It is a good day to die
September 5, 2010 by Bill
“Today is a very good day to die….
Every living thing is in harmony with me.
Every voice sings a chorus within me.
All beauty has come to rest in my eyes.
All bad thoughts have departed from me.
Today is a very good day to die.
My land is peaceful around me.
My fields have been turned for the last time.
My house is filled with laughter.
My children have come home.
Yes, today is a very, very good day to die.”
When the great Lakota warrior and holy man, Crazy Horse, was giving General Custer and his 7th Cavalry a “sensitivity” lesson at the famous battle of the “Little Big Horn” he would cry out to his Lakota warriors, “Be brave!! It is a very good day to die.” When it was over, Custer and his 7th Cavalry, over 250 men, were dead.
From the Taos Pueblo to the Lakota of the Plains, death was not to be feared but was only a part of the natural rhythms of birth and rebirth, life and death. Life, so called, is only a brief interlude between two great mysteries which are yet One. The Christian missionaries got nowhere with their gibberish against Indian traditions that had gone back thousands of years. An anthropomorphic “God” “up there” who was a divine window peeker, or a cosmic bellhop, or celestial hitman, was comical to them. Their name for the divine, Wakan-Tanka, meant only the energy and great Mystery that saturates the entire universe and is within EVERYTHING. When the missionaries told them, in the words of St. Paul, that, “the last enemy that shall be overcome is death,” they knew the missionaries were phony and fakes. “Death an enemy??” How could anything as natural and part of the eternal rhythms as death, be an “enemy?”
The Native believed that there were two levels of reality, two dimensions: the “spirit” world and the “earth” world, and there was no dualism, for they were as One. Native scouts who were with Custer and allowed to leave before the battle of the Little Big Horn, told the story that the night before the battle, the colors carried by the 7th Calvary kept falling over and there was no breeze or wind causing their collapse.
The Indians thought the missionary talk about “hell” and “suffering” and “punishment” was comical and a very, very weird and sick “religion.”
What a message for the culture we live in today. Thousands live in “fear,” “stress,” “anxiety,” “worry,” “discouragement,” about something we call “death” for want of a better word.
We live in a culture obsessed with denial. We spend millions having surgery on every part of our body, we take millions of pills daily, we jog until our legs or hips are in casts, we join “health” clubs, but a fact from a bumper sticker says it all: “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, exercise, eat no red meat, eat veggies, but you are still going to die.”
But before that, we spend our last dollar and go bankrupt paying doctors and a hospital to keep us breathing so they can stick one more tube in us that will keep us a live zombie for one more week.
Our sense of time has a great deal to do with how we think about death. Our culture thinks in a linear mode. The American Indian thinks in cyclic forms. The modality in linear is composed equally of past, present and future, through which a sequence of events follow one another in an orderly and calculable manner. It is an intrinsic part of Western consciousness. We are born, live, work, marry, have children and die. Linear. “Clock time” is not “real” time any more than American money is “real” money.
Cyclic orientation to the world places the individual, life and death in a totally different perspective. The Hopi language is an “American Indian model of the Universe” wrote Benjamin Whorf. It contains no words, grammatical forms, constructions or expressions that refer directly to what we call “time” or to past, present or future. In the Hopi language there is no reference to “time” either explicit or implicit. Einstein once said that a 12 year old Hopi child could understand his theory better than most physics professors because the Hopi child is LIVING it.
In the natural rhythms of the universe, thinking in cyclic terms and images places the issue of “death” in a completely different and more realistic and natural perspective. Winter begins with Spring, and Death begins with Birth.
The truth of death, and whatever truth is beyond, could only be part of the beauty of nature and the rhythm of things…of harvest and springtime…of birth and death…and rebirth.
The flowers of a rainy spring and the grasses of a showery summer are good and beautiful and sufficient even though they will vanish…but only to return again.