by Bent Lorentzen
3rd Place winner of the 2002 Ground-Zero Literary Prize,
This story actually was first published in an obscure children’s magazine in 1976, under the title, ”Mark of the Red Man.” I reworked this tiny jewel to describe in a few paragraphs a Cherokee shamans simple ceremony to heal his heart of America’s worst tragedy since Pearl Harbor.
White hair cascading over his shoulders, he looked up to the Sun and bowed his head. "A thousand moments of purity I give to you," spoke the colorfully and sparsely clad man in a simple language. "May those who have passed on find peace."
With intense beauty radiating from his corrugated face, he inched forward to a majestic oak and wrapped his arms as best as he could around its wide strength. He uttered in a forgotten tongue the feelings that his heart was sharing with the sheer, unrelenting calmness of a brother who had endured many more seasons than he could think of. Tears welled up in his ancient eyes as he backed off and bowed in obeisance before the tree.
He kneeled down and with large, callused hands, scooped up a handful of fertile, black dirt. Slowly, a brief smile flittering across his face as he did this, he raised the contents high and with soft sounds, gently let the wind take what he had. Much of the earth clumped down over his moist face and bare chest. Then he bowed and kissed the earth which he tenderly regarded as his true mother.
He raised himself up to his proud height and walked down to the tiny lake, worming his way through the thick, lacerate underbrush. He calmly entered the water and stopped when he was shoulder deep, then he submerged into the cool liquid and began swimming beneath the surface. His body felt the ecstasy of the supporting freshness until he encountered the bottom rising to greet him. This was like his birth memory.
He surfaced and walked to the shore on the other side and greeted a man looking at him. Next to this person stood another, and another. There were many people there, all looking on all having turbulent thoughts about this dripping, bare chested bronze man before them. Some shook their heads, others whispered ridicule. Some were even afraid.
The Native American looked at them and smiled as he walked between them out to Central Park West, where he took some keys out of a wet pocket to unlocked a Mercedes. Soon his shiny, green auto was lost in the huge melee of midtown New York. The missing Twin Towers on the southern horizon no longer hurt so bad.
A young couple had lagged behind the dispersing crowd by the pond in Central Park. Looking intently at each other to begin with, they quietly walked into the water and very tenderly baptized one another. For a few moments they were like children, the sharp hurt of a terrorized city washed away.