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FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures




Humans tell stories to explain why Earth is covered by so many tongues. The Tower of Babel is the story I heard as a child. A cautionary tale about folks building a tower into the sky to reach the Holy One. The Holy One got mad because humans were overreaching. Suddenly the builders couldn't understand each other anymore, so they had to stop work. Too many tongues. But why shouldn't we want to touch holiness? With our hearts. With our tongues.


At the Pike Place Market, I stopped to admire the vibrant scarves the artist was laying out on her table. She caressed each silk beauty with her fingers, but for me, it was a tongue thing. "I want to lick them," I said.

"Then they're doing what I want them to."

We smiled.

Gorgeous colors, gleaming smoothness––round and glossy beads, jewels, small stones from beside a trail. They all look so licking-delicious. There must be some neurons that link the pathways between the eyes and the tongue.


The tongue is an organ formed of eight muscles in humans. Four of them are attached to bone, and four are not. We share the presence of this organ with all other tetrapods––four-legged beasts. The tongue is replete with nerves and blood vessels, and its surface is covered with papillae, the tiny bumps we call tastebuds. It is the main organ of our sense of taste, and it enables digestion by helping us chew. It empowers humans to speak and four-leggeds to vocalize.


I played trombone in high school and college and for a while afterwards. Inserting the tongue repeatedly and rapidly into a brass instrument's mouthpiece creates separate notes on a sustained tone. It's the same with a digeridoo, the long, hollowed, wooden instrument made and decorated with pointillist paintings by Australian Indigenes. I had one once, and it was made from a long, hardened section of hollowed cactus. Having played trombone helped me learn my digeridoo, and tonguing into it had the same effect––breaking up drone notes into short bursts. Played well (by others, I might add) the music raises goosebumps on my skin.


The average human tongue in men weighs about 2.5 ounces, and in women, about 2.1. For such a small organ, it performs a hefty load of work. It is an organ of sense, of connection through language and human intimacy. Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing the praises of the tongue.


So much of my life is about language and always has been. Different tongues pique my curiosity: How have they been formed? How do people use them or not use them? My parents used Dutch to exclude––when they didn't want us to know what they were talking about. My identity is wrapped up in tongues and in the spaces between tongues. Human identity is ever bound to our Mother Tongue. Having language is about connecting, communicating, knowing people more deeply. The purpose of language is not exclusion.

Diné who don't know me, when they realize, I am not even close to being a fluent speaker, considerately switch to US English––another way of using language. My friends who know that I have some knowledge, speak both US English and Diné bizaad when they're with me. The minuscule size of my little bag of Diné words is a reflection of the In-Between identity I struggle to embrace.

I have in my possession a bag of tongues. I imagine it is a bag I have sewn from a royal blue and orange and green Pendleton blanket. In this bag lie my two most well-developed tongues––US English and Danish.

The tongue I wish I knew fully is Diné bizaad. When my Diné friends were denied their language, it was denied me, too. Government and mission policies made it so I couldn't learn the language from my peers.

When we take something from one group of people, everyone loses.

I can read German, so it's also in my bag of tongues. I used to be able to speak it. I can read Norwegian because it's so similar to Danish. I understand quite a bit of spoken Swedish but can barely read it, which shows how differently we may pack diverse tongues into our language bags.
I traveled to Poland because I needed to see Auschwitz. While I was there, I picked up a tiny bag of ten Polish words. In New Zealand, I learned a few Maori words. I read a lot of Jewish literature and lived with a Jewish family once, so I know a smattering of Yiddish. High school Latin helps me with Spanish.


Our tongues are attached to the floor of the mouth by the frenulum, a mucous membrane. When the frenulum is too short and too thick, it renders speech, eating, and swallowing difficult. We say someone with that kind of frenulum is tongue-tied. The solution is to snip the frenulum to loosen the tongue.

On the other hand, tongue-tied is when you can't find your words.

By contrast, a teller of secrets has a loose tongue. Too many words.


The Latin word for "tongue" is "lingua," which is also the Latin word for "speech." Many everyday English words come from "lingua"––language, linguist, lingual, bilingual, multilingual, cunnilingus, lingo, to name a few.


My mother was rarely given to silliness, but sometimes we would tease her, and then she would stick out her tongue at us, and we would all laugh. Her too.

