Friday, July 23, 2010

Now for the 'what HAPPENED' which is always subjective and therefore more powerful.

I'm not even sure I'll be able to find the 'right' words to sum up all we experienced this weekend but I wanted to attempt a post before the immediacy wore off and things returned to 'normal'.

At the moment, the only word that comes close to summing it up is 'magical'.

But then again...

I believe in 'signs'.
I believe that God and the universe He created are not silent and that, even in this age, there are 'messages' and 'reminders' to be received if we open our eyes, minds and hearts.
I believe there are forces at work beyond our understandings of time and dimension and that it can be terrifyingly awesome to be reminded of all we don't know and understand about how God works.

I believe we were allowed to witness several of them this weekend.

It started with the crack of dawn:

beautiful sunrises are nothing new in South Dakota. But this one was followed within 20 minutes by the sky filling with dark storm clouds
and, with no rain yet, a double rainbow filling the western sky.

On a day that was sure to include both laughter and tears, being blessed with a visible sign of Gods faithfulness was an auspicious beginning.

Rain clouds continued to decorate a blue sky even at the cemetery and, while the Episcopal clergy person was praying, fat raindrops began falling. Not a downfall or even a shower, but the definite presence of rain that threatened to build momentum and create a problem.

Minutes later however, as the medicine man began chanting in Lakota accompanied by the drum, burning sage and waving its perfume over the grave and mourners standing nearby, the rain stopped, the grey clouds dissipated and, as if on cue, a lone eagle flew overhead and hovered over the cemetery!
(this is not a picture from the cemetery since it felt intrusive to bring a camera to the spiritual/worship component of the day; I promise however, the effect was no less dramatic than this!)

Don's Lakota name was 'Warrior who stands alone' and the solitary eagle presenting itself to all of us as we stood on that hillside seemed to be incontrovertible evidence that his spirit was still with us. There wasn't a single person who was unaffected by such a powerful symbol.

We reminisced as we drove to Don and Maggie's farm for the giveaway, and talked about the wisdom of the Lakota tradition of mourning for a year and then celebrating the life of the one who died.

The 'give away', while it seems to have changed over the years - in that people no longer give away ALL their possessions, instead making many of the 'tributes' with which they'll honor people who have helped them - is still an important vehicle through which to channel much of the grief of loss.
For this whole first year after Dons death, Maggie and their daughter have been forced to stay engaged with other family and community members, coordinating who's making what, spending nights together working on quilts, planning quantities of food, making lists of who they want to acknowledge and honor, etc. I can only imagine that, during these events, stories and remembrances of Don and his time among them were shared, laughed about and wept over. It seems this tradition allows those in mourning, place and opportunities for sharing that grief and prevents them from sinking into quiet despair within their own dwellings.
It's as if they recognize the sleeplessness, the late nights and the unfocused grief that can plague after a death and intentionally have channeled those realities into productive and creative expression.

The custom of the giveaway and 'feed' is also a very dramatic way of enacting the reality that it is only through our vulnerability and dependence on our 'tribe' - and the grace of the Creator- that we get through the hardest times of life; it's a concrete way of expressing gratitude through feeding those who have fed us.

In the midst of the giveaway, Maggie pointed skyward and there, with a collective gasp, we saw TWO eagles - a male and female, according to those sitting next to me -flying over the farm and arbor.

I can't tell you what a gift that felt like, to me and those friends and family members sitting around me. I can't begin to imagine how it felt to Maggie.

The solitary eagle at the cemetery seeming to reveal that Dons spirit was still present and now two eagles, a 'couple', at the farm where so much of Don and Maggies life had been shared and lived in partnership.

Through tears, when one of the women sitting nearby proclaimed it was Dons way of telling Maggie they would always be together, she didn't need to work hard to convince me!

I don't know how frequently eagles fly around in South Dakota.
My collective time there, accumulated over 2 decades, would amount to no more than a few months.
But I do know that I've never seen an eagle before; let alone 3 in one day - in two places, miles apart, in circumstances and timing so perfectly suited to conjecture and interpretation.

It felt extraordinary at the time; it still does.