The time had finally arrived for me to be a supporter for John and others. It was our first trip of many to Sun Dances in South Dakota. Kathy drove Gary and Elizabeth from Oklahoma to South Dakota about three weeks before John, myself, and others left for Sun Dance. They went early to help with preparations for the dance. This dance was something John and I ha individually been guided to attend. I had been waiting since that night when the Indian got in my car and told me that I needed someone to adopt me so that I could go to a Sun Dance.
We gathered all that we needed to take and were finally ready to leave. John picked me up in Norman. His van was packed with all that we might need to do this. We had everything from the proper attire for John to dance in, tent, bedding, clothes, and food, plus all that we might need to make prayer ties and prayer flags. We even had a bucket of red dirt from Oklahoma that we were asked to bring, plus other requested objects.
John’s van was packed from floor to ceiling. We met Robert and Anita at a truck stop in Oklahoma City. I had gotten to know them fairly well because they were a couple we had sweat with multiple times here in Oklahoma. Their car, too, was packed to the brim. They barely had room to sit. We all four were so ready to go. John and Robert had been to the Bear Heals Sun Dance last summer, but Anita and I had neither one ever seen a Sun Dance. We met each other in Oklahoma City, ate a quick meal, and then began our drive to Mission, South Dakota. In only a few hours, we were all unbelievably tired. It was dark, and we were on a two-lane road just past the Nebraska border when John suggested that we pull over, pull out our sleeping bags, and crash in the gully that he saw a small distance from the road. I told him that I was game if Robert and Anita were. They definitely were tired and thought it was a great idea.
I was laughing to myself while John was talking to them about stopping here. This was not what I visioned last year. I was thinking more about staying in fine hotels. And tonight, we were going to sleep practically in a ditch on the side of the road. Ha! But we were all so happy and were anticipating a great adventure. Walking a little past that gully, we saw a pond and decided to sleep on flat land rather than in the ravine next to the road. After settling in, I kept hearing buzzing. Mosquitos! Finally, I said, “John, we cannot sleep here.” Anita heard me and said, “Susanne, I agree.” I asked, “Did anyone bring any Off because I did not. Maybe we could make it if we have some.” Nope! Not one of us brought Off. What were we thinking? I wondered what else we might not have thought about. A little reluctantly, Robert and John agreed to climb out of their sleeping bags and return to our cars.
A short way down the road, we stopped for gas in a place that looked like it could have Off for sale. It did not. The night manager said that there had been a run on Off. Apparently, many had been in to buy it that evening. We stopped at another station. This time the station did have some. Thank goodness! We now had Off for the trip. With all of us fully awake, we drove to the next town. Soon we discovered there were no rooms available, so we headed to the police station to see if we could sleep in a park. “Yes,” was the answer. We all slept well for the rest of our short night!
In the early morning, we had breakfast and were about to begin a long trek across Nebraska when Robert suggested we stop and say a prayer about our whole journey. We all agreed that would be good since we were going to Sun Dance. When we stopped, I listened as each of us prayed. John prayed for patience plus other things. When he said “patience,” I knew I would watch to see if a situation would come to him that required more patience later. We returned to our respective cars. Valentine, Nebraska, seemed like a logical place for us to stop for lunch. When we asked the filling station personnel for a good place to eat, they suggested the Peppermill! So that is where we went. Now we had been on the road two days. I looked at how we looked. We made ourselves more presentable and entered.
It was packed. There was one table free. We sat down to order. I said, “I am going to go see if they know anywhere that we might get a shower because we are going to be unable to shower for at least eight days after we get to the Sun Dance grounds.” Robert, Anita, and John thought that was a crazy thing for me to do. I just smiled and went up to the counter and asked while John, Robert, and Anita laughed that I was doing that. The man at the counter called our waitress over and told her what I asked. Then the waitress came to our table and, in a loud voice, yelled, “Hey, everybody, these people need a shower. Isn’t that great?” The whole room started clapping and hollering, “Great!” The four of us knew we looked bad from our work and then the drive plus the night sleeping under the stars. But could they smell us, or what? What was this about?
Then we learned. The waitress turned her attention back to us. She explained that their Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club, and other individuals had contributed money to build a facility where people might be able to stop, go to the bathroom, shower, and make themselves presentable. It was right on the edge of town on the road that we needed to stay on to get to Mission, South Dakota. She also explained that everyone was so excited because no one had used it yet! We ate a great meal, got lots more comments as people left, and began our trek. We stopped at the edge of town, where there was a park, and we each took a shower. We were so impressed with the beautiful facility they created. The wood was even impressive! There were mirrors, electrical outlets, and even fresh flowers by the sink. Quarters paid for the water in the showers. We all took our time and felt great afterward.
We headed to Gary Bear Heals home outside Mission and arrived right at dusk. I had pulled out one sweat dress and one towel when we stopped to shower, so that I would be ready when we arrived if there was a sweat lodge about to take place. I had shared with Anita what Gary taught me about dressing modestly and not looking a man in the eyes. We found the Sun Dance ground and Gary’s house, pulled up to park the car, and saw that indeed a sweat was about to begin. John, Anita, and Robert all quickly changed and headed to the lodge. I was struggling. I took my clothes off to put on my sweat dress. With everyone in the lodge, I thought I could stand behind the door of the van and pull on my sweat dress. No one would see me! But just then, a huge gust of wind came. My dress flew out of my hand and across the land. I went running after it. Here I was, chasing the dress across the land, and I had nothing on at all! All other sweat dresses were in the far back of John’s van. Someone called “Susanne, hurry up.” About that time, Gary looked out the entrance to the lodge and said, “Susanne is chasing her dress. No one look.” I was horrified. I finally got close enough to grab my dress and quickly put it on. I then crawled into the lodge. Most were laughing A few that I had never met were definitely not laughing. I was horrified with my modest (ha!) beginning and entrance to this pretty Sun Dance land. I apologized and made a silent prayer while others began the singing. Then I felt at peace as the sweat began. This was only the beginning!
LESSON: Have no expectations when having an adventure. Flow with what happens and watch how it comes together. Remain kind. Stay aware and listen every day. Pay attention to every word said and, especially, to words I say.
GIFT: I made it this far and was about to see an actual Sun Dance. I knew it was up to me to learn by listening and watching closely.
It was a time to practice setting my ego aside and remembering that every situation during this adventure might not be happening to me. It might be happening for me “to learn” about this culture and the Sun Dance. I knew that God guided me to this for a reason.