Winona had spent most of her growing up years dreaming of getting away from the rez, from the poverty, from the drugs and alcohol, from the violence, and from and the despair. She'd watched friends and family members succumb to all of them, she'd attended the funerals of two classmates who committed suicide. She didn't want to follow that path, she wanted something different for her life, something more. So Winona studied hard, got good grades, and graduated at the top of her class. She applied to major universities across the country rather than the small college an hour down the road where many of her classmates were headed, the ones who hadn't already dropped out of school.
Winona was thrilled to be one of three in her class who were chosen as Gates Millennium Scholars, which came with a full-ride scholarship to the school of her choice. She was accepted to the prestigious Harvard School of Medicine, and her excitement grew as the summer following graduation passed and she prepared to head East. What was it going to be like she wondered, to begin a brand new chapter of her life in a place far from home, far away from everything she wanted to leave behind.
Winona arrived in Boston, her worldly possessions filling only three suitcases, and was met by a representative from student affairs who guided her to the shuttle that would take them to her new home in an old building with more floors than Winona had ever seen before. As they drove through the streets of Boston Winona was amazed and a little overwhelmed at the great expanse of buildings, the busy traffic, and the crowded sidewalks. She quickly realized how sheltered her life had been on the small reservation in South Dakota. She had only once been as far as Denver, and then only for a weekend in the company of her classmates on their senior trip. How was she going to find her way, make her home in this strange place where the locals talked with an accent she'd never heard before?
Winona settled into dorm room, went to the cafeteria with a few other Freshman from her floor, and visited a little. It seemed that all of them were familiar with big city ways, and she felt that she stuck out like a sore thumb. She might as well have been wearing her braids and beaded regalia, they way they looked at her with a mixture of amusement and dismay. Suddenly the girl who wanted to trade her rez life for the big world outside its confines felt very small and very much alone. She went to bed early that night and soon her pillow was damp with tears. She hadn't even been there for twenty-four hours and already she was desperately homesick and wanted to go home; she wanted to run out the door and hop on the first bus headed west. How was she ever going to handle this, she wondered.
As Winona slept, her Grandmother came to her in a dream, "Takoja (granddaughter)" the old woman said, "I have watched you grow from the time you left the stars to walk upon the earth. I have listened to your heart and know that you long to have a life that is peaceful and good. But you have forgotten that you cannot separate your path from what you are, you will always be Lakota. Fortitude, courage, integrity, honesty, humility, and generosity - these are the virtues that have been passed down from your grandfathers and your grandmothers. You have the courage and the strength within you to find your own way to walk the "red road" (the sacred path), even here in this place so different from all that you have known. But you must also remember that it is not our way to think only of ourselves and what we can obtain for our lives; you will always be a part of your tiospaye (clan), and you must seek to use what you learn here to better not only your life but the lives of those at home." This being said, Winona's grandmother bent down and gently caressed the head of Winona as she lay sleeping, and whispered a prayer in Lakota, words familiar to her granddaughter's heart.
When Winona awoke the next morning, she remembered her Grandmother's visit as clearly as if it had happened in the light of day. She had never met her grandmother in her lifetime, the old woman had passed over to the spirit world years before her birth, and yet in her heart she knew her and knew the words that she had spoken were true. Winona got up to begin the day with a new sense of purpose and determination. Yes, she would be courageous, she would complete her studies here at Harvard, and she knew just what she was going to do after that. Rather than becoming a doctor with a fancy practice in the big city as she had originally planned, she would one day return to the reservation, to the people that she loved, to start a clinic there for the children, and the mothers, and the grandmothers like her own. She knew that in seeking to help her people, she would have the best life of all. We cannot run from who we are, we can only seek to bring positive changes to our lives and the lives of others.
This post was written for Two Shoes Tuesday
where the prompt choices this week are change and season...
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