able to see beyond the veil to what was, what is and what is to come.

And for a short time, sleepy giggles and baby dreams are proof

that we have a lifeline to that familiar preexistence.

Ever gently, we are weaned from our angelic comforters as we slowly come into our own.

We are great souls tucked inside tiny, delicate bodies.

Strong, determined minds lost amid unruly limbs.

Our bodies labor to catch up to our ever emergent minds;

desperately seeking to comprehend a new world with an unsullied curiosity and fascination.

We sanguinely search for the keys to unlock our precious pre-seeded knowledge-

like an enigma that will hold us captive for the remainder of our earthly days.

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