A few days ago, I received a card from a friend, and the written blessing on the back of it deepened my smile. The message read . . .
May the sun bring you new
energy by day,
May the moon softly restore
you by night,
May the rain wash away your
May the breeze blow new
strength into your being,
May you walk gently through
the world and know its
Beauty all the days of your
~ APACHE BLESSING
As I held the card in my hand, I was reminded of another time and place and how you can't avoid destiny; it will happen no matter what you do. This inescapable fate came to light when my sister, Linda, had a dream of meeting a Native American medicine man. What followed was a spontaneous trip, with my husband, to my favorite lodge on the Apache reservation in the White Mountains of Arizona. Once settled in our room, we returned to the lobby and sat in front of a blazing fire. Our plan was an early dinner and then some fishing by the lake before dark. As I watched the wood settle into glowing embers, three Apaches appeared: two women and a man, with a tray and iron skillet. The women shaped and cooked tortillas over the hot coals, and I was attracted to their activity. I soon learned that the Apache man, John, was the brother of a medicine man. As I shared my sister’s dream with him and how we wanted to write about the Apache's in a book we were working on, our friendship grew with sincerity and respect. Two weeks later, Linda flew to Tucson from New York City. John had arranged a meeting with his brother, William, and with it came a warning. I can't guarantee he will speak to you. He will make his decision as soon as he meets you, and if he walks away, there is nothing I can do.
When the day arrived to meet William, we were in John's living room with his family. Linda looked at me, and at that moment, we both knew that she should meet the medicine man alone in the kitchen. Her background as an astrologer and life coach would connect her with his healing ways. Five minutes had passed, and Linda had not returned. John looked at me and smiled, and I smiled back as I played with his son on the floor. The visit wasn't long, but we were invited the next day to a private ceremony, where we would be allowed to run with the younger women for longevity. After a sleepless night, Linda and I followed John's instructions to a secluded area on the Apache reservation. I will never forget the women and the chanting as we ran across the barren ground to the elders that blessed us as we passed them. During lunch with John, we talked about family, our children, and their fate in a world filled with drugs, gangs, alcohol, and an impatience for immediate gratification without the struggle that builds character. Linda and I grew up with two great storytellers, our parents, as did John and his brother. We understood the value of those stories, the life lessons found in them, and how tradition and culture become more meaningful through them. After lunch, John excused himself, and when he returned, he said he would like to take us to a sacred ground that only the Apache's used. We would be the first outsiders to enter it. As John drove, he shared the story of how his people discovered the sacred land.
Years ago, an Apache chief sent a band of men to find a sacred place close to where they would settle. These warriors left with only the belief in their journey. After days of searching and now questioning which direction to take, they prayed for a sign. The next morning, a flock of birds appeared. They followed them for two days, and then beyond the thick pines, the birds settled on a baren spot, where nothing grew. After the birds left, the Apaches erected the entrance to this sacred spot. It would face east with four poles to represent the “four directions" of the world. Each direction marks the movement of the sun across the sky, starting in the east with the sunrise, the south with the midday, the west with the setting sun, and the north with the nighttime sky. When the search party returned to the sacred ground with their tribe, a trailing rose bush had entwined itself around the poles at the east entrance. After Linda and I left the truck, we touched the red roses, rooted in a parched land. It was just like John had said - the roses represented a divine symbol of this sacred area. Moments later, I was instructed to stand in the middle of the four directions as John prayed with me for my family. He chanted each time I turned and faced a different direction. That evening we were invited to a private ceremony where Apache men would ride down from the mountain on bareback, bodies painted, and wearing only loincloths. It was an evening to honor the past and the spirits that were no longer with us as well as those that remained among the living. As I watched the huge bonfire, while we waited for the riders, sparks rose from the flames. I could see each one as a spirit mingling in the darkness until it vanished into the night. I looked at Linda, who was deep in thought, and then we heard the riders as they came down from the mountain. They slid from their horses, and I could feel the pounding of the ground as they danced wild and free around the bonfire. It was a hypnotic moment, and I found myself closing my eyes in prayer. When I opened them, standing before me, inches from my face, was an Apache dancer. A mask of black paint covered his face. He stared at me in absolute stillness, and I stared back, frozen in time. The spell broke when he swirled around and joined the others. I was too stunned to speak, and Linda silently stared at me, respecting the time I needed to own the moment of acceptance and being blessed.
The evening ended with Linda and me sitting on the floor of a tepee with William, John, and some elders, as William, the medicine man, shared amazing stories of spirit, healing, the power and gifts of nature, and the importance of unification in the fight against destructive energy.
As I look back at my time with the White Mountain Apache Indians, I know that my acceptance within their private world was a gift. When you experience an unforgettable moment that is so great, you have received something momentous - goodness that connects all mankind.