Month: May 2004

Tyler’s headstone is in!

It’s happened. What a fine bit of human sharing, come together around a family’s simple need.

In a world where the large forces often seem brutish and beyond our control, it is the small gestures that sometimes speak most eloquently.

Marvel, for a moment, at the profound ordinariness of this all, then consider what we, together, have done.

For those of you who have not been following this or have come late to the party, go back and read “Candles on the Grave” in the excerpts, and the weblog entries for February and March.

For any of you, click on the individual photos if you’d like to see full-sized versions.


This, sadly, is the sign the cemetery put up after they made Tyler’s family remove their decorations. It was one of the reasons I became so intent upon doing something to help the family. Maybe I’m being naive about issues of gravesite etiquette, but this seemed, and still seems, mean-spirited and unjustifiably directive. Grief is personal, and takes its own shape and course. Just yesterday I saw a man about my age walking through town pulling a bicycle pull-behind carrier filled with clothing, etc. This morning there was an article in the paper explaining that he was walking around America in response to his son’s suicide several years ago. If our cemetery folks had been in charge of the sidewalks, he likely would have been arrested or removed for violating community standards with an inappropriate expression of grief.


The balloon launches take place each year on Tyler’s birthday. For those of you living in the bright lights and well-pressed reality of our big cities, you can see how ordinary — even dowdy — our life is here in the northland. It’s just a reminder that stories of goodness and human hope can come out of the most mundane and seemingly inconsequential settings. Notice the solitary lantern that had become the only marker the family could afford that was permitted under cemetery guidelines. Even this the cemetery officials tried to have removed.


Tyler’s balloons rising up. A simple ritual, but one that draws the heart upward toward mystery and the unknown.


Here is what the family was left with after their decorations were removed. Carrie, the grandmother, came every day and lit the candle in the receptacle. That was all the memorial Tyler had until we all joined together to do something.


The gift of many anonymous, caring people, some of you among them.


It is a small gesture with a big heart. I think we can all be proud.

I truly thank you all.

A long-sought moment

There comes a moment in any creative project, whether writing, painting, composing, or anything else, when the work suddenly comes alive in your hands. What was a mass of disconnected materials mystically congeals and takes on a life of its own. You become almost an observer rather than a creator — you are a midwife to a new birth.

It is for this moment that all creators live. Instead of cogitating and anguishing, you rush around in a kind of dionysian frenzy. “Yes, this!” “No, not that!” Decisions come fast, seeming to be made for you rather than by you. You don’t want to sleep because the project inhabits your dreams. You don’t want to leave because you might come upon a discovery that cries out to be made at that very second.

I have reached this point on the Joseph book. I am no longer creating it, I am discovering it. I don’t know whether what I discover will be great or mediocre, or if it will have a good and successful life. But right now I don’t care. I am watching something come alive by my efforts, and that is enough.

I mention this partly to let you know, and partly by way of justification for the paucity of my entries on this site. I have not forgotten, I’ve just been overtaken.

The responses to my requests for ideas have been fascinating. They seem to fall into three areas: Open the door wider on Native American life and belief; write a kind of spiritual “mein kampf,” explaining my own personal struggles rather than addressing broad, spiritual themes; and write another book that speaks to the spiritual dimension of the ordinary. I’m chewing on all of this, and it will bear heavily on what I propose to publishers once Joseph is complete.

For now, it’s back to the manuscript, though. I’m so curious to see what will come out of this three-plus year effort. If, as Leonardo said, the quality of the work is in direct proportion to the gestation period, this should be something. Then again, it could be “a mightly labor for the birth of a mouse.”

But we’ll never know until it is born. So, I’m back to work. Catch you all soon with, I hope, more news on the headstone. It was supposed to be installed by Memorial Day. You’ll be the first to know.