Fabric of Life

by Marilyn Youngbird
Article #5 in our series
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Marilyn Youngbird,
Chief Woman Among Chiefs, lectures internationally on the Native Way. She is a healthcare practitioner, teacher and workshop facilitator whose message of peace and healing is heartfelt and endearing.

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This is a story about "speaking and living one's Truth." It is about forgiving, surrendering, trusting the universe, knowing who you are, serving Tunkashila's (God's) children, and remembering to take care of our Mother Earth, for she is the Giver of Life.

Recently my sister Mari and I were invited to the city of Las Palmas, on Spain's Gran Canaria Island, to teach and share our Native American Way of Life. This would be my first time in Spain and I was filled with the excitement that comes with the opportunity to visit yet another country, to learn who the Canarian people are and to walk on our Mother Earth's majestic volcanic island.

Before I left for Las Palmas, we had been experiencing forest fires here in Colorado. One fire, called the Snaking Fire, came as close as one and one-half miles from my home.

On this one particular day, a very hot day, I was caregiving my one year-old granddaughter Himalaya. No different from a baby kitten, she wanted to play, run, jump, and crawl all around the house; I had to keep my eyes on her every move. My home is built with large open spaces, and a hot tub sits inside the atrium in the center of the house. The atrium walls are surrounded with hibiscus, geraniums, cactus, bougainvillea, and other exotic plants that love to sit under the glass roof and soak up the sun. In the midst of these plants is my sacred alter.

About one o'clock in the afternoon, I decided to wash the large windows that face south of the house. Because the wooden floor of the deck was too hot for Himalaya to run around on, I put her in a stroller, sitting her next to me so I could keep her entertained. At one point, while dancing, singing, and listening to Himalaya laugh, I looked toward the southwest and, to my surprise, saw a very large cloud of smoke and flames billowing hundreds of feet into the air. The fire was so close! I stood quietly, watching the smoke and flames stretching, reaching high into the sky, forming a variety of odd shapes.

Realizing that a southwest wind was blowing directly toward my home at about 45 to 50 miles an hour, I called 911. When the operator asked if there was an emergency I said, "No, I don't have an emergency yet, however, I am looking at a very large cloud of smoke and flames that look like they are not far from my home."

She asked, "What division of homes do you live in?" I told her and she replied, "The fire is about 6 miles from you. You are not in danger yet, but if I were you, I would start considering what you might do if it gets any closer." I was told that someone from the fire department would let me know if I had to evacuate. I hung up the phone and went back to washing the windows, and dancing and singing for Himalaya, but I kept my eyes on that giant cloud of smoke and flames.

Time passed slowly, and smoke started to spread into and over the valley, coming closer and closer to my home. I knew I had to make a decision as to whether or not I would pack some favorite belongings. By 6:00 that evening, I knew it was time to make a choice— and make it quickly. I decided I would take my photographs, the traditional buckskin dresses my mother and father made for me when I was 13 years-old, and my father's traditional war bonnet. However, when I went upstairs to my office, it was evident that I could not take all my photographs, there were just too many, so I decided to take only family photos. Carrying my granddaughter underneath one arm, I quickly loaded the car and finally, by about 7:30 PM when the telephone rang and the evacuation whistle blew over the answering machine, I was ready to go. I put Himalaya in her car seat, buckled her in, and drove away. That evening I returned Himalaya to her parents' home in Denver before driving to a friend's house to wait out the fire.

During the days of evacuation, all I could do was watch television and worry about my home. But early in the morning of the third day, just after awakening, I was lying on my friend's couch and thinking that I would drive back to my home before heading out for a scheduled week-long trip to California. However, when I opened my eyes, I did not see the room I was in; instead, I saw my home sitting in God's bright sunlight. I looked around the 9,000 foot mountain: The grass was a golden rust color and everything looked just as it had when I left two days ago. My eyes scanned the landscape surrounding my home, and as I looked toward the garage, which sits several yards away from the house, I saw a man with a beautiful tall, strong, auburn-colored horse. The man had reigns tied to the horse, which was pulling a one-blade plow, and I could see that they had tilled a four-foot wide road all around my home. In my vision, I could only see the back of the man. He was wearing a light brown shirt, dark trousers, and he was holding the reigns in his hands. When I sat up to get a closer look, the vision disappeared and all I could see was darkness in the room. I decided then that I needed to take my things back up to my home. The decision was solid in my mind, and my spirit was satisfied with my choice. I got up quietly, dressed, went out to the car, and started the drive back to the mountain.

