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Monday, April 29, 2013

Final Moments

The final moments of my participation in the Lame Deer Ambulance Service project on the Northern Cheyenne land, were bittersweet. Certainly, I was as proud as any trainer could have been to see her students succeed. Not only had each one received the certificate of completion for the training course, but also they had clearly demonstrated competency in doing the work. It was time to let them do what they had been trained to do… without me.

While packing up my meager belongings, planning to leave the furniture as my mother had requested, I realized I’d not made any improvements to the house. Well, what did it matter; I didn’t have a lot of time for home repairs while living there.

In the kitchen, I dropped flatware into a cardboard box, but couldn’t help looking up to remember that first week using that kitchen. The open back doorway had been filled when an angry, butcher knife-wielding grandmother insisted I’d stolen her baby’s shoes. It had taken quite a bit of smooth talking as I walked her back outside the door. Fortunately, she believed me, at last, and left to search for the shoes on the pile of dirt where the children usually played. I had no idea if she ever found them.

The dry season was upon us and red-clay dust covered everything brave enough to reside in that territory. Picking up my lined, rubber boots, I paused before tossing them in the car’s trunk. It’d be awhile before I’d need them again. So many miles had been logged on those deep treads in the past months.

The worst of all moments was the day these boots had struggled to get me through deep mud that seemed to rather suck my feet deeper, similar to my own fantasy idea of quicksand. My leg muscles really got a workout trying to pull my foot out each and every step to the one-room home of a sick, old lady.

Yes, the dear woman was ill and needed to be taken to the hospital; the dispatcher had been correct in her assessment of the emergency. However, Grandmother was not the only sick person in that very cold room.

Crossing the threshold, the sense of the chilly air was dissolved when my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. The small room was, quite literally, filled with sick children. I touched each one on my way over to the elderly woman. Each and every one was burning up with fever. The stench of human waste filled my nostrils, causing me to swallow often in an attempt not to lose my lunch right there. Truthfully, it didn’t matter that we still had our muddy boots on.

We carried the seriously ill grandmother to the ambulance. I had wanted to just load up the whole ambulance with those sick little ones, but it wasn’t allowed. Instead, we could only let the public health folks know that the kids were there. Again, I never knew the final story on those children.

Slamming the trunk on my memories, I slipped behind the steering wheel. A final glance back at the old dilapidated house, I flashed back to that first day with Mom, helping me move in.* Except for the repaired hinges, it was just the same – inside and out. Nevertheless, I knew I’d been right to insist on living in the area on the “Indian side” of the town. It’s really where I belonged.

Turning around, I leaned over to insert the car key in the ignition. I pulled back when something caught my eye. The newly beaded watchband now graced my left wrist. It was so beautiful. The rich, black leather, full of colorful beads, so skillfully placed, would long remind me of an incredible time in my young life. .

Folks had told me that the Northern Cheyenne weren’t openly emotional people and I shouldn’t let their stoicism cause me to think that they didn’t care. I shouldn’t expect any kind of outward recognition for my work with them, because it just wasn’t their way to get attached to a white guy. I was prepared for that, but not at all for what really happened.

I’d been asked to drop by at a certain time that afternoon so I could have a cup of coffee with Mary before finishing up my packing. It was not an uncommon request, so I thought nothing of it. What I found was a lot more than a cup of coffee.

The room was filled with my team, and one would have been hard pressed to find a single stoic amongst the bunch. One-by-one they thanked me for what I’d done for them. Amongst the cheers were reminders of the good and hard times we had enjoyed together as we worked to help the Northern Cheyenne nation. I was laughing as loudly as everyone else.

Then, Mary called me over and presented to me the gift the folks had for me to remember them and their people. Like I’d ever forget! I had expected some kind of a gag gift, because we had that kind of friendship, you know? Instead, my throat constricted and I simply could not speak as I saw the lovely watchband.

Finally, I managed to choke out a thank you and told them I’d never forget them. I’d miss them like the old friends they’d come to be for me. I’d been worried that they’d not find room in their hearts and lives for me, but I was wrong. Regardless of what anybody had said, these people were my friends and we loved one another, skin-color didn’t matter.

So many more things happened than what could be recorded here, of course, but it is one time in my life, when I was all alone in a new place and I saw God abundantly supply all of my needs. Not just those basics of food, lodging and security; but also a most valuable commodity—the love and respect of those with whom I worked and amongst whom I lived.

There was so much I just couldn’t do anything about, but God taught me to let go of all He had not given me to do. The responsibility for those lives rested on His shoulders, not mine. My challenge was to do the very best with the work God gave me to do, and that’s what I did. Of course, I would have liked to do more; but as I drove away that day, I knew I had done all that I could do with the work God had given me. It was time to move on to the next assignment.

 *Check the story in the post listed in this link:
Moving In

****May God bless you in all that He has given you to do today!

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