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Monday, September 1, 2008

For Future Reference: September 11 is My Grandmother's Birthday

Lines from here to there are drawn every day. Together we agree to their integrity and meaning. Together we maintain their placement on the land or within our soul. Tying one thing to another requires resources and cooperation. People draw lines every day, and as firmly as they divide us they join us.

We don't always admit how concretely and firmly those ties bind us—one to another like the fixed utility networks (waterworks, electrical utilities and cable television lines) that unite our homes and workspaces. These ties are less open to denial, easier to recognize and acknowledge: open a faucet, turn on a light, use a computer or cable television. Their physical reality undercuts the American mythology and obsession with absolute freedom and individuality—in contrast, phrases, holidays and symbols are more easily masked in the drag of universality and truth. Even less tangible but equally as powerful are popular and ceremonial narratives, like 9/11.

When does the four directions become a cross?
When does corn become a cash crop?

We are supposed to believe many things.

When I was young we sang, "Jesus loves me, yes I know, because The Bible tells me so. . ." TV had a button and we pushed it off or pulled it on. More often then not I was "working" with my Grandmother, following her around from place to place, picking up our box of food, or dropping off our box of Leis. Living her life, my life was a part of the pattern. At night we embroidered and once in bed she told stories, some from the prayer book and others from some place she kept to herself.

There are definitive moments in my life; her birth is one.

Today we are supposed to believe.

9/11 marked a unique moment in time, a cataclysmic break in the land, a unique and unprecedented letting of blood and loss of life. The end of the national innocence maintained by the idea that the United States has never been subject to foreign war within the contiguous 48. This moment and those who lost their lives in consequence have been used to shape a sense of who we are and who we can become.

Every birth and every death has meaning and results in a changed perspective.

Some take these changes for granted.

Meaning, like fast food and coffee, is produced and consumed in mass quantities. The power of franchise is its commitment to producing an unchanging product in an recognizable package. National news, coffee and celebrity networks are largely a single linked advertisement, played in an endless loop. Flip the rock over and I'm not sure what colonial maggot is underneath: poverty, hate or environmental destruction.

9/11 has become the new "shot heard round the world," labeled as a point of departure, serving as a moment of severance, defining a before and an after. Saying we no longer are who we are. That was then and this is now, a pre, a post, an undeniable change in the way things are and have been. The America that was is no longer. The America that is: victim, vulnerable, innocent. One grain of sand in the oyster's shell, 9/11 has been cultivated into the pearl of national outrage and mourning.

Those twin emotions of hate and despair motivate and disorient even the strongest and most firmly grounded.

Never forget: In 1837 it is estimated that small pox killed 7/8 of the Mandan (leaving only 23 men, 40 women, and 60-70 young) and nearly half of the Arikara and Hidatsa. In 1864, over 8,354 Navajo were interred at Hweldi. The sick, old, and young who died during The Long Walk were left on the road and remain uncounted. In the Vietnam War, during Operation Rolling Thunder, Mr. Mc Namara (United States Defense Secretary) estimated that bombing campaign over North Vietnam killed 1,000 civilians a week, roughly equivalent to more than one 9/11 a month, for 44 months.

Traditional life requires continuity. Lineage. Stories. September 11 will always be, for me, my Grandmother's birthday. Her life places each of us into something ancient.

I write these words on the eve of the Harvest Dance at Sky City, Acoma Pueblo.

Acoma has no running water, no electricity, and their matriarchal homes are still made of the surrounding sandstone, straw and gypsum. The Acoma people have maintained continuous residence at the place that was prepared for them, Sky City. They still care for and restore their family homes. They protect themselves by guarding their way of life. They've stood face to face with the Spanish Conquistador, the Catholic Friar and the Mexican Government. They stand, today, face to face with American colonials and tourists. They speak the Keresan language. Once they learned Spanish. Now they learn English and Keresan. As a Pueblo they survived carring 30 foot beams, on foot, the 30 miles from Mt. Taylor to build the San Esteban Del Rey Mission and today they own and operate the Haak'u Museum at the base of Sky City.

Even the shortest visit to Acoma Pueblo reveals the power of which events you choose to remember and the significance of how you remember them. Like Silko's Man To Send Rain Clouds they've maintained their traditions and traditional lives by absorbing the world into the fabric of their existence, speaking their language, dancing their dances, protecting their social and ceremonial spaces—maintaining their line from here to there and when a break occurs they repair it.

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About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.