A year for anniversaries – including a big one for yours truly
Twenty-eighteen was year of anniversaries on the Navajo Nation.
It marked 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of 1868, 50 years since the founding of Diné College and also since the first Western Navajo Fair, as we reported.
It’s a big year for me as well. I’ll turn 60 on Dec. 30.
Forty and 50 didn’t hit me particularly hard, for some reason, but contemplating the completion of 60 years on this poor troubled planet — the better part of a century — made me stop in my tracks.
I know I’m not the only one, because over the course of this year, high school and college classmates I haven’t heard from in decades have been friending me on Facebook. I think that for a lot of people turning 60, it’s a time of reflection, reaching back, rekindling old connections.
As I look back on the images that float to the top of a gently stirred morass of memories, a surprising number of the early ones are from the mass media. The Vietnam War, the moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon’s impeachment, the Summer of Love. We all watched it unfold, narrated by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Huntley and Brinkley.
Believe it or not, children, there were only three TV channels then, so watching the news was a collective experience. It’s no wonder so many of us ended up pursuing careers in journalism — a great career that, sadly, is diminishing today.
I’ve lived under 12 presidents, eight Republicans and four Democrats. I’ve seen the first Catholic president, the first Black president and the first woman presidential candidate from a major political party … all of which would have been laughable long shots the year I was born.
But it feels like no matter who is at the helm, the ship floats on the same current. Life gets harder and harder for the working poor, and easier for the rich. Somehow the haves convince the have-nots that their real enemy is not the haves but have-even-lesses.
I do know that, somewhere along the line, “socialism” became a dirty word and was used to label every policy that was supposed to help people or put the disadvantaged on an even keel with the rest of us.
How did socialism become a worse pariah than the oligarchy we ended up with? I hope that, with the current administration, we have hit bottom and are ready to unite and vote ourselves out of this mess.
I’ve been privileged to travel a lot. I’ve been to every continent and lived on five of the seven. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, I watched the start of a civil war that would last for a decade. It was shockingly easy for Charles Taylor to convince young men with no prospects, including some of my high school students, to take up arms against people from other tribes for whom they seemed to have no animosity just a year before. Even our own CIA was blindsided.
Tragically, it seems no government on earth has learned that you can only push people so far.
I’ve learned that people are pretty much the same all over. They want to lead healthy, productive lives and for their children to be better off than they are. A small minority reach further and try to make their communities and the world a better place.
Another small minority on the other side of the coin seem to leave chaos in their wake wherever they go. There’s always a pitched battle between good and evil going on, but the vast majority of people just stay out of it until it affects them personally.
I think the biggest change I’ve seen in the world is in technology. When I was small, color TV was a big deal. Only a few people on our block had one. Transistor radios and portable phonographs were the gifts every teenager was asking for at Christmas. Images and conversations on your wristwatch were the stuff of Dick Tracy comics, which you probably don’t remember either.
I sat with my family and watched the moon landing on TV. The nation was spellbound. Now there are four or five people on the International Space Station at any given time and you never even hear about it. They’re talking about colonizing Mars.
The saddest thing I’ve seen? Undoubtedly the downfall of this beautiful Earth. There are still people who deny climate change, like our president, but I don’t see how anyone over 50 can think that way, at least if they spend any time in the outdoors.
When I was growing up in Littleton, Colorado, we seldom saw the ground between Halloween and Easter — it was covered with snow. Now the snow starts melting the same day.
It seems like there was a lot more small wildlife, like little frogs and toads of various kinds, and a larger variety of night birds like whippoorwills. Plastic was a new phenomenon and wasn’t in the stomach of every fish and bird on the remotest atoll like it is today. Small farmers could make a living.
My heart hurts to know that my nieces and nephews won’t see the world I knew, and will have to face devastating storms and wildfires the likes of which we never imagined. I watch places like Denver and Phoenix grow and wonder when someone will say, “Hey! We’re out of water!”
I fear for the new generation, but at the same time, I have a lot of hope for them too. They have a kind of a post-Apocalyptic fearlessness. They figure out ways to scrape by, creating their own medley of gigs in an economy practically devoid of interesting full-time jobs, or at least ones the Boomers are willing to vacate.
They can do anything as long as you give them a YouTube account. I watched my husband’s niece and her husband replace a load-bearing wall in their Victorian house, and my own niece replace the battery in her Prius. If somebody YouTubes brain surgery, I have no doubt they could do that too.
They aren’t freaked out by the fact that nobody seems to be male or female any more, at least not all the time, and respect each other’s pronoun of choice. They are kind and empathetic, because they’ve seen every suffering, every point of view, every cause worth supporting, on the Internet, which wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye when I was young and computers took up a whole building.
They have friends all over the world as close as their cell phones. They judge people by their Instagram accounts and not skin color or religion. They eat less meat and care about the environment, because they are genuinely concerned they will outlive the earth’s available resources.
They are better than us in every possible way, no matter what any nostalgic geezer says, including, sometimes, me.
I turned 50 and will turn 60 on the Navajo Nation, graduating from “shimá” to “shimásání.”
It is a place that I never expected to be, but have come to love. It is a harsh, beautiful, foreboding and inviting place where life seems to run deeper than in other places I’ve lived.
Every so often, I’m reminded I will always be an outsider here, but those occasions seem fewer and fewer over the years. After all, considering a third of Diné are under 18, I’ve lived here longer than a lot of Navajos.
Sometimes I even forget I look different from everybody else. When I first started riding the Navajo Transit to work, my fellow passengers were looking at me out of the corners of their eyes. I fumbled at my blouse, thinking I’d missed a button. It took me a while to figure out they probably had never seen a bilagáana on the bus.
I know a lot of people say nothing ever changes on the rez, but that’s not true. Against all odds, in a place where land can’t be owned and money is scarce, I’ve seen roads built, nice homes constructed, stores pop up in the 14 years I’ve been here.
There are a lot of problems, to be sure, but the fact that 18 people ran for Navajo Nation president this year proves people aren’t afraid to tackle them.
It is, above all, a very interesting place to live, which makes it a paradise for a writer.
I hope I’ve made a contribution to the Nation and my community of Chinle while I’ve been here. I thank you for allowing me to tell your incredible stories over the years, and hope I’ll be allowed to do it for a few years more. If I’ve offended people, it has never been deliberate, and I’m always open to being educated.
As you read this, I will be embarking with my husband on a two-week-long vacation, the first I’ve taken since 2000. One thing I’ve noticed about getting older is you need more rest.
I don’t know how many people made it to the end of this long ramble, but if you did, ahéhee. Blessings of whatever you celebrate this season, and see you all next year!