No Reservations by Reagan McGuire

No Reservations

by Reagan McGuire


“Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with which destiny have ordained that you shall live.” 

~ Marcus Aurelius


My passenger sat stoically, a traditional Navajo woman she spoke little, if any, English.  The lines and valleys etched into her dark red face confessed to a long life spent outdoors in the harsh Arizona sun.  The only emotion she showed was smiling at me through broken teeth.

One could tell silence was a major and welcome part of her life.  As we traveled along the brightly colored sandstone formations that blanket the Navajo and Hopi Reservation, I had time to do something I rarely had time to do while driving in town… reflect.

It came to me I have constantly changing views of Arizona from many perspectives as I move about the state.  There is no joy greater to me than driving around an area called the Painted Desert.  It is in this ancient place; in that timeless land abundant in tradition and solitude, I feel most at peace and at home. The Dineh, which means ‘The People’, have become friends and family and over the years I have grown to respect their life and their ways.

Many of the lessons I have learned come from a direct view of the world taken from simple observations of how my native friends relate to the world around them.  Such as; the rain was falling softly from above one fine spring day as I arrived at my friend Lonnie’s Hogan located out in the Navajo Lands.  Lonnie’s greeted me by looking upward and declaring that “Father Sky was making love to Mother Earth.”  This refreshing way to see how water nourishes the land has changed how I see rain.

I am blessed to have a ten year old adopted Navajo granddaughter.  I will call her Angel, because, 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 five years old my little Angel climbed up into my lap and stole my heart.  Through the years as I have watched her grow she, like my son Jesse, 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.

Being vulnerable was something my heart understood and through that window I came to see that an underlying proposition I clung to, was wrong.  Love was possible for a spirit broken by life’s twists and turns.  To fully realize love we must have the courage to be imperfect.  I could sense through these encounters, I was shifting into another phase of life, a place unknown but not frightening.

Angel’s unspoken message to me has been to see the world as fresh and new in every moment.  Her natural Zen nature, something to be envied by the most practiced Monks, is always perfectly in the moment, no matter what that instant brings.  Never bothered by yesterday’s business or tomorrow’s worries, it appears as though Angel simply arrives at any space in time, not deciding it in advance.

Reflecting on the beauty that surrounded me as I drove the Navajo woman to Chinle, her very presence in my car itself echoing Thomas Carlyle’s quote, “A silence as deep as eternity…”  I wondered if when my granddaughter got older she would dress in the traditional Navajo clothing my passenger was wearing.  Would she stay on the reservation as an adult?

Learning the Navajo language at her school in Kayenta has Angel very excited.  She was very determined, with all the ten year old enthusiasm she could muster, to teach me every Navajo word she had learned, over the phone, the last time we talked. Would learning her Native language bind her to her people in ways that compelled her to live on these lands?  I wondered if it was right for me to even be weighing these issues but I am compelled by love to ponder my Angel’s fate.

The shack on the hill where I dropped the old Navajo woman off on that bumpy dirt road 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, 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 certain serenity to it all.  Maybe I am the impoverished one and this Native woman has obtained riches I will never come to know.

Over the years as we held hands and collected bugs, lay in the dirt watching clouds pass by and built boats to float on streams, if the rains came.  Angel’s sense of wonder at the sheer beauty and complexity of life has constantly made my heart smile.  Tragically not all has been well.  Angel’s 33 year old mother and 24 year old aunt died in a car wreck two years ago.

I do not see Angel often since the accident; her father took her deep into the reservation.  I miss her but she needs to be with her people. That little Navajo girl has opened my eyes to seeing the world in a new way and forever will testify to the power of trying to capture that innocence we have lost.  I have learned the meaning of life is not spelled out in words. Life is about being alive in this world in each and every moment for that is all we have or ever will have. That means beauty is in the experiencing.  It is in this present moment l sense Angel’s little hand in mine.  I miss her so.

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 looked 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.

One Response to “No Reservations by Reagan McGuire”

  • I was very moved and touched to my soul reading your reflection “No Reservations”. Isn’t it just like a child to remind us of the simplicity and wonder to be held by living in the moment. Past, present and future are lived in the moments.
    Thank you and many Blessings in all ways.

    ~~M. Stein

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