Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Category: New Grownup Adventures

I Tell Navajo Stories…Like Grandma

jaclyn roessel maternity

Photo by Hannah Manuelito

 

I come from an open-arms people and a family who shares. I have built a career sharing my thoughts, poems, snapshots of my life and myself. But last year, I felt a call to shift into a new way of being. 2018 was a year filled with many life changes both personal and professional. While, I was focused on navigating, reflecting and rising to the challenge of being more in the moment, I was called to go inward and protect…myself.

 
Now feeling able and willing, I am trying to answer this question, “how do you begin to tell a story you are still living out?” I am not sure. Though I do know I was never a linear storyteller. I pride myself on my ability, or gift, depending on the tale, to tell story like my late nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother). She would weave strands of background info, context and opinion together with care and ease. While I am not the master she was at this, I do enjoy this circular nature of sharing. This is something my husband tells me often, I tell Navajo stories. By this he means, I share stories which unfold sometimes leaving him confused until the end. I loved to think of my nalí asdzaan’s stories as ones you had to earn. You were tested to listen because sometimes they were long and often complex. She would share with you characters and updates in multiple threads drawing family trees and maps connecting communities across the rez.

 
And what of my story? Where do I begin?

 
When my nalí asdzaan passed, one of the most vivid memories I have of that night is waking up after receiving the news she left us gasping for air asking myself what would I do on my wedding day and the day I gave birth?

 
In the darkness of those early morning hours, the thought of facing each event without her, physically hurt my heart. But what I know now is I didn’t have to worry because I would feel her. She would be there, and so would my late nalí hastiin (paternal grandfather). I would feel their power charge through the day I saw my husband Warren ride into our homestead on a horse for our wedding. I would feel the energy of my ancestors come to bless our beginning as husband and wife, in the powerful winds that carried sands that whipped across the land.

 
She would be with me as I carried our first born in my body. I would hear her in the wisdom my mother shared with me during my pregnancy. In the advice my mother-in-law passed on to me. I would feel her in my sister’s hands as she massaged my body during labor. I would hear her words in the prayers my brother shared while we were in the delivery room. Even in the pain of this moment I could feel the sweet like honey presence – I could feel her with me. I could feel her blessings at work in my life.

 
While I do not know how to tell this story, I recognize why I wanted to keep things close. Last year meant so much to me because I was able to hold it with both hands, an open mind and heart overflowing with gratitude for getting to experience it all. My husband and I marinated in each transition – engagement, new job, news of new life, wedding and birth. Having emerged from our fourth trimester I feel ready to slowly release parts of this story, as an offering. I hope in beginning to tell it, the parts that were hard can begin to heal. This part of my story – the trauma – is hard for me to articulate now but I know with time, even that will begin to melt away like snow.

 
What is powerful is knowing because I am still living this, I don’t have to share everything now. I want the telling of this story to be savored. In the same way, this revealed itself to us – day by day, minute by minute waiting for the arrival our baby being…our son.

Languages of New Lands

How do I prepare? How will I begin? How do I start?

Each of these questions has been racing through my mind each day since I committed to expanding Grownup Navajo full-time. Having moved from the Sonoran desert to the high Puebla desert I am slowing planting roots. Having never made a home outside of Arizona, I am beginning to understand how daunting the “all-possibility” mode of a journey can be.

In a recent conversation with Dennis Worden of NextGen Native, I shared how optimistic I am to one day speak the languages of these lands I find myself in now. What I shared on the podcast is how I do not mean the actual languages of the Native people who live here but the languages of the land. In leaving my beloved Sonoran Desert and O’odham Bikéyáh (O’odham Lands) , I understood more fully just how much the land of the desert made me who I am today. Living there I had conversations with sunsets, realized how mountains were actually purple and learned of the powerful impact of welcoming the sunrise each day. These lessons composed an entire language of the place in which I spent over 11 years.

I find myself in a new place observing. Watching the way the sun casts shadows on the hills around me, trying to recall from memory, after the sun sets, the profile of the beautiful mountains circling me, finding most often, how in my mind, they are blurry because we don’t know one another yet. Even things as simple as understanding a place with a tangible season, I am learning how to bring a sweater or jacket with me as I venture out the door.

I am also watching myself. Understanding how my body is struggling trying to find the light in the morning as my home is new to me. How happy I am to have creative brainstorms any time I choose since I do not have a structured schedule. I am simultaneously realizing how I long for a structured schedule because the openness of the each day can at times distract or intimidate me.

This journey is filled with unlearning and learning lessons and languages. How does one begin to speak new languages? Linguists today share that immersion is key. If you want to speak fluently, you need to surround yourself with the language you want to share. I am confident my act of throwing myself into the deep end of this adventure will result in my being able to speak the sacredness of this place.

While the newness of the exploration is daunting, I am continuously encouraged by the voice of my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) in my head saying, “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” While I continuously have more questions than answers, right now I also know my observing, listening, questioning is all a part of me doing. While I may not know the language of these lands, I know I am capable of the growth in understanding. One learns language, yes through immersion but also through speaking. I want my actions to be pronounced so I will listen and then speak. I will act in an effort to communicate my heart’s work, understanding I will rise to the occasion of speaking the language this beautifully powerful place will teach me.