Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We're Not Done Yet.

I thought my trip was over. I was wrong.

Thursday, I leave for my next destination. Something tragic has happened. I love travel, and I'm going somewhere I wanted to go. But I didn't want this to be the reason why.

A long time ago, there was a young doctor who went from Chicago to the southwestern corner of the United States. To avoid being drafted into a war he didn't believe in, he had taken a job with the Public Health Service. The job was on the Navajo reservation. Most people who came to Navajo for these jobs do it for two years and then leave. 

This doctor didn't leave. He stayed. Soon after the two year mark, he was approached by a medicine man of the tribe named Tommy Nez. It's not clear what expectation either man had of the other. But it's doubtful that either could have predicted then what later occurred: the doctor was adopted into the Nez family as Tommy's younger brother.

The doctor rose became the chair of mental health programs for the Indian Health Service. While he climbed the ladder of his career, his adoptive brother showed him things he didn't think were physically possible. Miracles.

Years later, after the doctor had given his position to an Indian man, as seemed proper, he fell in love with a young woman who lived in the north. They married. They wanted to have a child, but they weren't able to. The doctor told his brother, the medicine man, and asked for his help. Together they held a ceremony in a sweat lodge.

Nine months later, I was born. My father still credits my existence to my uncle, Tommy.

Since my father's time on Navajo was long before I even existed, I don't know that much about that side of the family. I've been to the reservation only twice when I was old enough to remember, and most of the time I spent playing with kids. The last time I saw Tommy was when he showed up at our door one day when I was about fifteen. I was the only one at home. Neither of us recognized the other at first.

He was up in Canada these last two weeks, visiting his friends and family. He suffered a heart attack and had to be hospitalized. My father came out to see him. They spent some time together there. My father knew that Tommy wasn't in good shape. The doctors didn't think he was in any condition to undergo any procedures. It could very well be the last time they saw each other. Knowing all this, as the visit came to an end, my father said goodbye, and left the room.

He went down the hallway, turned into the washroom and looked at himself in the mirror. Then he turned around and went back to get the hat he had forgotten in Tommy's room.

"I guess I'm reluctant to leave." My dad said. Tommy smiled at that.

The next Friday, Tommy died quietly in the hospital.

I'm going with my mother and father to his funeral. We fly to Albuquerque Thursday morning, rent a car, and drive a few hours from there to look for his family. Our family.

This isn't the usual sort of adventure I like to post about on here. But it seems like it may be a story worth telling. I don't know what we'll find. The service could be Catholic, or if could be Native American Church, or something else entirely. But I'll see what I can share, in honor of a man who might have made me possible.

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