When this lovely and soft-spoken woman emerged from beneath her tin roof, she smiled big, then quickly put a hand over her mouth and muttered something about bad teeth. Honestly...I didn't notice her teeth...I was too busy noticing the smile that reached her eyes and I how her hands were always on the heads or the shoulders of the 2 little boys who walked closely and shyly next to her. Her grandsons live with her and literally walk in her shadow...a shadow that is long and tall in its grace and in its way of perceiving the world very differently from the way we do; those of us who do not walk under the Lakota sun. She hugged me tight, happy to see me again and I felt something akin to being blessed...by my God who had put me in the path of this place and by her.
Leola loves to tell you of the places she hopes to travel to and is quick to point out the types of birds landing nearby...watching them fly away...a look of longing in her eyes. The spirit of the ones with wings lives in her. And even though her grandsons speak their native language first and English second...she wants them to know of both worlds....but always through the eyes of her warrior descendants. That will be a fine line that will not be easy to walk. She herself is a warrior...a once-teenage member of the AIM (American Indian Movement) uprising and occupation of 1973.
But there was a different spirit at her home than there was in other homes I had visited on the Rez. Even with despair written in big, bold letters everywhere I turned...Leola smiled...Leola dreamed...Leola encouraged her grandsons to have strong, bold hearts that noticed things beyond the poverty and the plywood. In the midst of the debris-strewn property, she had encouraged 8 year old Onalsala to decorate a little "rock garden" plot, to paint on whatever he could (with paints donated by my dear friend Steven) and to see things differently...just as she did. Explaining to me that her little tomato garden had not gone well this year, she didn't express it in a way that we might...a way that is not aligned with all living things. She didn't say "darn grasshoppers destroyed my garden!" She simply smiled and said "For the past two years the grasshoppers have shared my garden. This year they did not share it with me." Spending a half hour with Leola gives me perspective. Spending five minutes with Onalsala gives me revelation.
I had lowered the tailgate on my truck to unload the items I had brought specifically for him. Warm boots, a pillow, paints, canvas pad, a Bronco sweatshirt...important things that any child would be enamored with. I set them out and encouraged him to take them...expecting wide-eyed wonder at the material bounty in front of him. But Onalsala, the warrior grandson of Grandmother Leola and son of Wakan Tanka, the Creator, touched the paints for a second, then looked over my shoulder, beyond me, beyond his surroundings and pointed. "Look at the wind in the trees," he said with the same light shining in his eyes that shone in Leola's....Bronco sweatshirt not even on his radar. In that quick moment, before he turned his attention back to the paints, I felt the wind moving through me. It was as though this little boy, wisdom beyond his years, was telling me....don't forget the focus is on God...don't forget to carry His message. The wind in the trees, the Holy Spirit moving through the people of this place...his love the breeze on the hilltop that can not be ignored as it touches the beautiful people in this beautiful place. A rainbow promise of total destruction never happening again. Onalsala knows the wind and recognizes its voice in the trees. "Here," it says touching his hair as his grandmother does...always recognizing the promise of the next generation. "The change will begin...here" Wopila tanka, Onalsala. Thank you.
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