Tuesday, July 5, 2016

An Apsaalooke's Tale - 5

Many times I returned to the wall after that day.  I added my own few paintings to that sacred edifice.  And each time I returned hoping for the visions of that day.  To see the face of the chieftain again, but it was time for my own story to take place, for my own chapter to be etched in those hallowed halls.
One day I wandered there late at night.  I had been caught by a sudden fearsome storm, and I ran to my beloved cave for shelter.  But that night when I entered, I was in for a surprise.  The cave was sacred to me, but I knew it was known to many others.  It was always dark in that cave, and this night I had no light.  I ran in hastily to escape the cold darts of rain, shaking myself as I entered.  I walked towards the dark back of the cave towards my wall.
As I did so, I felt something stir in front of me.  I looked to my right and saw two beads looking back my way.  I stood there frozen.  Was it friend or foe?  I couldn’t be sure.  I was afraid to speak.  What if it was a foe?  Surely he was ready to kill me if it was.  I remained silent, waiting to see if he would speak.  He said nothing, the tiny beads stayed fixed, floating in the air.  For a while we remained like that, motionless, each waiting for the other to move, like an elk staring at a wolf, each knowing that a wrong move could mean death.
Finally the man began inching towards me.  He came slowly, so I knew he meant no harm.  His hand gently grabbed mine and lifted it towards his eyes.  I felt him put my hand on his neck and slide it across.  I gulped, he was a cutthroat, a Lakota.  A shiver ran down my spine.  A Lakota here?  In my sacred cave?  I felt hatred sting my heart.  My other hand groped at my belt for my knife.  This was my moment.  In my mind, I saw my hand gripping his neck and driving my knife deep into his skin, but I didn’t do it.  I was frozen.  I couldn’t kill my enemy.  I couldn’t kill the one I hated.  For years we had fought, many I had killed.  But that night I was weak, I was a fool, I lacked courage.
But if I lacked courage, perhaps he didn’t.  I grabbed his hand and pulled it towards me, knowing that death was approaching.  I pulled his hand to my head and let him feel my roach.  He took a deep breath.  Yes.  He knew.  I was an Apsaalooke.  I took a deep breath, and waited for death to come.  I had been a coward.  I deserved no better.
He withdrew his hand, and moments passed by like a snake sliding through a swamp.  Without saying a word, he withdrew back to where he had been.  And the lights went out.  Ashamed, I withdrew to my own corner.  And once again I saw the flame in the eyes of the old chief.  I couldn’t get them out of my head.  I had failed.  I had spent my life fighting, remembering my words to that old chieftain.  How could I withdraw?  How could I fail him now?  Was life really not about struggle?  Was it not about fighting?  How could I learn to tolerate a Lakota?  How could I be at peace with something that I hated?
The questions seemed to boil in my mind, one by one hitting the surface and bursting, and each time they burst, I winced.  Until, finally, wincing,
I fell asleep.
I awoke as light from the morning sun began to enter the cave.  I looked around in apprehension, but my enemy was gone.  We had both failed.  And to this day that cave still represents that failure to me.  Those memories of the long forgotten past, my struggles and triumphs are darkened.  Cast forever into that shadow of that one moment.  But now that I am old, and it will not be long before my body gives up the fight, a new thought has come to me.  Maybe part of the struggle is to know when to be at war, and when to be at peace.  The mighty hunter returns home empty handed not because he cannot continue, but because there is no point.  The weak hunter returns home empty handed because he is afraid to struggle, because he is afraid to fight.  And I go to my grave, still the mightiest of hunters, the bravest of warriors, and the greatest of heroes.
And no friend of the Lakota.

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