Sometimes we are at the right place at the right time..
|Indians of Marquette
Quite a few years ago I was stationed in Marquette Michigan. I had an incident happen that I’ll never forget, and only now do I feel comfortable enough to even write about it.
While there, I was attending the local college to which the classes were held on the base. On some occasions, I had a need to go on campus for books, labs, etc. On this trip I was going to the bookstore on a hot, hazy midsummer afternoon. The air was sweet with the smell of flowers and the sky as clear blue as I had ever seen it. All was right with the world while I rushed thru the hot hallway, trying to get to the air conditioned bookstore and finish the task at hand. The hallway had a slight curve in it to surround the bookstore with an immense bank of windows looking out onto the court yard. Here you could feel the warmth of the sun and see the activities of the day, people rushing to whatever class or lecture they needed to be.
I was almost to the entrance of the bookstore, when I felt a cool breeze of air hitting my face. “Well, someone got the air going finally” I thought to myself. A few more steps, and the air around me turned bitterly cold. I looked about, trying to see if anyone else was shivering as much as I, but no one else was in the hallway. Now I knew something was peculiar, for the cold was becoming so intense, it burned when I touched anything or took a breath. Feeling nausea as the world around me suddenly became so cold, my sight of the hallway now began wavering as well. I was trying to yell; desperately wanting to get somebody’s attention. With sudden dissolve, the wall that separated the hallway from the outside world disappeared around me, a hand now reaching, grabbing my arm with a fierce intensity. I yelped with pain and surprise while struggling to free myself from the apparition that held me so tightly. Turning quickly I looked up and brought my face within inches of the one who would not let go.
We were outside now, or at least the parts that I could see clearly, with snow falling in the places I could make out. Some parts were crystal clear while others were out of focus, appearing to behave like I was looking through a wavering cloth of some kind. Worse yet, even staring at these unfocused parts made my head spin, with nausea hitting the pit of my stomach. My attention fell for the first time on the hand that held me. It became clearer now and I followed the arm up, only to stare into the face of the one who held me. Here stood an Indian and by the look of his headdress I could tell he was a Chief. His demeanor and stance also confirmed my conclusion that this was no ordinary person of his tribe. Even as I could feel the biting wind and snow, he stood as if it were a sunny summer day.
But his eyes said everything. He looked around at his people huddled against the wind and snow, no obvious shelter in sight; you could also tell these people were on the run with barely any clothing, food sacks or equipment of any sort with them. They certainly were not dressed for this type of weather, or even had heavy skins to protect them from the wind. Maintaining his tight grip on my arm, his eyes gazed around slowly at his people, when it seemed he came to the realization that he was holding onto me. Now he turned his face to mine with our eyes finally meeting for the first time. He did not act surprised at the sight of me nor did he even lessen his grip, but he did stare at me and I saw for the first time the plea in his eyes for help, desperate to escape the situation they were in.
He broke eye contact with me after a while and made gestures with his free hand, pointing in several directions all the while looking at me every time he pointed. I knew he was lost and wanted directions on which way he should go, but knowing where the college was located we were practically surrounded by water. Every time he would point, he would turn back to me for an answer. Every time I would shake my head back and forth and look down to indicate "No" to him. East? He pointed. No, that way was the lake with cold wind and freezing water. North? With a look of pleading in his eyes I sadly hung my head as the answer was the same. West? His spear pointed again in another direction and once again I had to shake my head and look down, for I knew the terrain was hills and deep ravines. His spear dropped and this time it was my turn to point. South? My arm pointed as I looked at the man who held my arm tightly. This time it was his turn to shake his head and look down. We looked at each other for a time and I began to understand. They were trapped. It became all too obvious that they were at war with another tribe and were chased out of their shelters, carrying only what they could to escape with their lives. They came to this point and were not only trapped by the end of the land, but also by the people who were pursuing them, not being able to go back south away from the lake and the blizzard it was producing.
His eyes locked onto mine again and I could see the story in his face. The gestures he made in desperation, he had called on the spirits to help him and his people survive. Unfortunately, he got me instead and all I could do was console him on his doom. After a few gestures and hard looks, his face softened and you could tell he came to the same realization. They would not survive much longer and no help could be offered to aid them. The Chief sat down now in the snow, softening his grip on my arm. He began to waver, becoming more distorted than before. He made gestures to the sky and towards his people, and spoke in his language of their trials, trying to let me know how they came to be in this time.
I did not understand what he said, but it was clear enough why he was saying it. He just wanted someone to know they had existed, that they were a people and they had met life, good and bad with honor. His grip loosened more on my arm, and the more it relaxed, the fainter he and his surroundings became. His arm finally dropped and my world returned; back to the heat of the hallway. I gasped violently at the warm air now entering my lungs. Grabbing for the window sill, it took what seemed to be hours for me to steady myself and get rid of the nausea, while I refocused on my time and surroundings. I urgently looked up and down the hallway, not only for assistance, but to see if anyone else was witness to what I had just experienced. Of course, the hallway was clear with neither a soul in sight, nor anyone in the virtually empty bookstore. No one had been paying any attention to my plight. I did my errand in the bookstore and left as fast as I could, not wishing for a repeat performance of the event I just went through.
For many months afterwards the scene kept coming back to me, and I kept thinking, “Why me?”. And for what reason? Did I have some link to these people, some blood relation or did I just happen to be in the “right” place at the “right” time? Or did this all happen due to an overactive imagination? These questions kept haunting my waking thoughts, when I reluctantly decided to do something about it. Sure enough, doing some study and research on the college, I found that during construction they had discovered a group of skeletons huddled together on the grounds. The skeletons had been (respectfully) removed and buried properly somewhere else, with speculation as to what tribe they had been from and the reason for their deaths. I knew then what I had been privileged to was real, and I sat in admiration for knowing something of these people.
Rest peacefully Chief, your story has now been told and your people will not be forgotten.