Last Saturday night my husband, Mel, did his hanbleceya (Lakota for crying for a vision) up on Bear Butte in South Dakota. For his people, Bear Butte is the center of power. It is where, as a friend put it, you go to dance with God. It’s where the Tunkasilas (grandfathers) live. It is where his people have gone to pray since time immemorial. It is a holy place. It was warm during the day and a gentle breeze was blowing. Other than a small group of Lakota who came to say prayers, we were alone there which is unusual.
His brother, James, and James’ kids came to offer support, too. Normally, one would sweat to purify before going up and the supporters tend the fire from sundown to dawn when the person comes down and sweats again. But there was a fire ban. We were doing this old school: no tent, no shelter-well, a sort of shelter that we couldn’t even put up because of the wind, sleeping bags, my quilt, four chairs and two air mattresses.
When that full moon rose and the sun sank, we knew we were in for a unique experience. Mel was concealed completely from view. But as the night progressed, we perceived movement and light and voices where he was. We were the only ones there. It is both humbling and terrifying to be completely alone in the face of the awesome power this place has.
No words of disrespect were spoken and silent prayers were said until Mel came down. I cannot say what transpired between Mel and the Tunkasilas. Suffice it to say it was a humbling experience beyond mere words for him. He lived what his ancestors have lived for thousands upon thousands of years. It is and remains utterly sacred.
It is ironic that in these times of worry, strife, fear, paranoia and every other negative emotion one can muster, such sacredness still survives; and that such humility and humbleness in the face of God is more important than anything. It is, ultimately, what defines us regardless of religious dogma. At some point in our lives, we all dance with God in one way or another.
I only hope that when the reckoning comes for me and it is my time to cross over, I can hold onto the sacred for even one moment so the transition is a thing of peace and what awaits, well, is Mel, our ancestors, and dogs and cats. That would be a good thing. And then we might do it all over again in another place and time, that circle of life spinning anew.