Live How You Wish

Mohawk by Patrick Bednark of the Institute of American Indian Arts

Mohawk by Patrick Bednark of the Institute of American Indian Arts

A boy pushed his way through the brush, flustered, with eyes irritated from crying. He paid no mind to his step, often catching his toes on knots of grass or fallen branches. As he stumbled his frustration grew. Pressure built in his forehead, around his cheeks, and a pain danced between his ears in time with the beat of his heart. Occasionally he fell onto his hands and his anger exploded into a tantrum—throwing rocks, kicking stumps, and other short sighted acts of violence.

Oft times his tantrums ended with him wincing in pain over a freshly swelling toe or knuckle. This time would have been no different if not for a voice emanating from deeper within the woods, “The forest did not anger you. It does not deserve to endure your wrath. Now sit, and do not move till your heart has slowed and your tears have dried. Then come to my hut and talk.” The man did not wait for a reply, he simply turned and walked away.

The boy sat ashamed, reflecting on his actions. He did not intend for anyone to see his outburst of anger, especially not the man he was sent to visit. The boy attempted to do as he was told, but could not make himself calm. He tried to force it, pressuring himself by flexing some invisible muscle. Lines developed on his forehead and his face flushed yet again. This time in embarrassment, he did not wish to behave this way, but it was as if he was sliding with no handholds.

After a time his anger and embarrassment turned to a melancholic blanket of regret. He now wanted to find relief from his actions more than an explanation for them. He stood up and continued on the path he had been sent to travel. During the walk he allowed himself to take in the scenery—tall trees that would stay green year round with enough space in between to easily spot game or other people. There were plenty of things to listen to while he walked—the sound of the wind through the trees, birds singing within their branches, or the trickle of water running through a nearby stream.

The path took a slight incline until it eventually plateaued, revealing a small hut and campfire. In front of the hut, sitting cross legged on a mat, was the man from the forest. His age showed plainly across his face, wind beaten and leathery from sun exposure. His eyes were closed, but the boy knew from past experience that he wasn’t asleep. His campfire burned before him with freshly placed logs.

“So you finally took the time to breathe?” asked the old man without opening his eyes. The boy was confused by the question, so he sat across from the man and pondered it. Why would one have to take time to breathe? Why does he talk like this?

            “I’m glad you took time to think over your answer. There is hope for you yet boy. You are young, use that to your advantage. Not everyone gets that luxury,” the man said, as a slight smile grew across his face. Unable to contain his confusion the boy asked, “Isn’t everybody young at some point? How am I special if all of my elders have done this before?”

The man sat pleasantly still, pondering a new way to answer the boy’s age-old question. Moments passed and the man spoke, “Most people get caught up in their youth. It passes us by so quickly we are unable to believe we ever had it. I for one spent my youth trying to be the best in the village with my bow. Sure, I got good, but there was always another attempting to surpass me. I could hit targets farther away than any man before me, but I only set a precedent. Soon there were five who could shoot just like me and one who could shoot better. Now the labors of my youth show, but only in the talents of others. I wish I would have spent it differently now, maybe courting women, or talking to spirits. Perhaps I could have set different precedents, ones I could hold for myself.”

The boy sat lost in the answer. He wasn’t quite sure if his question had been satisfied. He too pondered a moment, then replied, “I don’t want to be the best at anything, I just want to quit being the worst at everything. I try so hard not to fail, and to do what I’m told, but my anger still gets the better of me. Nobody understands why I get mad, they figure I find fun in it, I guess. Nobody listens, not actually, they just send me to you. How can one tell if he’s changing properly?”

The man nodded as if it was the response he expected to hear, and said, “Change can take a lifetime. We must follow our hearts, but not be misled by our emotions. They can lead us to the tops of mountains, present us beautiful scenery, then gently guide us over the ledge. Emotions are who we are, but they are not all we are. Your frustration tells me that you want to succeed, but you do not allow yourself to fail. Do not fear failure. If you avoid it, it will chase you. You must take to all tasks with humility. Only you can decide what it means to live properly, but don’t forget to live how you wish.” The man stood up and continued, “No one can walk your path for you, or should. For we can only become what we make ourselves out to be. If you want to change you must have patience. A tree can grow at any angle the sun allows, but it takes time. Now come, let’s walk back to the village, it will be dark soon.”

James Hodell is a student at Turtle Mountain Community College.

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