Slice of Life Story Challenge: Forty Two Years Ago


Canyon de Chelley…the deep turquoise sky against the cliffs of pumpkin-colored sandstone, a place of peace. The canyon cuts deep, the river bed long dried out as autumn begins. The cottonwoods swaying, sounding like rattles.

I was a girl of eighteen, wondering about other cultures and fascinated by the desert. As part of a an off-campus college group, we traveled in the olive-green open air jeeps, craning our necks at the seven hundred foot cliffs as we drove deeper into the canyons of peach trees and hogans amid the Navajo ruins thanks to Kit Carson and his men.

Justin, a Navajo guide shared with a small group about his friend suffering from nightmares. His friend had recently returned from Vietnam. It was the opinion of the medicine man that he was experiencing the spirits of the men he’s killed while serving his country.

Justin explained a Squaw Dance ceremony (as noted in my journal but is now called The Enemy Way Ceremony) was going to be held that evening for his friend in hopes of providing healing. He astonished us all by inviting us to the ceremony.

After dinner that evening we traveled four miles on the rough and rutty road. We were deep in Navajo country. Finally we reached the hogan and got out of the van.
Nine white young adults among the Navajo family of the afflicted young man. I was apprehensive. Should we have come? Were we intruding? What right did we have as white people to be here? The look on my friend’s faces said what I was thinking.

Justin asked us to wait by the fires. Some of the Navajos were not happy that we were there. There was a low murmuring of the Navajo language. The smoke from the mesquite and juniper infiltrated our hair and our clothing. The chanting from the seeped through the mud walls of the hogan. I imagined Justin’s friend lying on a low cot experiencing grace and healing from the elders and the medicine man. I imagined chants and music providing restoration of the balance of spirit to a man serving our country.

Upon completion of the ceremony, we were invited to share in a feast of mutton stew and fry bread. We stood in the clear night air, around the fire, and broke bread with another culture.
After forty-two years, the overall images of the evening stay with me, not the details. I decided to look up ‘Squaw Dance’ and found a Navajo prayer that most likely was shared inside the hogan that evening.

Happily may their roads back home be on the trail of pollen.
Happily may they all get back.
In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty.

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5 Responses to Slice of Life Story Challenge: Forty Two Years Ago

  1. Thank you for remembering, and for honoring, and for sharing this special moment in time. Truly an honor.

  2. Linda Baie says:

    I’ve been there several times with students. It is a magical place, and for you to remember all so vividly is special. You were honored weren’t you?

  3. Mary Lee says:

    You took me back. My HS boyfriend taught on a Navajo reservation and I visited him there. Another world. Your writing is beautiful.

    • macrush53 says:

      Oh my word, our world is tiny. I kept a journal while there and I reread it about once a year. I am hoping to visit this April.

  4. I visited Canyon de Chelley when I was eight years old. It was so beautiful. I still have vivid memories of our drive through the canyon floor in the back of a jeep. What a special place it is!

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