Just finished reading The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers. www.thekillikgofcrazyhorse.com Powers gives more space and credence to Native American oral history than is usually found in the history books. He offers a version of the truth that is plausible, fully fleshed and chocked full of human interest. The story is told from multiple points of view based on diaries, original interviews from newspapers of the day, first, second, third hand accounts recorded by anthropologists and a still lively oral tradition handed down through the generations. It is a compelling story told simply and directly by the people who lived it.
At the end of the book Powers suggests a kind of moral to the story of Crazy Horse and the journey his bones and medicine bundle take after his death. What can the loss or survival of these things mean to us? What is the significance of their disappearance? How does one really understand/come to grips with “…the divide between the things that have been lost and the things that survive.”? It’s a question that can be raised at any point along the continuum of all our stories. Or is it only at certain watershed moments that the question becomes pertinent?
Crazy Horse’s bones are not lost but hidden puposely, so they survive. The medicine bundle is gone, disappeared though the vagaries of chance, so it is lost. Is there a difference that matters here? For me it is a matter of deciding whether life has a trajectory or is given a trajectory, or perhaps it is a matter of coming to terms with the possibility it is both. Good fortune and sharp instincts might enable someone to recognize the divide between loss and survival in the moment and make a conscious choice to let something slip into the realm of the lost, or not, in full awareness of the impact of that choice. Or does this kind of awareness only come in retrospect? (Give a listen to Watershed by the Indigo Girls). Powers seems to think there is a point of demarcation between loss and survival. To me the divide seems difficult to locate. Doing so strikes me as an artform, a dive into the deepest end of the pool, requiring a truly powerful and mysterious mojo.
What is it that gets lost? We can easily list the tangibles, what we might call mementos or perhaps MEMENTOS…iconic, talismanic items such as photos, books, family heirlooms, medicine bundles and the like. Likewise at least some of the intangibles seem easily identified, love, opportunity (which could be a placeholder for all the intangibles), insight, inspiration, fame (from a worldclass everybody knows your name fame to someone somewhere who says, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy.”). What is it that really survives? All of the above that doesn’t get lost? Is what survives who we are? Instead of saying “life is all the tiny things you left behind” perhaps the song should say “life is all the tiny things that survive.” In her song The Gift Lucy Kaplansky says it this way, “The gifts that you are given are the gifts you leave behind”. “Gifts”, I can’t think of a better word to call the stuff that survives
Though lacking the art to recognize the moment where what is lost falls away from what survives I have learned to pay attention to those who seem to have a clue and can share it. Those who are willing to share the gift of insight. So if you happen upon this website and read this drivel, have some sympathy, charity if you will, for someone splashing around in the deep end just trying to find his mojo.
That’s all I have for now.