Updated: Oct 31, 2021
In the summer of 1970, I spent a week on White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota. I was with a friend who grew up there, later brought into my high school through foster care. Her mother was from the Reservation. Her father was a Black Panther.
Each morning we would go from our farmhouse lodgings, where we irritated the farmer and his wife by staying up too late, to the daily vacation Bible school. I remember the picnic tables full of kids and crafts and noisy songs; the older counselors must have done the Bible part.
In the Reservation homes, the walls too thin for Minnesota winters, were kitchen tables piled high with boxes of Velveeta cheese, dry milk flakes, and loaves of Wonder Bread, with gigantic cans of peanut butter on the cement floors—none of this government issue in any way making up for the centuries of broken treaties and endless trails of tears.
We were told not to go near the Reservation on weekends, where payday alcohol and old cars forced normal life expectancy to a life-and-death calculation. (And how do you get through the night, I still wonder, when a hand is held up to me.)
Once I walked toward the edge of the Reservation houses, finding myself by a hut no larger than a room, surrounded by grey-green brush. An old woman, white hair down to her waist, came out of the door and stood looking at me, wordlessly smiling for a second—or a year—I don't know which.
When I turned away I was forever blessed, that I do know.
She lives for me among the Black Madonnas of Częstochowa and Guadalupe, among the holy ascetics from the Essene caves, the silent monks of Byzantine and Buddhist shrines, the spirits gracing Moorish domes and Gothic vaults.
She lives for me as I live, in a hut at the edge of the village, my spirits falling into the thin spaces between here and there, then and now, anima and animus, looking deep into a deity outshining human gender and reason.
She lives two-spirited and balanced, within the chaos and suffering of a broken world.
Two-spirited is the indigenous label for persons described by Jung whose male and female selves cohabitate the collective unconscious in equal measure, spinning yin and yang into an eternal spiral, at once dark and light, day and night, celestial and terrestrial. (I like it because it describes oneself, rather than who one might feel attracted to at a given moment.)
I did not know of such two-spirited creatures as a child, when I believed that even God cannot love you. The source of this message is not clear, though the recoil I felt from my mother and grandmother likely played into it.
That a false and angry god does not love me—well, this no longer hurts.
That my innocence was not defended by my mother and grandmother—this is beginning to hurt less.
That an embracing and magestic two-spirited soul embodies all of us—this gives me hope.
In Ambiguous Loss, Pauline Boss speaks of the Anishinaabe women of the Great Lakes region of Minnesota and Canada, who manage unresolved grief with a spiritual handle: All is as it should be. They look at pain and enfold rather than fight the ambiguity of loss.
An all-encompassing Serenity and Courage and Wisdom.
Throughout the village homes where life is shared and spoken, past the cyclic manifestations of lean and plenty, to the edge of the brush and the dying of the light.
All is as it should be.
28 JUNE 2021