For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a trip I made to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004. It was right before a really tough time in my life, and right after a crazy fun trip to New Orleans, so it stands out in my mind. But an experience I had on that trip stands out all on its own.
I was in a strange city, completely alone, for a conference I had to attend for work. I was the only one from my office to go, so I knew nobody and nobody knew me. While I was at a cocktail reception as part of this conference, one of the waiters said something to me (I forget what) and I complimented him on his hair, which was very short but distinctively dyed. He smiled and said he’d done it himself, and that was the end of our encounter.
The next day, I was wandering around Vancouver and stopped in for something to eat at a burger joint. Lo and behold, there was my waiter friend! We recognized each other, and I sat down and ate with him. We talked about Vancouver, laughed, and had a pleasant time. Then he gave me directions to a store nearby that I was looking for, and we parted company again.
After I finished eating, I headed for the store – and on the way, there was my waiter friend again! So we gave up and walked down to the street together to a bar/restaurant, where I had a glass of wine and he had a glass of water. He knew I was by myself in a strange city, and his company was balm to a slightly off-balance soul.
As we talked, he mentioned that he had been in the US before: he’d been to South Dakota. Surprised, I asked what had brought him to that state, and he said, “For the Sun Dance.” Then I looked at him again, at his dark eyes and high cheekbones, and he laughed. “The short hair and the dye throws people,” he said. “I’m Lakota Sioux.”
I’ll call him Don, because he had already revealed to me that he was in AA and (if I remember right) NA (Narcotics Anonymous) as well. I asked him what the purpose of the Sun Dance was for him, and he answered that it was a remarkable spiritual experience for him, which he had now done more than once and hoped to do again. He said that the point (or part of the point) of the dance is to give up a part of yourself – as in, a piece of flesh – as a sacrifice, and that the fasting and praying put you into a frame of mind where you are receptive to the divine.
We talked for awhile longer, and then we parted ways, but before we did so, we formed a strange little bond that I’ve never forgotten. We embraced before we left each other. Later, another friend of mine who is also Lakota told me that the Sun Dance is not an experience that the participants usually share with others. She said that I should be honored that he mentioned it at all, never mind that he told me anything about it. So I never even knew how much Don was sharing with me, even though I knew that he was sharing and that his kindness made a huge difference in a lonely week in a strange town, during which I hardly spoke to anyone about anything that wasn’t business.
Thanks, Don. Meeting you was just what I needed. It’s the kind of encounter that makes me believe in God, even if I don’t know what that means.