We sit in a teepee.
It’s moist and chilly. I had to drive down the mountain from the coast at 4 a.m. this morning so I could meet the elders as they broke for their morning fast.
At 5 a.m., they opened the teepee flap and Native Americans emerged. They all wore jeans and t-shirts (mostly). I felt my preconceptions crack.
I’m at my aunt’s house sipping badly flavored vanilla coffee before dawn and I’ve just been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer a few days before, and I’m watching a bunch of Indians groggily exit a two-story-tall teepee on the edge of her property. Sur. Real.
It’s only been a week since my doctor called with those words you never want to hear: It’s cancer.
No, really, stop, I’m only 43. This isn’t supposed to happen for another 30 years. I’m right in the middle of shit. I have two kids in grade school. You can’t be serious.
And now, the sun has just woken and I’m entering a tent overfull with men, women, and kids who’ve all been awake all night — healing, connecting, and doing something I can’t put my finger on. Frankly, I’m too aware of myself to see what’s really going on. I’m a foreign intruder with my old aunt, mom, and uncle in tow, all entering someone else’s sacred circle because we own their land. How can it get worse? Which means in my heart, I’m feeling it’s still all about me, although soon it will be all about them and I will just have to catch up to that.
My aunt bought her house on what she discovered was Native American land — traditional land for celebrating and connecting. Years ago, some tribespeople approached her and asked if they could still celebrate on her land. Of course, yes (embarrassed that I own your land). So every month or two, a big teepee and picnic tables and Porta Potties appear, and an all-night ritual commences to connect us to the stars.
My aunt was blessed, right?
She called the tribe when she learned I was diagnosed. They said yes we’ll take your niece. Come before dawn.