After living in New Zealand, which the Maori call Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud, I am always deeply moved when I hear and watch the Maori haka. The haka is a group war dance or challenge. It touches me most profoundly when it is performed to honor someone of warrior character––for instance, when a firefighter has died. Their companions execute a haka for them. Loud, energetic chanting and roaring are accompanied by the dramatic sticking out of tongues. It can show prowess, challenge, intimidation, bravery, or honor.

My Mother Tongue is the US variety of English. I also heard Dutch and Diné bizaad before I left my mother's womb. Dutch from my father's parents and sometimes from my mother and father. Diné bizaad from the Diné man who was my father's big brother, his mentor, at Bible School, and especially from Ed's wife, Ella, who talked more than Ed.

The church of my youth was not a shouting church. Members scoffed at Pentecostal churches, where people spoke in tongues. "Holy Rollers," they called them. Once, when I was ten years old, I went to that kind of church with my friend. It was loud and mysterious, fervid. The worshippers were heirs of the biblical apostles who had tongues of fire land on their heads at Pentecost. All that emotion scared me, but I sure hoped I would get to see tongues of fire.

The tongue of a cow makes a delicious sandwich. It's been a long time since I saw a beef tongue in the meat section of a supermarket, but one place I shop has real, live butchers, and I can purchase a tongue if I ask. A cow tongue weighs three to four pounds. I bring one home and simmer it in salted water with lemon slices, cloves, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. When it is tender, which comes after hours of cooking, I slice it thin, and the slivers are smooth on my tongue.

The tongues we speak bring us the taste of words. The muscles wrap themselves around teeth and cheeks and lips to make the sounds. The tongues we speak also present us with lavish food flavors. From US English, mac and cheese. When I am being Dutch-American, I eat moes, a peasants' mix of mashed potatoes or rice with bacon fat, kale, and bacon pieces. At Christmas, my grandmother mailed us the flaky, buttery, Dutch almond pastry, banket. In Diné bizaad, I can never get enough dahdíníilghaazh––puffy golden fry bread and with it, mutton stew. My friend Pita says my ris alamande, the Danish Christmas rice pudding, made with almond slivers, whipped cream, and cherries, is food from the gods. In Jewish homes, at Passover, I eat brisket and matzoh ball soup, charoset, and bitter herbs.

When she was in middle school, my daughter asked if she could get her tongue pierced. I had by then learned that it was useful to say no by saying yes––little to no resistance from a teen. So I said, "Yes, but you will have to save enough money ahead of time for the piercing and for treating any infections that could result." She never brought it up again.

Conquerors, colonizers, and occupiers the world over have, through concerted effort, including physical and cultural violence, erased Indigenous tongues. Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic were nearly eradicated by the takeover of the British colonizers. It happened through violence, through the perceived prestige of speaking English, and sometimes through more benign intercultural contact. Scottish Gaelic is now an endangered language. Irish Gaelic is making a comeback through revitalization efforts.

I dream sometimes that I am speaking Diné bizaad fluently with one of my friends. I feel overjoyed. Then, before the dream is over, I realize I am speaking Danish, the only language other than US English in which I am fluent. The power of my disappointment wakens me every time.


In Chinese medicine, the tongue is used to diagnose health problems. Is the tongue coated? What color is the coating? Does the tongue tremble when at rest? Are there tooth impressions on the sides of the tongue? Once, when a Chinese medicine doctor had been treating me for a while, as always, she took a look at my tongue and exclaimed, "Oh! What's happened?" She went to work right away prescribing a new set of horrible-tasting herbs for me to make into a foul-smelling tea.


Throughout the US, the government and missionaries have tried to obliterate Indigenous languages. For more than a century, the speaking of US English was forced on school children. They were severely punished for speaking their Mother Tongue.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that half of the approximately 6,000 tongues spoken around the globe today are in danger of disappearing. By UNESCO standards, Diné bizaad is one of them.

The UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger asks, "Why preserve language diversity?" In the Diné Language Teachers' Association (DLTA) handbook for a Diné language revitalization project, Louise Benally gives this answer: "Diné bizaad and, through it, the cultural beliefs and practices that it imparts, is valuable because it is our identity. It makes us who we are. We have pride in the teachings, the beliefs, and the traditional songs and stories that provide us the foundation for being a Diné person. When we listen to Diné bizaad, it makes us feel good. It brings us home. When we listen to a Diné song, it moves us to cry, to laugh or just to be silent in awe."

The desire to lick things that are not food must be what makes adults tell children not to lick a metal pipe in winter. Otherwise, why would anyone even think of it? A tongue frozen to a pipe is consequently forever fixed within the repertoire of slapstick humor. Has anyone ever done it in real life?

