Hannah and tepee are on the move
By NANCY BARTHELEMY
My youngest child received a model Native American village for her last birthday, when she turned 5. This village had several model Native American men, women and children, along with horses, fires, pots for cooking, utensils, spears and bows and arrows. She spent hours playing with her village, including the tepee that came with it.
Soon after this, we watched a show about Native Americans in the Midwest, and she saw how they dismantled their tepees to move and follow the buffalo herds. I didnt realize how intently she was watching until the next day, when she took apart her little tepee and announced the village was moving to follow the buffalo.
I smiled and watched her take apart the tepee and construct a makeshift travois to carry it, along with the rest of the village. She tied it to one of her horses and crossed our living room. Setting the tepee up again was harder than dismantling it, and I found myself becoming impatient. I was less and less entranced with her interest in Native American culture and more and more impatient for life to get back to normal.
Day after day, Hannah dismantled her village. After a while I found I was proficient in helping her reconstruct the tepee, but I would have preferred doing something else.
As I watched Hannah relocating her village time after time, I began thinking about the changes in her life. She had recently left the nursery school she loved and missed her teachers. Often she told me she wished she was 4 again so she could go there. And while she settled into kindergarten well and loves her teacher, now she has to make another transition. She is dealing with it, of course, by moving her village over and over again.
Watching her caused me to think about the tepees in my own life. Transitions and changes are inevitable, but sometimes theyre painful, and I would prefer to keep life the way it is, rather than take it apart and move on. I think of Jesus telling his disciples to take nothing for the journey, and if they are not welcomed, to shake the dust from their feet and move on. It sounds so simple. But when I move I take so much internal baggage with me, I often long for the familiar.
Im beginning to realize that tepee dwelling is what all of us need in our lives. Even if we dont physically relocate, our lives are filled with so many changes that spiritually and emotionally we move over and over. Unfortunately I dont have the mindset that allows me to accept change readily and move on. Instead I find myself hanging back from the new and unknown.
Not having ever lived in a tepee, I cant imagine what tepee life was like. But I imagine that nomadic life accustomed people to constant changes in their surroundings, changes that must have been hard but were necessary for survival. They were forced to find stability and meaning amid change. I havent accomplished that yet, and perhaps thats why so many transitions in my own life have been difficult.
When my mother died, for instance, I was marked and changed. I found myself angry at times, sometimes barely able to keep from crying and at other times impatient and unwilling to wait. Every holiday and birthday, even just seeing mothers and daughters together would feel as if I were being stabbed through the heart.
As I gradually come to terms with this loss and the other changes that beset me, I have found that the imagery of Hannahs tepee continually speaks to me. The transitions in my life will never end. I wish I had the ability of those Native Americans to move on when the time is right.
Hannahs insistence on dismantling her tepee to move her village forces me to be with her. As I help her to move on in life, I help myself. My prayer is that as I continue to age and grow, I may learn when it is necessary to move my own tepee when life demands it.
Nancy Barthelemy writes from Danvers, Mass.
National Catholic Reporter, September 18, 1998