"It is a good day to die"

"Check engine" is not what we like to see on the dashboard when zooming off to a D.A.P.E. workshop on preschoolers' development and guidance. Like most preschoolers, I wanted to ignore the warning and keep pedaling my tricycle in crazy circles, faster and faster past all the other kids. Unlike most preschoolers of my acquaintance, I had a nagging fear that something was wrong with this plan. The Buick is tired and creaky. Sometimes it's cranky. It's due for its safety inspection, and we are entering a holiday week. The Buick is usually uncooperative at safety inspections, and has been known to have major meltdowns at holidays. Maybe the Buick is the preschooler in this scenario, not me.

Our morning was crisp, sunny, beautiful, and perfect for driving my Skylark tricycle in crazy circles. Instead, I drove it to the dealership like a nervous old lady. I did not want to die, or to have the car die, even if it was a good day.

Monday I typed up Native American poems for the elementary students. The poems and chants always strike me with their spareness and rhythms. They have the clean, honed feeling of haiku, but the rhythm that makes me want to drum or to dance. I wanted to pull out my old copy of John Neihardt's classic Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. It is cool that there's an electronic edition available. In Neihardt's chapter 25, page 204, Black Elk tells of the massacre at Wounded Knee:

...An old man by the name of Protector was there, and he ran up and held me, for now I was falling off my horse. I will show you where the bullet struck me sidewise across the belly here (showing a long deep scar on the abdomen). My insides were coming out. Protector tore up a blanket in strips and bound it around me so that my insides would stay in. By now I was crazy to kill, and I said to Protector: "Help me on my horse! Let me go over there. It is a good day to die, so I will go over there!" But Protector said: "No, young nephew! You must not die to-day. That would be foolish. Your people need you. There may be a better day to die." He lifted me into my saddle and led my horse away down hill. Then I began to feel very sick.

John G. Neihardt spoke to me once, and I've never been quite the same. Actually, the poet laureate of the state of Nebraska spoke at a school assembly in the auditorium of Millard Lefler Junior High in about 1970. Neihardt was a tiny man in his nineties with flowing white hair slightly more tamed than Einstein's. He could barely see out over the podium, but when he began to speak about Black Elk's visions we were transfixed. We were pulled from our world of buying candy and gum at the Ben Franklin 5 & Dime by the power of his words. Ever tried to get the attention of even one junior high student??? Our principal, Kathryn Hurst, often ranted to us after an assembly that we were the worst class ever to blight the Millard Lefler auditorium, but this time we were held silent by his electrically-charged presentation.

My check engine light was speaking wisdom due to overly-charged spark plug wires. Consumer Reports has tips for what to do when your Check Engine symbol lights up.
The Buick is much improved and revitalized after its day at the dealership. I'm thrilled that it passed inspection without the annual rebellion by the left rear lights.

Thank heaven the Buick doesn't need to be planning for an Orpheus Society bequest to the Dallas Opera in its will. It will live to enjoy another fall day, pretending to be the shiny tricycle coveted by all the preschoolers. The Orpheus letter arrived to solicit my bequest, but I'd already enjoyed the day. The Buick and I both felt recharged.

Old Lodge Skins, played by Chief Dan George in the 1970 movie of Little Big Man tells Dustin Hoffman's character, Jack Crabb, that "It is a good day to die." In a way, the wise Old Lodge Skins is telling us to check our personal onboard diagnostics:

"It is a good day to die" is a native American expression that has oft been misinterpreted. Usually used in Hollywood movies by stoic noble savages heading into battle it's true implications are far beyond mere warrior bravado. Simply put it means to live each day as if it was your last and make sure you have no regrets when you have to leave. If every day is a "good day to die, how would denying yourself the emotional experience of being human serve any purpose.

(from Leap In the Dark blogger Richard Marcus, 6/18/05)

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...