And why is a wagon tongue even called a tongue? Who first named it that? I haven't been able to find out.

Tongues eating, speaking, playing grant us sampling tongues, twisting tongues, coding tongues, frozen tongues, lashing tongues, flaming tongues, reclaiming tongues, sly tongues and honest tongues, faltering tongues, silver tongues, licking tongues. (After Ross Gay on "skateboarding eyes" in Inciting Joy)


© Anna Redsand, 2024. All Rights Reserved.


"Tongues" was first published in 

Fertile: An Anthology of Earth Poems and Prose from the High Desert and Mountains of the Four Corners Region.

Fertile, with its richness of diverse voices is available for purchase at https://www.annaredsand.com/contact 


by contacting me in a message through the Contact page.

You can read more about Fertile and sample some other writers from the anthology at https://www.annaredsand.com/blog/posts/43466.

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Collage by the Author


Something unexpected happened when, preparing for Torah study, I read the parasha about the original Passover. I had always found it easy to imagine that I was an Israelite, preparing the lamb in a mud hut, sprinkling the doorposts with blood, eating on my feet, dressed for a journey. Reading the story this time was different. I didn't imagine being an Israelite; I was one. The story was about me. I told Lakme, "This week I read Torah as a Jew. It meant something completely different to me. I can't describe it."

Lakme was delighted. "That's because when you read it as a Jew, you know that God is protecting you."

I hadn't analyzed the meaning, and I still haven't. It was something I experienced, that I felt rather than thought about. The next week I called Lakme to say I needed some distance from the process. I put away everything Jewish and stopped thinking about religious community. For a few weeks. Then books on Jewish spirituality fell off shelves into my hands again. Jewish magazines found their way to my mailbox.

My thoughts had taken a turn, though. I was disturbed to think that possibly I wanted to become a Jew in the same way I'd wanted to be other things I wasn't. I recalled a conversation years earlier with Lily Roanhorse. I'd said, "I'm always careful when I'm with Diné friends because I don't want them to think that I think I know it all, all about Diné life, that is. Sometimes I hide what I know."

Lily looked straight at me. "You have an identity crisis, just like we do."

Gratitude spread through me, and I nodded. But I felt guilty accepting her recognition. She was too gracious. We in her statement referred to college-educated Diné. It wasn't just college that had separated them from their people and ways. The alienation started way back in childhood when they were sent to boarding school. Today mainstream American culture still batters away at Indigenous identity.

"You don't know who you are," Lily said, "and neither do we."

I was so hungry to be seen, to belong, that I didn't argue. But I felt like I was cheating. I knew it was different to be White, wanting to be Brown, even feeling sometimes like I was Brown, and to know acutely that there was no way I ever would be. I knew I benefited from all the privileges our society grants to Whites.

Now, as I considered converting, I had to ask myself if something was missing in me that made me want to be other than self. At this time in the evolution of Earth's peoples, it may be important to cross these distinctions, to become other and self, thus one. Today there is a polar pull between distinctness and unity. Maybe the drive toward distinctness comes from frailty of identity, the deep need to assert who we are. Paradoxically, if we are to cross the lines and create oneness, not out of neurotic need but from a place of strength, it is necessary to first have a strong sense of self.

Despite my curiosity, my feelings for the mystery of my summer lullabies, of the magic circles of the Yé'iibicheii, I have not been drawn to explore Native spirituality. Maybe it's because I had to struggle so hard to establish an identity apart from the Diné world. And in the end, it was the struggle for selfhood that informed my decision about converting to Judaism.

Over the millennia since Abraham and Sarah walked the Middle East, countless people who were not born Jewish have become Jews. I wanted my roots to be Jewish. The late Renewal rabbi, Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, looks at the big picture and says that more people want to convert to Judaism today than have in a long time. He believes it's because the world needs more Jews after the great losses of the Holocaust. For a time, I grasped at that belief to justify my desire.

But I kept returning to the fact that I was not born a Jew. I went back to Lakme and asked her to tell me again about a concept she had mentioned in passing at our first dinner. I thought I remembered an approximate definition, friend to Jews, but I couldn't recall the Hebrew phrase. At the time, I had thought the designation was a pallid substitute for conversion, probably why I forgot the words.

