Searching for the sacred in the midst of my second cancer diagnosis
“The sound we hear when it snows is the soft song of the white beauty!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan
My mother, I think, realized that I was falling into a kind of despair. I professed that I had lost my faith, though I had not become someone who hates faith – it was just gone. She had noticed my flailing to make sense of my world, again and suggested a trip up north. A trip that included good food at The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow and drives up to Hopi.
I pondered her offer, and thoughts of how I always loved going up to Hopi as a child were recalled.
I grew up in a magical place, there is a reason it is the birthplace of magic realism. My move to the USA (because I refuse to call it America, because frankly there is North America and South America and the USA being called America has never sat well with me) was not an easy transition, the USA doesn’t understand that kind of magic. There are exceptions to that. One such place was on my regular visits to Hopi as a newly transplanted child. There were two Hopi women who brought me back that magic. One was Helen Sekaquaptewa and the other was Elsie James and interestingly enough I just learned that they were related.
Elsie was local, and I got to see her more often. knew my great-great grandfather from when they both were at the Indian School in Phoenix, as a matter of fact he apparently introduced her to her husband. Whenever I would see Elsie, she would smile and tell me how much she loved my grandfather. She taught me how to make fry bread, often sitting with me at festivals at the heard Museum – teaching me the right consistency of the dough and the best way to pat the balls into a good piece of fry-bread, poking your fingers just so in the middle to prevent it from getting too puffed up when put in the oil. I cried deeply when I went to her funeral, she was extremely special to me.
Helen was the person that showed me that the special kind of magic from my youth in the Andes was present in the USA. I was relatively new to the USA, when my family went up to Hopi for a snake dance (probably back before non-Hopi were banned from freely joining them). I remember sitting on the roof, watching the most amazing ceremony – if you ever get a chance to see a snake dance, you should – they are memorable. I remember being in her kitchen, helping her fix food, and then I remember her taking me outside with her great-grandchildren to forage for wild spinach. Pointing out things that she thought I would find interesting as we walked to the edges of the village on the mesa.
So it was with these two influential Hopi women in my life that gave me a tie to my ancestors and the ability to see the magic in the land that I said yes to my mother, regarding a trip to what I could call my most local sacred space. It was a pilgrimage.
The drive up to Winslow was nice, we took the route through Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook. The Hotel La Posada is a fabulous space, designed by Mary Colter. I have a friend who claims, and rightly so, that it is a space full of feminine power that one can draw upon. We dined at The Turquoise Room.
I struggle as I write the next parts, as I want to honor Hopi guidelines on etiquette and yet share my experience as it relates to coming to greater peace with my own mortality and my hopes that I am of a Pahana clan. I met a Hopi prophet once.
We drove up from Winslow through to Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center (HCC), stopping at the Little Painted Desert (in Navajo) on the way. One of the things I like about visiting the Hopi Cultural Center is that there are carvers at the edge of the park next door. There is something special about meeting the person or their family when purchasing something from them. You can find baskets, teas, rattles, bows and arrows, sculptures and Kachinas. I was able to bring to my life, five Kachinas; Crow Mother, Grandmother & Long-Haired. and Snow Maiden & Warrior Maiden.
I didn’t bring Snow Maiden to me at first. We decided to drive to K-town and see what was going on. The story is that a bunch of MIT student drove through once and fixed up a bunch of their computers, promising to return only to not be seen again. One of the people with me has a son that teaches there and so we went to take pictures to share with them and see if we could get some MIT students to return. The whole ride, the image of her was in my mind, she was beautiful. We drove back to the HCC and held in my heart that she was still there. She was. I talked to the artist and his friend (who made my Warrior Maiden). They shared that the dances were happening this week and that I might see the Snow Maiden if I visit the ones at Shungopovi.
There was some discussion about going, but I was given the ability to decide and I did, I chose to go. If you are unfamiliar with attending ceremonies, revisit my link above for etiquette. We drove to Shungopovi and looked for people standing on a roof, and headed that direction. We found a place to park and walked toward the sound, following people who were headed toward it. W walked through half-finished houses, through water puddles and made our way to the ceremonies. There were not many white people there, maybe four aside from the three of us. We sat on a door step and watched the ceremony. It was special, oh so very special. And it was more exciting that I actually did see the Snow Maiden.
One of the things I learned from my friends on Hopi is that in a ceremony, the Kachinas are the gods… so, being able to see the ceremonial Kachina of the one that called to me was extremely special.
I ended my trip with four female Kachinas and one male.
Another goal of the trip was to find my tumor rock. This is something that my boss entrusted upon me. When she got cancer she was in Sedona and saw a colorful iguana-esque lizard on a rock. This was a message to her and she kept that rock, it was a representative of the cancer experience she was going through. She came back and told me about the experience. I was in a shop a few days later when I found a lizard that could be put on the rock, as a representative of the experience. When I was diagnosed with my second cancer, many years after hers, she brought me the lizard and said it was time to entrust it to me, that I had to find my rock. So, I looked for my rock. I actually found two, one just outside Winslow and the other near Heber.
I feel more optimistic about everything now. Instead of saying, for example, “my appointment tomorrow will tell me if I have metastasis” I am thinking in terms of “tomorrow I will learn if we can rule out metastasis”. A simple exchange of words, but they have so much power.