A lot of things have happened to me this past week. I felt as if I was climbing a mountain of emotional stress, exhausting but worthwhile finally on its peak. The past weekday, I had spent my time on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation and the weekend at my sister’s wedding. These events were completely different experiences yet I could feel a sense of similarity between the two.
At Pine Ridge, I felt a little uncomfortable, worried to the reason of why we were there and felt honored at the same time. There were so many layers to the community and the relationship between the Lakota people and others on the border of the reservation. Some were extremely hard to witness—the effect of alcoholism in the outside town and the stories of struggle between family members, money, and poverty. And some were beautiful— the prayers to each other in the sweat lodges, the support and strength of a struggling community, and their complete willingness to open up and show these strengths and weaknesses to a complete stranger. I know there was so much more hidden to me, but I would like to focus on a strength that I had experienced and has really stuck to me this week; the strength and connection of their community at Pine Ridge.
At first I felt like a complete outsider to the community. But as the days continued, I felt less like a complete stranger and more of a visiting friend. I loved listening to their stories, although very sad, it was nice of them to open up and talk to us. The warm-heartedness of cooking, playing with Nevaeh and company, and listening to the hardships of the family added to my sense of connection to the family as well as reduced my feelings of being an outsider. One instance when I felt completely connected to the family was when I had a panic attack in the sweat lodge and Big Mike’s wife helped me relax. We sat face to face and, while it was dark and extremely hot, it was nice of her to pray out loud and in English just so I knew there was someone near and encouraging myself to be strong and pray harder. I felt a strong sense of connection that I find when with close friends and family.
Which leads to my feelings of similarity of experiences at my sister’s wedding this weekend. People from all areas of class, and with their own multiple layers of suffering, complications, and connections come together to form one community. The music and prayers connect one another and you seemly forget your struggles. Some may feel like outsiders at first, yet at the end they are dancing their hearts out with each other. There is a strong sense of connection and love between the two families as they pray full-heartily for the new couple and their new beginning. This is kind of like how we prayed for the health of Big Mike and the community of Pine Ridge.