Lakme told me the phrase, ger toshav. Its literal meaning, she said, is good stranger. It refers to a non-Jew who has the knowledge of what it means to be a Jew. That person would support rather than disrupt Jewish life. A non-Jew who is married to a Jew and is raising his or her children Jewish, without converting, is ger toshav. There is no ceremony for becoming ger toshav; it is something you are, something you can declare yourself to be. I am ger toshav. Some of my deepest spiritual learning comes from Judaism. I celebrate holy days and times with my Jewish friends as often as I am invited.

Ger means stranger, outsider. Since my early days in the Navajo Nation, I have worn the identity of an outsider. I have wondered if being ger toshav may not only entail living on the edge of the Jewish community. Maybe claiming to be ger toshav means claiming the religious identity of an outsider, taking on marginality as my spiritual identity. Outsiders have, from time immemorial, served as seers, storytellers, prophets, artists, writers, gadflies, healers, voices crying in the wilderness. If I accept the identity of an outsider, I will not be alone; I will join a great cloud of witnesses, scattered throughout society, who willingly, reluctantly or joyfully live with ambiguity and mystery. It seems that when I ran away from the church in my dream and toward religious identity, the journey took me to where I was all along, back to myself, the destination of all mystical journeys. Happily, it has given me acceptance of myself as an outsider. And it has given me a name for who I am, A Good Stranger.


© Anna Redsand, 2024. All Rights Reserved.


This is the final installment of "A Good Stranger," which was first published in Isthmus.

On Friday, Chapter VIII, "Tongues," a short, experimental essay will post in its entirety.

If you are just joining the serialization of Fissure: A Life Between Cultures, you can use the Table of Contents to go to the beginning and read in order.


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I left our church when I was twenty-five. I don't remember any pangs of conscience, and in the beginning I felt little grief. There was no joy, either. There was only dying. My soul was like Ezekiel's valley of dry bones, picked clean by vultures and hyenas, bleached white. Then, after seven years of baking in the sun, the dry bones of my soul, took on new flesh through meditation practice. My spirit breathed once more. My connection with God, tenuous at first, grew deeper and more alive than before, unbound by the rules of orthodoxy.

In Ezekiel, after being revived, the valley of bones becomes a great liberation army. In my imagination, the throng danced with the joy of breath blown back into it. Either way, new people came together for a common purpose. As with Ezekiel's bones, reconnecting with God on my own wasn't enough for me; I wanted to join with others. I began to grieve the loss of religious community, the feeling of belonging. The summer I dreamed of running from the church, I set out to recreate what I had lost.

The first time I had other White kids as classmates was at the mission boarding school, when I was eight. I spent most of my time during recess and after school behind the big gray Navajo girls' dorm. In the classroom I used Standard English, but on the playground I automatically switched to Dummitawry English. Playing marbles one day, I called out, "Hey you kits, dit chew saw my rat marvel?"

Katie Van Boven, who had never lived in the Navajo Nation itself, pointed at me, laughing and shouting, "Hey, who do you think you are? You think you're a Navajo or something? You're White, you know. Don't you know that?"

My stomach tightened. Tears threatened to spill. I turned without saying anything, leapt up to the monkey bars and crossed them, three bars at a time, back and forth, back and forth.

Once in a while, when I lived with Sylvia and Abe, I went to Shabbat services at Temple Emmanuel. The first time, I sat next to Sylvia's mother, a diminutive silver-haired immigrant from Russia. There came a point in the service when everyone turned to greet a neighbor. Ruth turned to me and said, "Good Shabbos," her eyes twinkling. I hesitated and she said, "Come on, you can say it. Good Shabbos."

It wasn't that I couldn't. I was "good" at languages, after all, but I was afraid it might be presumptuous, as if I thought I could be one with them. All I needed was Ruth's encouragement. When I said the words, I was filled with the blessed feeling of belonging.

Under a blue autumn sky in Shiprock, when it was time for the Northern Navajo Fair, my father prayed, "We ask for rain, Father, that the Yé'iibicheii dances may not be performed, that the people may turn from their heathen practices to serve thee, the only true God." The sky looked nothing like rain, but I knew, of course, that God could work a miracle if he wanted to.

The fair's parade introduced a panoply of color into my black-and-white Dutch Reformed world. Turquoise, gold, scarlet, maroon, hunter green, plum, royal and navy blues, tangerine—satin, velvet or corduroy—shirts, blouses and long gathered skirts. Layers of turquoise and silver—hat bands, squash blossom necklaces, earrings, bolos, bracelets, rings, bow guards, belts and buckles, spurs, trim on bridles and saddles. There were hand-woven saddle rugs, striped Pendleton blankets, green and orange wagons decorated with blankets and juniper greens.

