Her Native American heritage taught Joy Harjo that the sun is a relative to be honored. The Muskogee Creek Nation poet believes that in doing so, we connect with nature and the sacredness of life.
I believe in the sun. In the tangle of human failures of greed, fear, and forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity. When explorers first encountered my people, they called us heathens, sun worshippers. They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative and illuminates our path on this earth.
Many of us continue ceremonies that ensure a connection with the sun. After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are a part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us overhead. When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are renewed. There is no mistaking this connection, though Wal- Mart might be just down the road. Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.
A few weeks ago I visited some friends at a pueblo for a feast day celebration. The runners were up at dawn and completed a ceremonial race that ensures that the sun will continue to return. It is a humble and necessary act of respect. And because the celebration continues, the sun, the earth and these humans are still together in a harmonious relationship.
Our earth is shifting. We can all see it. I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that everything has changed. It’s so hot; there is not enough winter. Animals are confused. Ice is melting.
The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to think like Indians: Everything is connected dynamically at an intimate level. When you remember this, then the current wobble of the earth makes sense. How much more oil can be drained without replacement, without reciprocity?
One day, recently I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun. It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth granddaughter. This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a relative, as one of us. It was still dark, overcast as I walked through Times Square. I stood beneath a 21st century totem pole of symbols of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.
The sun rose up over the city, but I couldn’t see it amidst the rain. Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry her outside, I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my heart. I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be recognized as a relative, so that she won’t forget this connection, this promise, so that we all remember the sacredness of life.
Joy Harjo has written eight collections of poetry and has produced three CDs of her music and poetry. A native of Tulsa, Okla., she is a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation. Harjo lives in Honolulu and teaches writing at the University of New Mexico.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with Emily Botein, John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Photo courtesy www.joyharjo.com.
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