Heyokah Blues ~ or the Cost of Being the Clown-Guardians of Society

Heyokah blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start ofa very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves, wild sheep and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals. I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys. There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.

Swallows Wings and Sparrows Falling

 

Swallows wings and sparrows falling:

a little of what goes on in the psyche of an over-sensitive soul.

 

I was walking along the road, heading off to the post office with a small parcel to send to my father, when I noticed the swallows over head. To me there is something about the swallow that approaches aesthetic perfection and seeing them in the sky above me brought a sudden and entirely unexpected surge of tears. The angle of the wings, the clarity of the colour against the blue of the sky and the sheer purpose-driven perfection of their flight was all at once impossible to bear. Beauty is sometimes unbearable, because of its fragility, its brief perfection and my own impossible aims to emulate it. I’d have like to have been physically beautiful. In my dreams I sometimes am, but in those dreams, there is always a mirror that tells me the ugly truth.

I chase beauty in many forms: seeking to create it in my own head, either in terms of what I write or in what I feel. Perhaps that’s why I am, for lack of a better term, a bit religious. If I’d been a little less self conscious, I might have become a stalker of beautiful people, gazing at them like impossible works of art. Actor Johnny Depp has eyebrows like swallows wings; the curve and the line of them cut across his face like the wings of the bird cut across the sky. If I’d been a little shallower, I might have believed that this beauty made certain people somehow qualitatively better than others.

When it comes to the books I read, that quality of beauty draws me too. The intense experience of reading prose so smooth and delightful, even in describing both tragedy and horror, that it is not like reading at all but more like living the story, is a rare and wonderful one. There’s not many writers who can do that for me.

But when it comes to daily life, both the visual beauty and the beauty of the world beyond it combine to make it hard for me to leave the house some days. The swallows today made me shed a few tears of over-brimming emotion; a little uncomfortable but nothing drastic. A day or two earlier, something a little different but still avian nearly undid me completely. As I walked home with my dog, she pulled me to the side of the road to show me something. In the gutter, there lay a young hen sparrow. I picked her up and she lay floppy and unresponsive in my hand, her body warm and fluffy and her little feet remained unstiffened. There was no blood and no sign of injury. I breathed on her and stroked her head. Nothing. She was perfect but she was gone.

I took her to the little bed of shrubs near the shops and lay her there. I wasn’t sure if she were dead or just stunned. When I got home I told my husband about it and he told me that sparrows, especially young ones will faint if frightened. Literally, they faint, pass out and become unconscious with fear or alarm.

She might well have been alive,” he said.

There’s a passage in the Gospels (Matthew 10: 29)  where Jesus says about not a single sparrow may fall without the Father knowing and caring about it.

Perhaps it was meant to be that I picked her up from the dangerous place she had fainted in and put her somewhere safe to recover. But it’s my love of beauty that means I haven’t gone back to see if she’s still there. I want her to just have fainted and to have recovered and flown back to her family.

The Fable of the Very Tall Woman

The Fable of the Very Tall Woman

 

 

 

   There was once a very tall woman. Even as a baby she was unusually long but it was only when she began walking that it became obvious she was far taller than other babies the same age. All through her school days, she was the tallest in her class. School photos showed the same thing each time; relegated to the back row and in the very middle to preserve symmetry, she stood out like a flagpole. As a child it didn’t seem to matter too much as there were advantages to being taller than the others, such as being able to see over adults at the cinema but as she grew up she grew taller each year until her mother had to have her school uniforms specially made.

  

   By her teens it was becoming a problem. Not only would no nice fashionable clothes ever come in her size, but also no boy would go out with her. The few taller boys refused to go out with a girl as tall as they were; they preferred shorter girls who had to look up to them. When she left school she was the tallest in her year.

 

   As a young adult, the woman began to feel lonely and depressed and utterly despairing of her height. She had to have her clothes specially made and even when the latest fashions could be scaled up to her height, they looked all wrong on her. Her few friends complained constantly that they had to tilt their heads to be able to speak to her, even when she was sitting down with them. Strangers in the street would shout things at her, such as, “What’s the weather like up there?” and maddeningly obvious things like, “Ooh, you’re very tall aren’t you?” She had to duck to get into most houses or she would bang her head on doorframes. She even had to get a special bed to sleep in because ordinary ones were just too short.

 

   One day, a friend said to her, “Why don’t you bend down when you walk and then you wouldn’t look so tall?” and so she started to walk with a stoop and with her eyes looking always at the ground. This made her almost short enough to have a conversation without the other person getting a neck ache. She found that if she walked with her knees bent, she would look even less tall.

 

   But people still stared at her in the street. She was very seldom asked out for a date and never for a second one, even though her face was as pretty as that of any young woman in the bloom of life. And one morning when she got up, every bone and joint in her body hurt her. “I’m getting old without ever having been young,” she said to herself and miserable and in pain she went to the doctor, expecting him to diagnose arthritis.

 

   After she had explained her symptoms, the doctor was silent for a long time.

 

   “Stand up for me, will you?” he said eventually and she did so, maintaining her usual posture.

  “Hmm,” said the doctor. “That’s very interesting.”

 

   He walked all round her, looking at her and then he put his hand on the curve where she bent her spine and gently made her straighten out. Then he put a hand to her knees and made her legs straighten out too.

 

   She stood there in an agony of anxiety, expecting him to comment on her immense height. She screwed her eyes shut to fight back the tears of humiliation at being discovered to be so very tall. When she opened them again she saw the doctor was smiling at her and she noticed for the first time that the doctor was himself a very tall man and they were eye to eye. For the first time in her life she was able to look another person in the eye without having to bend or have them stand on a chair.

   

   “It’s not easy being tall,” said the doctor gently. “People think it must be but they don’t understand what it means. It’s not just being able to see over the heads of everyone else, or being able to change a light bulb without a chair. It’s very lonely being tall, isn’t it?”

 

   Blinking back tears of relief the tall woman nodded.

 

   “But pretending to be shorter doesn’t solve it,” the doctor continued. “It makes your body hurt, and everyone can see you look strange and different. It makes you look deformed and weird if you keep hunching up just so people don’t see how tall you are. They just notice how strange you look. Better just to be tall and be proud of it.”

 

   As she let the doctor’s surgery, she caught a glimpse of herself in a window and immediately tried to minimise her height before remembering what the doctor said and then threw back her shoulders and walked tall for the first time in years.

 

   She may even have gone on to buy her first ever pair of elegant high-heeled shoes. Bespoke, of course.