Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Basket and the Boy

Every school day morning, Grange and I walk the quarter mile from the house above the trading post to Bluff’s small elementary school. Buffy The Wonder Dog, excited by the prospect of each new day, universally tags along, and, depending on the weather, is happy to roll in the green grass of spring or the small patches of crusty winter snow.

Navajo Ceremonial Basket by Lorraine Black
Navajo Ceremonial Basket

Sometimes Grange and I kick rocks, jostling each other for position; sometimes we play tag, with constant shouts of “You’re it”; sometimes we throw a football; sometimes we have foot races; and sometimes we just talk. Whatever the activity, I feel intensely fortunate to have this time with him; our time, no matter how short, and regret that it will someday end.

At eight years old, Grange has begun asking interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable, questions. His recent explorations remind me of a story I was once told about Navajo baskets.

This particular storyteller announced to me that the Navajo ceremonial basket is illustrative of one’s path through life. The hole in the center of the weaving represents your emergence into this world. The coils spiraling out from this starting point, being all white, express the ideal that the world seems pure and uncompromised when you are young.

As you progress along the journey, however, in the basket and in your daily life, you begin to encounter some of the darkness, or adversity, of this earth. This realization is the beginning of knowledge and understanding. The blackness expands until you reach the blood rings, which delineate the commingling of your blood with the blood of your spouse; the genesis of family.

After the blood rings, the darkness begins to recede, which indicates a greater acceptance of your world, the seeds of wisdom germinating and an ability to manage difficult occurrences. At the end of your term here on earth, you enter the spirit world; the rim of the basket, which is all white. The weaver’s pathway, as it is commonly known, extends from the center of the basket to the outer perimeter, and is there to remind us that no matter where we are along this continuum, there is always a pathway to the light.

Grange is just starting his exploration of life’s dark patches, and I often worry about slipping on the black ice created by his ventures into the unknown. Yesterday he asked, “Dad, why do people want to love someone when they don’t really love that person.”

Reluctant to probe his knowledge of the mechanics of “love,” and confident I did not want to explain them to him at that particular moment, I was unsure how to answer his query. I, therefore, fudged by asking what brought about the question. Apparently he had seen a picture of a western saloon, which included painted ladies attempting to gin up business of a horizontal nature. By this time, the school bell was ringing and I told him to run along.

By late afternoon, having had time to consider Grange’s question, I enlisted the aid of Kira, our 11 year old, who has apparently learned more than I guessed. When I told her of Grange’s question, she said to him very candidly, “Oh, it happens all the time.” Grange seemed to accept Kira’s rationalization at face value, so I attempted to clarify things a little; explaining that love is a great gift which should be carefully invested, not casually spent. That discussion seemed to thoroughly confuse them, so I left off for the moment.

Granger Simpson
Grange at Disneyworld

Growing up in Bluff, which is an odd combination of the innocence of Mayberry, R.F.D. and the quirkiness of Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, has sheltered Kira and Grange from some, but not all, of the darkness in our world. Television, friends and Jana’s Great Adventure has given them some glimpses into real life, but they remain idealistic and optimistic.

It is exciting, and unnerving, to see Grange exploring his surroundings in wholly unexpected ways. With the guidance of our local traditions, he may actually succeed in gaining a fuller understanding of our environment in this complex town along the banks of the San Juan River, and the world at large.

In the mean time, I will continue to struggle with my own darkness, and wonder how to appropriately answer his questions.

With warm regards,

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