Pine Ridge 2019: Life is your greatest teacher

Wednesday, June 26 Heather Swartz traveling for the 2nd time with her mom Sherri Swartz

Happy 17th birthday Ella! This third day on the Rez was a lot to process, so it’s hard to know where to begin. The kids were dropped off at the Dream Center, and I played with Heaven and Kirra, two girls I knew from my last pilgrimage out here. We painted the clay pots we made yesterday, played outside on the swings, made necklaces out of beads, and designed our own bags. My favorite part of the morning was watching a sweaty Kris Zimmerman running around inside the Dream Center with streamers draped all over him, playing a game of chase with Tanna. It was even funnier when he rolled on the ground like a horse–sometimes you discover that adults can be younger than kids! Lunch was delicious but it was pretty hot outside. On the way back, I just looooved almost getting choked while giving a piggy back ride to a kid who didn’t know how to hold on properly! Lots of kids were taking pictures at the photo booth, draped in Ashley’s odd assortment of dress up clothes. Just as Jesus washed his friends’ feet during their final day together, we washed the feet of the children. Some of us got our feet washed in return, and it was very refreshing. The kids went home with bracelets, new shoes, and lots of toys.

It was absolutely heartbreaking for both the pilgrims and the kids to part on the last day… I held Heaven’s hand as it was was hanging out of the bus window. The bus started to pull away and I had to let go. She was reaching out towards me and crying, repeating my name. Travelers and kids alike had tears in our eyes. We waved at them with full yet broken hearts as they departed. With heavy hearts we cleaned the grounds then had some time to rest. The girls discovered some DELICIOUS snickerdoodle cookies in the snack bin! I washed my hair in freezing cold water from the spigot (this will be important later) which felt amazing after such a long and hot day! We got on the bus and Diane drove us to the site the Wounded Knee Massacre. With reverence, we solemnly read the horrifying story and the names on the gravestones. Knowing what tragedy had befallen this place and this people, we went into the community of Wounded Knee.

People from the community started emerging from their houses and gathering with us at the basketball courts for fellowship and good food. Little girls twirled ribbons around, teens played basketball, and bubbles were everywhere–including my eyes (it hurt so bad)! Once the party died down, we were invited to the porch of an elder, Joyce, for life lessons and insight. She reminded us of these things: Each person has their own niche to fill in the world with their talents and gifts. When aggravated by someone else, don’t fight back. Instead, have patience and wait–it builds character! Meet people where they are rather than trying to change them to fit your standards. Lastly, life is the greatest teacher. There are things your instructors can never teach you, and those are things only life can teach you. We had to leave Joyce’s porch early because of an ominous cloud looming in the southwest.

Diane drove us back to the Dream Center, and we had limited time to freshen up before dinner because of the fast approaching storm. Lightning constantly lit up the sky, and the clouds were incredibly dark and menacing. By the time we ran over to the kitchen pavilion, Sarah was frantically telling us to grab food and go immediately back to the Dream Center. Some people were yelling for Ian to get down from the hill with the cross–for the second or third time this week! I snatched a hot dog and a bag of chips and ran. I stopped outside the Dream Center door to look back at the tendrils of the updraft highlighted by the glowing green clouds behind them. Some may have thought it was a tornado (it was not, only a severe thunderstorm). It had not yet begun to rain but we were told to get inside. We gathered by the south wall of the Dream Center and sang, prayed, and comforted each other. Sarah informed us that this storm may likely produce hail, so we might hear that in addition to the powerful winds making the Dream Center creak. Some of us were very frightened, and depended on our prayer partners for help in this frightening situation. The storm worsened and we moved into the hallway and bathrooms. To distract us from the destructive monster surrounding us, we told funny and touching stories from our week. I don’t know how long we were waiting out the storm; it could’ve been thirty minutes, an hour… I have no idea. We were given the all clear and praised and thanked God for our safety!

Thank you to all our prayer partners for supporting us in our most frightening hour. We worshiped in the Dream Center then finally, after such a long day, got to settle down in our bunks. One small problem for me–my hair was still wet from washing it in the spigot this afternoon! I stepped outside and was immediately hit by strong winds possibly over 40 or 50 mph! My hair usually takes 24 hours to air dry in Madison, but in that wind it took no more than ten minutes! One gust nearly made me stumble and nearly lose my balance. We finally went to sleep with very full heads and hearts, terribly exhausted after such a busy day.

1 Comment

  1. Jean E. Peterson on July 4, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Heather, your story has brought tears to my eyes — not just to my eyes, but rolling down my cheeks. Thanks, Granny Jean