No Reservations: Reflecting On Unlearning Life

My passenger sat stoically. She was a traditional Navajo woman who spoke little, if any, English. The lines and valleys etched into her dark red face spoke of a long life spent outdoors in the harsh Arizona sun. One could tell silence was a major and welcome part of her life.

As we drove along the brightly colored sandstone formations that blanket the Navajo Reservation in the area called the Painted Desert, I had time to do something I rarely had time to do while driving in town – reflect.

It came to me that I have many constantly changing views of Arizona from many perspectives as a taxi driver. There is no pleasure greater to me than driving around the Navajo Reservation, rich in tradition and solitude. It is in this ancient place; in that timeless land, I feel most at peace and at home. The Dineh, which means ‘The People,’ have become my friends and family.

Reflecting On An Angel

Zen Taxi
Zen Taxi photo by Omar Victor

I am blessed to have a ten year old adopted Navajo granddaughter; I will call her Angel, if there are angels; she is one. There isn’t a direct translation of the word angel from English to the Navajo language. They would probably be called “dyin bl naala’a,” meaning messenger of the holy people.

When she was 5 years old, my little Angel climbed into my lap and stole my heart. Through the years, as I watched her grow, she has taught me how to love unconditionally. I held her when she was sad, held her when she was glad, and wiped the tears from her eyes when the other children teased her too much.

Angel has taught me how to see the world as fresh and new in every instant. I have always found her Zen nature something to be envied. She is always perfectly in the moment, no matter what that second brings. Angel seems never bothered by yesterday’s business or tomorrow’s worries. It appears as though she always simply arrives at any second in time, not deciding it in advance.

A Silence As Deep As Eternity

Reflecting on the beauty that surrounded me as I drove the Navajo woman to Chinle, her very presence in my taxi itself echoed the Carlyle quote “A silence as deep as eternity…” I wondered when my granddaughter got older, would she dress in the traditional Navajo clothing my passenger was wearing.

Most importantly, would she stay on the reservation as an adult? Angel is learning the Navajo language at her school in Kayenta. Would that bind her to her people? I wondered if it was right for me to even be weighing these issues but I am compelled by love to ponder my granddaughter’s fate.

The shack on that bumpy dirt road where I dropped the old Navajo woman demanded years of maintenance to make it whole. Metal heaps of once functional transportation littered the property, setting up the arbitrary boundaries of her domain. A large Crow on the fence spoke loudly its displeasure at being disturbed. Skinny dogs, chickens and goats moved aimlessly about, not really concerned if we were there or not. I wondered if the old woman noticed. I wondered if she cared.

Poverty And Riches: Unlearning Life

Poverty, woven deep into the very fabric of her life for so many years, reigned supreme in this land. Many times this story has been told from lonely hilltops and valleys where dreams and visions drift away like fallen leaves in the wind. Where a people’s hopes have died and wither on the tree. Maybe accepting it for what it was brought a certain serenity to it all. Maybe I am the impoverished one and this Native woman has obtained riches I will never come to know.

On the long drive home to Flagstaff from Chinle, it also struck me that I have unlearned so many things over my years of living here. When I first traveled the Navajo Nation, I looked at the landscape as a bleak barren land, thinking I would go mad seeing the same view every day. Through Angel’s youthful eyes I learned what the Greeks knew thousands of years ago, you never step in the same river twice. Now every time I look out at Mother Earth, I see her in a different way.

The sky is our father, the earth is our mother and all life is sacred. It can be no other way. It pleases me to think I am finally growing up enough to see with the eyes of a child.