Lately I have been spending a lot of of time on Salt Lake City's Trax train system. Laurie and I have been blessed with family members who volunteer to spend nights with Spenser, and their help has given us the opportunity to rest in preparation for his daily therapy sessions. This scheduling helps Laurie and me avert the dreaded "hospitalitis" that creeps up on you after too many sleepless nights spent in a hospital room.
Laurie and Barry with Spenser
In an attempt to divest himself of his parents, Spenser has begun keeping the phone near his bedside. In his hoarse, airy whisper, he pleas for help from his aunts, uncles and older cousins to spell him from mom and dad's obsessive care.
As Spenser's physical abilities have returned, so has his sense of humor. At one point I called him a "knucklehead" because he kept slouching in bed. His occupational therapist had recently lectured us for allowing Spenser to project bad posture. After adjusting his position for the one hundredth time, I could not hold in the derogatory remark. Spenser looked at me with a sly, lopsided grin and said, "Don't call me a knucklehead; I have a brain. The doctors said they saw it. Maybe you should get a CAT scan, you may be the knucklehead after all. " It was at that point I decided to give my sassy son a little more breathing room, and accept more outside help to look after him.
From my sister-in-law's house in Sandy, Primary Children's Hospital is at the other end of the Trax line. At first I whiled away the time by people watching. After a number of "What are you staring at," looks, however, I decided it would be prudent to find a good book to kill time.
One of the Trax stops just happens to be located opposite the Sam Weller book store in downtown Salt Lake City. On a few occasions I allowed myself the pleasure of perusing their extensive antiquarian section. It was there I found a set of bulletins printed by the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art of Santa Fe New Mexico in the 1950's. Years ago I read a few of these booklets and found the information they contain interesting and informative. As is common with such rereads, I was amazed at how differently I interpreted the booklets after the many years and countless experiences I have had since I first encountered the pamphlets.
What struck me this time around was how frequently examples of insects and animals were worked into the stories. I know Navajo legends are often portrayed in metaphorical fashion to force the inquisitor to look deeper into the meaning of a particular story. The intensity and effort exerted to understand the story is directly related to the understanding one gains, and the quest becomes very personal. Everyone's quest for knowledge, or journey towards understanding, is quite different.
In the booklets I read how different colored ants were the first recognizable beings; how they single-mindedly worked together to create a suitable environment for their varied society. In doing so, they focused on building a future, and surviving at all odds. The Navajo cultural stories spoke of the mistakes societies make in their struggle to grow and improve. By taking the time to evaluate the consequences of their actions, and learning from their mistakes, the people are able to progress.
One story mentioned Badger, who, with his tenacity and enduring strength, helped the first beings enter the fourth world. This transition into a new world brought a rebirth initiated by adversity and dissension. Anarchy was overcome, and the emergence was achieved, by adopting the strengths and characteristics the animals projected.
There was also a discussion of the Locust, who were able to intercept the assault from upper-world aggressors because of their ability to survive difficult circumstances. Playing prominent roles in the stories are Bighorn Sheep, who dispersed the flood waters with their massive horns, and Coyote, whose overly inquisitive, compulsive and fearless nature initially caused the myriad problems and ultimately lead to their resolution.
I generally first discuss story ideas with Steve before I approach the computer. This process allows me to work out the idea in my mind and side-step quagmires of misinformation. Since my brother was home tending to business, I decided to discuss my ideas with Spenser. He listened intently, inquisitively questioned me about the attributes of individual animals and contemplated my thoughts. I found our conversation thought provoking and stimulating, and realized I had found a new sounding board.
Alyssa, Spenser and McKale
As our discourse wound down, I began feeling good about my story idea, and started working out the details in my mind. Spenser then said," So Dad, if I understand you correctly, the way people act can often be related to certain animals. Right?" " You can say that," I said. "Why do you ask?" "Well" said Spenser with a devious grin, "if that's true, your animal might be something like a crab, a mocking bird or maybe a cranky old bear!" As I boarded the Trax train that night, leaving Spenser in the care of his Aunt Lisa, tears came to my eyes. My boy was going to be okay. His mind is sharp and his wit even sharper, the rest will follow in due time.
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