After the parade, we went to the fairgrounds. I smelled mutton ribs, fry bread, and mutton stew. My father bought us kneel-down bread, and I peeled away the rough, damp cornhusks to get to the compact, moist Indian-corn cake. I savored the mild nutty sweetness, rolling each dense bite over my tongue before swallowing. I picked and licked the last crumbs from the narrow crevices of the husk.

To the south of the booths lay the forbidden. I kept looking, knowing it was where the Yé'iibicheii dance would be held. I took on faith my parents' assertion that the ceremony was of the Evil One, but still I wanted to see and hear, to feel the mystery my summer lullabies tendered.

I only saw that place afterwards, when the fair was over. The booths and corrals were empty, the earth packed hard again, and at the south end of the grounds stood rounds of tall juniper branches stuck in the soil, their tips leaning in toward the centers of the circles. Beside them were great orbs of black ash. The green and black rings slipped their magic into my imagination. I closed my eyes and saw a starry sky lit orange by huge leaping bonfires. I saw a crowd of people, wrapped in Pendletons, the ladies with scarves on their heads and men wearing tall black hats, their backs to me, hiding the dancers from my view. I couldn't push through to see, and I heard only silence. I opened my eyes and saw just the wheels of green and black on the hard cream-colored earth.

Lakme and I began Torah study at my request. I stopped often, needing to talk about my process. Lakme listened, salting her responses with midrash and with the deeper meaning of the original Hebrew.

I talked with her about my efforts to return to my own religious roots and how I'd been unsuccessful. Every time someone mentioned Christ, my reaction told me that the flesh had not returned to my spiritual bones with the same hollows and curves as before. I couldn't go back to believing that Jesus was the awaited Maschiach, the Messiah. I saw him now as a gifted rabbi who brought with him the message, "You are all Maschiach. You all have an obligation to redeem the world from destruction, to perform Tikkun Olam." I felt that Christianity was a mistake, that it had departed on an unintended two-thousand-year detour. And there were so many Christian travesties—the Crusades, the Inquisition, pogroms, cultural genocide through worldwide missionary activity—that I abhorred the idea of calling myself Christian.

"Maybe you have to go further back to claim your roots," Lakme suggested.

"You mean to Judaism?"


"I've thought of that," I said.


© Anna Redsand, 2024. All Rights Reserved


To be continued on Monday, 4/8/24

If you're just joining, you can use the Table of Contents to find your way from the beginning.

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I asked my friend Lakme if she would come for dinner and if we could talk about how it had been for her to convert to Judaism. I'd waited a long time to ask, afraid she might be offended, afraid of what it could mean in my life. She was delighted, and I was nervous.

I'd met Lakme and Gershon, her rabbi husband whose profession made her the rebbetzin, in rural New Mexico, where they were starting a retreat center. Living in a collection of villages and rural stretches with a population of 3,000 at the outside, I had laughed when the postmistress first mentioned "our rabbi." I thought she was joking. Not too long afterwards I met them at a New Year's Eve dinner.

That spring Lakme and Gershon invited my daughter and me to Seder in their old adobe house, nestled in a rinconcito of pink, gray and yellow walls that led to rocky mesa tops. It seemed an unlikely spot to be celebrating Passover, and in the home of a rabbi, no less. It was the place where the tiny mud-and-stone El Oratorio de Jesus Nazareno had lately been home to cross-bearing, self-flagellating Catholic Penitentes. Close by, Native American Church members planted their tipis and awaited sacred visions.

During the Seder Gershon departed from the Haggadah to offer additional teachings. One of them struck home. "The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, the Land of Narrows," he said, "When the children of Israel left The Land of Narrows, they entered The Wilderness. The Wilderness belongs to no one; hence, it is a place for everyone. This is to show us that spiritual teachings do not belong to anyone. No one group can lay claim to them."

I savored those words. More shared Seders and other Jewish family rituals passed before I invited Lakme to dinner. Only later did I realize that my invitation contrasted with what Gershon had said about spiritual teachings belonging to no one. I had asked Lakme because I wanted to lay claim to something, to be part of a faith community, to belong.

There is a place in New Mexico where the red rocks flow like great splendorous waves, a red sea on the high desert. The waves move in and out, in and out, different shades in varied light—red-gold at sundown with a tinge of melancholy at the edges, wine red after rain, soft pink at dawn.

