Prayer for Words

“Do you guys know that my husband is an Indian?” my wife, a non-native from Vermont, asked her Kindergarten class in East Texas at the beginning of a week studying about American Indians.

Each child looked at one another with the same level of fear and surprise on their faces. With jaws gaping open, the children screamed, “Ahhh, is he gonna get us?” The bravest boys of the bunch quickly stood up and displayed their ninja punches and kicks, learned from Kung Fu Panda and the new iteration of the Power Rangers, while stating that they would protect the class from the “Indian.” This is a surprising reaction in general, but even more so since all of those kids had already met me and had gotten to know me.

Soon after the initial shock died down, questions flooded the classroom: “Does he live in a teepee?” “How many buffalos has he killed?” “Can he teach me to shoot a bow and arrow?” “Can he ride a horse?” “Where does he live?” “How many Indian wives does he have?” “Does he speak Indian?” With each child sitting on the floor with their legs crossed (unceremoniously called sitting “Indian style”), my wife addressed each question as accurately as possible.

“No, he does not live in a teepee. He lives in an apartment with me. He has not killed any buffalos, and he does not know how to use a bow and arrow. He cannot ride a horse. He does not have any Indian wives because, like I said earlier, he’s my husband so he’s married only to me.”

“Well,” one boy started thinking out loud, “then he’s not a very good Indian.”

This fact is, unfortunately, true.

I am not a very good Indian.


I could tell of the splintered sun. I could Articulate the night sky, had I words.“ — N. Scott Momaday, “Prayer for Words”

In my dream it seemed to me you’d stumble upon the mouth of hell and I thought that you would lower a rope to those of your friends who’d gone before. You didn’t.” — Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger

One of my favorite poems is N. Scott Momaday's “Prayer for Words”. In it, the poet expresses the greatness of life along with its struggles. Our mortality plays a game with us as we strive to understand and convey the beauty and wonder that is life and all that encompasses us as finite beings. There is no simple explanation to be had: of the world, of God, of the universe, or even of ourselves. Rather, there is experiencing and living and thriving and struggling. Our life explains itself in the “rolling thunder” and “the rattle of mortality”, things that happen to us and through us.


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