There were no passenger cars going west on highway 285, only a fire truck and a channel 9 television van. I was caught between them, so I knew the highway patrol would not stop me. As I approached the road that would take me to my home, there were trucks pulling trailers, carrying out horses and other animals, all going in the opposite direction.

When I arrived home I went first to the back of the garage to see if anyone had plowed and tilled the earth there. It had not been disturbed. The earth was intact and the grass all around the mountaintop was very much the golden rust of my vision.

I carried the photos, my traditional dresses and my father's war bonnet back into the house. Standing in the center of my home, I spoke aloud and said, "If you must go, I will prepare you to go in the most sacred and beautiful manner."

With that, I took fresh sage and sweetgrass, put them into a shell, lit them, and walked around my home in a clock-wise manner, spreading the scent and smoke throughout every room. When I had blessed my home, I gathered materials and began to clean. I finished washing all the windows, vacuumed the rugs, cleaned the counters in the kitchen, polished the furniture, watered all the plants, and put fresh clean water into the hot tub. As I was moving around my home, thanking Tunkashila, our Blessed Grandfather, God, and our Blessed Earth Mother for all that I have been given in my life, I heard the sound of warplanes.

Surprised, I went outside to see if I was hearing correctly, and what I saw was incredible. Directly above my home, circling the mountain top, were seven WWII bombers. They were so close I could see the men sitting inside. The planes were moving very slow, and the pilots were flying them with direct precision. They would circle the mountain top, fly to the ridge where the smoke and flames were billowing hundreds of feet into the sky, and drop a bright red slurry onto the fire. I was so overcome with what I was witnessing that I could not contain my emotions. For the next several hours, the bombers circled my home and mountain top, going directly to the ridge and dropping slurry on the fire.

While this was going on, I kept cleaning, watching the planes, and thanking Tunkashila and Grandma for their love and protection. The last thing I did was to put my buckskin dresses away. I held them tightly in my arms and thanked my mother and father for making them for me. As I was thanking them, these thoughts came into my being: "You don't need these material dresses; you are wearing the dress we made for you. You walk in the dress we made for you, every day of your life. You are Our Dress."

I stayed in my home that night, thinking it just might be my last night ever in this home, and in the morning left the mountain top for my flight to San Diego. During the week I was there I would not watch or listen to the news and I tried not to worry about what might be happening to my home. Happily, by the time I returned from California, I was able to go directly from the airport to my home, which was unharmed.

Many weeks later, sitting for fifteen hours, flying six miles above our Mother Earth on an airliner headed for Gran Canaria Island, I finally had time to think of the vision of the man and his beautiful horse tilling the soil around my home. It also gave me an opportunity to contemplate the meaning of what my mother and father had said to me: "You are wearing the dress we made for you." Watching our Mother Earth appearing and disappearing in mysterious clouds miles below me, thoughts ran through my being, and I wondered what I was to learn from their message.

I thought of what my grandparents and parents told us when we were young: "Tunkashila, God, our Creator, has woven the most perfect, sacred and beautiful Fabric of Life. You are a part of that Fabric of Life. God's fabric includes all of life. Keep it sacred and holy. When the Fabric of Life is tattered and torn, much sickness will seep into the holes, and life will be difficult and painful. Humanity will lose its spirit. Even though people will be walking and talking, they will be dead. Their physical bodies will be empty, hollow, and forlorn."

I thought of humanity and of all the people who are confused and suffering today. In my innate knowing, I believe Our Creator, God, created all of life to know itself. Our own human, physical, Fabric of Life starts when we are conceived. We can only "be" who we came to this physical world to be. When we don't know who we are, fear, hatred, anger, jealously, and greed run rampant though our minds, our physical beings and our spirits. We call this way of life, Sickness.

I had to stop myself from dwelling on a suffering humanity and tried to concentrate, instead, on what my parents' message meant for me. My Fabric of Life is made up of threads from ancient Arikara, Mayan, Hidatsa, Mandan and Crow Native American Nations—a fabric of chiefs and spiritual human beings. Our Ancient Native American stories of who I am live deep in every cell of my being, built into my spirit from the Star Nation.

One story I remember that lives deep within me is a story of my father. When Daddy was a very young boy, he lived with Grandpa and Grandma. When Grandpa went fishing, he left Grandma and Daddy home alone. Daddy told of this event:


Early one morning, maybe around 2 AM, someone came knocking on the door. Grandma got up to see who was there and Daddy followed her. Grandma opened the door to find a very drunk white man hanging onto the screen door. He was so drunk he could hardly stand up. He said to her, "Lady, I am very hungry. Do you have any food I can eat?"

