When Many Paths awoke, she felt strong, as though the life force within her had replenished itself. She glanced over at She Who Saved Many Lives and frowned. The old Shaman’s rapid shallow breaths rasped. Her skin appeared to be covered with chiggers or orange bloated deer ticks. The rash of the red plague — that’s what really caused it. Many Paths swung her legs out and stood. A momentary dizziness swept over her. She remembered the healing medicine. Hopefully, Tu-Swift had left some on the porch as requested. She pulled aside the skins from the entry door but nothing had been prepared. Maybe Tu-Swift had also fallen ill, she thought.
She decided to gather the necessary plants herself and ask those she met along the way whether they had seen Tu-Swift. She met surprisingly few on her way to the riverbank and none of them had seen Tu-Swift. As she crested a small hill and began her descent to the stand of yellow dock, she heard crying. The voice of Tu-Swift. She came upon him silently. He sat on the bank of the river, his arms cradled tightly across his knees. He rocked back and forth slowly and sobbed quietly. She whispered his name, first softly and then more insistently.
He remained unresponsive while she sat beside him and put her arm around him, rocking slowly with him and softly singing one of the grief songs of the Veritas. After a time, he began shaping his sobs into song and singing with her. At first, his voice cracked a lot, but soon his voice grew more even and rhythmic.
When the song drew to a close, Tu-Swift stopped rocking and spoke to his sister, still staring into the roiling waters of the nearby river. “I killed her. I should not have left her. I thought…I thought maybe Cat Eyes had returned. So, I left Sooz. And now she’s dead.”
“She is and I am very sorry. It is not your fault, however. She died from this nasty red plague. And, I hate to say it, but She Who Saves Many Lives may be next if we don’t get her some medicine. And soon. Did you gather any of the ingredients already, dear brother?”
“Ingredients? Oh! That’s why I came here. I thought of — Sooz and I — we played together right over there in the pond. When I came here, I thought of her and — I could not think of else. But you’re right. We need medicine.” He arose, wobbled a little, and then went down to the stand of yellow dock.
Many Paths spoke to him, “Tu-Swift, you gather the yellow dock, I’m going up that hill to the elderberries. I still have rose hips. I’ll go back and minister to She Who Saves Many Lives. You should continue to stay distant. Tu-Swift, I know you miss Sooz, but now we need to concentrate all our energy on saving those who yet remain alive. I am worried about the mother of the tribe and also about Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker. They may not return — all the more urgent to save such lives as we can.
Tu-Swift did not turn to look at Many Paths, but he nodded his head silently and began harvesting the yellow dock. Many Paths climbed the small hill and began using her hands to rake the entire umbel of elderberries from one stalk after another. As she did so, she imagined that each stalk was a different tribe. What might it be like, she wondered, to sit down and talk among six tribes. How could it not just be chaos? There would have to be rules, she decided, and everyone would have to agree to the rules and to kick out any tribe who did not follow the rules.
Many Paths finished quickly and plod back down to the riverbank. Tu-Swift had finished as well. He did not look cheerful, but he did look as though, at least for now, he had decided to rejoin the world of the living. They strode back up to the village and boiled more tonic for She Who Saves Many Paths. As they worked, Many Paths related to him the plan to get all six tribes together in a single Great Dialogue.
“I have been imagining, Tu Swift,” she explained “that we should contact each of these tribes separately first, to see whether they would participate and to understand what each tribe sees as a possible benefit and also so that we might know of any concerns they have.”
Tu-Swift agreed that this approach made sense. “Do you think it matters which tribes you contact first?”
“I do, but I am not sure yet of the right order. I do think though that we should start with the Veritas beyond — I mean — the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Peaks.”
Tu-Swift tilted his head at this comment and looked at his sister quizzically.
“Yes, I think you should definitely be one of those to visit our cousins. But first, we need to get those Veritas of the Center Place healthy — those who can be. Some considerable thought is needed to … to build … a plan about how to conduct such a large meeting.”
Many Paths continued. “All tribes must agree to meet and to tell the truth, and of course, not to fight, or give such “gifts” as those the Z-Lotz last gave to bring sickness and death. I have been thinking also of how our lives relate to the lives of others. We are like … each of us has a different path. And, we learn along these different paths and we come to Dialogue with each other and we learn from those who took different paths and we teach others about our paths.”
Tu-Swift nodded. “Yes. And — and even when someone — even when someone dies. They have changed our life and taught us things and shown us things…. I learned so much from Sooz. I miss her, Many Paths. I miss Sooz. And, I also miss Cat Eyes.”
Many Paths spoke gently. “I know. I know you do. Cat Eyes you may see again in the flesh but Sooz you will meet only in your dreams and in your heart. And there is a part of you that is her. By being aware of how we are all inter-connected, not just all of us within the Veritas, but how also the Veritas — we are not — we would not be what we are except for other Tribes. And humanity itself would not be humanity without the trees, the birds, the vines, the fish. Just as we cannot put ourselves as more important than our tribe, we cannot put our tribe above all of the tribes. We cannot put humanity above all of the rest of life. It makes no sense.”
The tea was ready so Many Paths asked Tu-Swift to prepare more for others who may be in need but to keep his distance from those who were ill. Many Paths herself set off for the Old Mother and as she walked, she sang a new song.
“It is foolish to put Humanity above The Great Tree of Life.
It is foolish to put Tribe above Humanity.
It is foolish to put your own Family above the Tribe.
It is foolish to put your own Person-Life above your own Family.
It is foolish to put your temporary pleasure of a moment above your own Person-Life.”
She pulled aside the curtain and She Who Saved Many Lives had apparently propped herself up to take tea. Her voice cracked as she spoke, but there was still a lively child’s twinkle in her ancient yellow eyes as she said, “Indeed you are right, Many Paths. It is childish, foolish, or crazy to put the part above the whole.” The Ancient Shaman laughed a laugh which was part cough, but no less genuine for that.
The Old One spoke again. “And indeed, you are the leader this tribe needs. If you please, a little tea, and then I must rest again. I cannot say for how long.”
Math Class: Who Are You? (An essay on the inter-connectedness of all life).
The Winning Weekend Warrior (the ‘mental game’ for all sports including tennis, golf, softball, football, etc.)
Turing’s Nightmares (an exploration of the future of AI and what it means socially & ethically for humanity)
Fit in Bits (suggestions for fitting more variety, fun, and exercise into daily activities).
Tales from an American Childhood (autobiography & musings about then and now).