Just before my senior year of high school the alumni of the Reformed Bible Institute gathered with their spouses and children for a picnic beneath those massive waves, salmon in color on that particular day. We ate food that people eat in Michigan—Jell-O salad, baked beans, potato salad. And we ate foods that most folk in the Midwest had never seen or tasted—Navajo fry bread, mutton ribs and mutton stew. Some of the Institute's alumni were Diné. The rest were Dutch American and Dutch Canadian.

As always, Ella Descheenee whispered my secret Diné name in my ear and giggled and hugged me. Ella had known me since I was a baby because her husband Ed was my father's mentor at the Bible Institute. In Diné bizaad, you are not supposed to say your secret name to anyone else, but I can say the English meaning, "Girl Who Reaches After Things." Growing up I thought it was about being a grabby toddler, but maybe it is also about curiosity, desire and will. What I know for sure is that Ella loved me.

At the end of our picnic, we stood together in a small knot at the edge of an arroyo that cut into the earth between the waves. The leftover food had been packed into pickup truck beds and station wagons. We sang, and our voices echoed off the rocks:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
There are ways in which, like it or not, I will always be bound by that tie.

After my dinner with Lakme, she told me her conversion story. It began with a dream that, like mine, took place in a church basement. Unlike mine, hers was a vision of knowing without a doubt who she is and always has been—a Jew. Certain in that knowledge, she began the formal conversion process.

When Lakme had finished, I took a deep breath and told her that I had been thinking for years of converting. I tried to convey my motivation, starting with the similarities between my upbringing and my perception of Orthodox Judaism. I talked about the stories from the Old Testament that had nourished me in childhood. We had identified with the Israelites of those stories; they were God's Chosen People, and so were we. I was taught that the Jews who were maligned in the New Testament were not the everyday people, but the politicians, who had acted as politicians ever have. I talked about how Jewish teachings from Lakme and Gershon had opened my heart and returned the Book to me in a way that I loved. I told her about living with Sylvia and Abe, about my first Seder and how important ritual is to my soul. I also told her about a deep-seated fear that I could never truly belong.

Lakme agreed that it took chutzpah to convert. Laughing, she told me that a potential convert to Judaism must be asked three times why they are converting. "It's just supposed to be three times total," she said. "But it seemed like every Jew I knew had to ask me three times." My heart sank; I didn't know if I could muster the requisite chutzpah.

Lakme is a maggid, a teacher of the sacred. Over dessert and tea, she offered to spend Tuesday evenings with me, exploring the five areas of study required for conversion. I accepted.

Lakme and I met over dinner every other week for five months, and those meals seem now to have coalesced into one long, soul-satisfying dinner with the rebbetzin. Our second meeting stands out because Lakme arrived that night with an armload of books, mostly about Jewish history, and a box of Shabbat candles. History is one of the five areas a person studies in preparation for conversion, and I had asked to start there.

The candles were a pure gift, an invitation, a welcome. Maybe I romanticize Shabbat, remembering the lovely golden glow during candle lighting in the film version of Fiddler. But it seems fitting to end the workweek in a spirit of gratitude, of intentional community, in communion over a meal.

When I was small, living in the Navajo Nation in the tiny village of Shiprock, I played in the blazing summer sun with Rudy and Bobby Yellowhair. Every day we made miniature Diné sheep camps in the dirt. Every day we began anew, brushing our palms over the camps we had made the day before. I always started with a little rounded hogan, poking a stub of elm twig into the top for a stovepipe and embedding four short twigs on the east side to make a door. Then I broke a bunch of twigs into short, even lengths to make a sheep corral, pushing them into the softened earth we'd stolen from the edges of my father's squash hills.

I imagined tiny people coming in and out of the hogan to chop wood and cook fry bread. I talked for them, speaking the creole that linguists call Dummitawry English, the language Bobby and Rudy and I used with each other. When Bobby and Rudy switched to Diné bizaad, I recited the Apostles Creed in Diné bizaad. It was the longest piece of spoken Navajo I could manage, and I spoke softly, embarrassed to have Rudy and Bobby hear what I was really saying, but it had to be Diné. I felt poverty-stricken in the language that I needed in order to belong.


© Anna Redsand, 2024. All Rights Reserved.


To be continued on Friday, 4/5/24.

If you are just joining, you can find your way to the beginning of the series using the Table of Contents.

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