Grandma said to Daddy, without any hesitation, "Ben, help this man in." Daddy was surprised, but he helped the drunk man into the house, walking him to the dining table and helping him sit in a chair up to the table. Grandma went immediately to the stove and started to cook. Daddy thought Grandma was crazy, inviting this drunk white man into the house while Grandpa was not at home.

Grandma then said, "Ben, put some water into the wash basin and wash his hands and face." Daddy listened to grandma, still thinking she was crazy. He washed the man's hands and face as Grandma continued to cook. When the food was ready, Grandma put it in front of the man and let him eat as much as he liked. She sat at the table with him and Daddy stood by her, watching every move she and the drunk man made.

After the man finished eating, he said to Grandma, "Lady, this is the best food I have ever eaten. Now, I would love to have a smoke. Do you have any tobacco?"

Grandma said to Daddy, "Ben, get your Grandfather's pipe, and fill it."

"Grandma," Daddy protested, "Grandpa never lets anybody use his pipe. He will be terribly angry when he learns of this."

She said, "Ben, go get Grandpa's pipe." So Daddy did as instructed. He brought Grandpa's pipe, filled it, and gave it to the man.

The white man smoked the pipe and when he finished, he said to Grandma, "Lady, this is the best smoke I ever smoked."

It was now daybreak and the man said to Grandma, "Thank you so very much for your hospitality, I must go now." He got up and walked out the door.

Daddy was surprised at Grandma's behavior. He said to her, "Grandpa is going to be really mad when he finds out what you did."

Grandma said to Daddy, "You never know when Tunkashila, God, will come to you, to see if you are walking your prayers. You could lose your chance to serve Tunkashila, God, if you have fear and judgment."

When she said that, Daddy ran out the door to see where the man was. Our Mother Sun was beginning to spread her light onto the prairie and because the prairie is flat Daddy thought he would be able to see which way the man was walking. Daddy said he looked in all directions, but there was no evidence of a man walking away from the house.

I was taught life-lessons in stories like this one, and by example. My grandparents and parents never turned anyone away from their home, however humble it was. There was always food on the stove and fresh water awaiting their visitors. The first thing we did when visitors came to our home, before they could even speak of why they came, was to serve them food and water. This was our way of life. I remember my father's generosity. If someone needed money for gas to take a child to the hospital, or if they needed food, my father would give them whatever money he had, even if it was his last dollar. Daddy was a hunter, and when he brought home food, he would divide it up and take it to the elderly, the sick, and those who had many children. In the Fall, Daddy would mine coal and carry it by wagon and team to all the elderly and others who needed help getting ready for a long hard winter. My people are kind and generous to every human being, no matter who they are. My people have lived their prayer.

We humans are taught best by example. By our examples, we weave our Fabric of Life. I remember my father saying to us children, "I want you to remember this: Always remember who you are. In your lifetime, you will meet many false prophets. Remember every thought, action, and footstep you create are your prayers. Be kind, gentle, strong. Help those who are in need and in danger. Forgive, don't judge, and remember you come from great stock. Your roots are deep, as deep into our Mother Earth as the largest roots of a Cedar Tree. Pray for those whose voices cannot be heard."

As time passes, and as a grandmother to many, many children from all over the earth, I am just now understanding what he meant. I pray for the wind—our air, our breath—as humanity cannot hear her voice. I pray for the rain—our water, our life blood—as humanity cannot hear her voice. I pray for our children—the animal children, the human children, the winged children, the finned children, the tree children, all children—as humanity cannot hear their voices. I pray for our Mother Earth, as her children don't know her, and cannot hear her voice.

We must remember, always, that choice is one of the greatest gifts we are given in our life on this earth. We can choose to be happy, choose to love, choose to forgive, choose to take only what we need, choose to take only what belongs to us, choose to be kind, choose to be compassionate, choose to give instead of taking. We must remember we have no promise for tomorrow and live everyday to its fullest. When we give this gift to ourselves, we will become mentally, physically and, especially, spiritually healthy.

I know the fabric, the dress, woven for me by my grandparents and parents are their examples: their generosity of spirit, my Daddy's love for life—his spirit filled with hope, his truth and honesty, his strength to forgive, honor and respect all of life, his sense of humor that sparkled through his green eagle eyes; my mother's kindness and forgiveness, her non-judgmental attitude, her smile and her compassion. I pray I can honor them by letting their spirit shine through me. I pray I am wearing the dress they wove for me in the most sacred manner.

Marilyn Youngbird

©2002 Marilyn Youngbird

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Editors note:

Marilyn's Pathfinder series offers an opportunity for visitors to understand the roots of the Native Way and to share in experiences gleaned from the life journey of our honored presenter. She looks forward to your questions; they are valued and welcomed.

We wish you well on your journey.

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