The Tukorehe Marae is an unprepossessing structure. Nestled behind a grove of lush palm trees, its paint is gradually fading, unveiling layer upon layer of cosmetic efforts past. The predominance of white paint is strong in the front. But in the back, it yields to flecks of salmon, and some of the wood has worn itself bare. 

Our host at the marae is a man named Shawn, or "Papa Shawn," as the kids call him. And while he's hardly the garrulous sort, he clearly loves this place - a place that he simply calls home. 

Māori in New Zealand often call a particular "marae" such as this, home. For the descendants of Tukorehe, a Māori ancestor from the distant past, this marae is theirs, carrying with it all the trappings of ownership as if they had helped Tukorehe himself hew the logs that support its roof. 

By way of explanation, the focal point of the marae grounds is the meeting house, or wharenui, which resembles a small wooden chapel that congregations in the Southern United States might have used over a century ago. However, far from practicing Christianity, Māori consider their meeting houses to be the living iteration of their ancestors. Photos of deceased relatives line the wooden walls of the wharenui, each ancestor looking after the occupants in a very literal and symbolic way. The walls themselves are ornately decorated with wood carvings and flax tapestries that tell both the exploits of the ancestor, as well as the philosophy/theology that undergirds the Māori worldview. 
The marae, then, is not so much a chapel as it is a cenotaph dedicated to the presence of the absence of ancestors who never truly left to begin with. 

If there's a nugget of wisdom I've gleaned from the complexities of the Māori cosmology (one I will admittedly I never fully understand), it's that they do community rather differently than we do in mainstream America. 

I won't say it's better because I'm not sure it is. But it is different, so I'll leave it there. Just different. 

The first difference is the Māori emphasis on all things communal. Sleeping in the marae, for example, is a wholly communal affair. The end result is that our group of ten from the University of Wyoming have spent the past three days sleeping in the wharenui, sharing snores, showers, and sleeping patterns alike. This is, of course, a stark contrast to America where privacy is the order of the day, no matter how much the NSA might say otherwise. 

The second difference is in the Māori emphasis on social extroversion. Back home, my normal routine involves quiet, reflection, dedicated time for writing, and the occasional game of Call of Duty

For Māori, nearly every interaction is focused on the shared, lived experience of family or whanauFamilies and extended families all come in equal turn on the marae, sharing meals, entertainment, and social activities in common. Needless to say, this American's time for reflection has been almost non-existent, and in all honesty this has taken its toll on my frazzled nerves. It seems I crave quiet in the same way Māori crave togetherness. I suppose both the individual and the collective have their place and needs. 

Of course, I knew all of this coming in. The marae was never a mystery to me given the year/plus that Gwyn, Clark and I lived in New Zealand. But perhaps the difference on this trip is the presence of the absence of my own whanau. While the Māori ancestors look after us from behind their frames in the wharenui, my own family is ensconced miles across the mighty Pacific, visiting family back in Indiana. 

It seems this is the real lesson from Māoridom. There's precious little that's more important than family.  Of course, we all take this to different extremes. 






We took Clark to the park today. The playground equipment had all the usual trappings of a large park in the center of town, including scores of parents, kids, and pooches out for their afternoon walk. 
 
Amid the chaos, we discovered the slides fairly quickly. Clark and Gwyn spent most of the time going up, and down the slide head first. No worry given to broken necks, or petrified father watching from the side. Only the occasional mischievous glance, and the squeal of joy at landing in the wood chips beneath the slide. 
 
It's a remarkable thing to see a child at play. Engrossed in the moment. Utterly fascinated by whatever it is that captures the attention, and imagination of a young mind. 
 
But what I envy most is Clark's ability just to be. To enjoy. To play. Some nights when my mind races with things to do, with the things that I didn't get done, with the typical cares of life that keep one awake late into the night, I wish I had his young heart, and innocence - things forever etched on the face of a child at play. 
 
I suppose that's something I can't get back. And yet, I can't help but pray it's something he never loses. 

The hardest part of the holidays is always the ride back to OKC Airport. I've made the trip a fair few times now, and while it becomes more familiar, I can't say that it's ever any easier.

In my discipline, we often talk about the unique connection that American Indians have to their lands. And I think that's right.

But on days like today, as we prepare to depart and return to the regular business of busy and hectic lives, I wonder if we're only discussing half of the issue in the relationship between native peoples and their lands.

For my view, any attachment to place has to be coupled with the family/friends/loved ones who are there. Without relationship, a place is just a place. Land is just land.

But when one adds in family, and friends, and loved ones, and multiplies this across the generations, an attachment to lands makes a lot more sense.

In a way, we call this attachment, "home." And leaving home is always a hard thing to do.

Clark pitched a fit this evening. Being somewhat of an expert in fits, I can say with some certainty that this was, in fact, a royal fit - complete with waterworks, wailing, kicking, and clawing down the aisle.

All of the above wouldn't have been so bad, had it not been right during the middle of the Christmas Eve service at church.

My wife Gwyn was set to play the piano for the annual Christmas Eve Service at Brown American Indian Baptist Church. Or as we call it in our family, simply "The Church" - as if any there were any other.

Assuming the best, we didn't account for Clark's...malcontent when separated from his Mother. Much to our chagrin, screaming could well be an understatement to describe what he did in that small, wooden chapel.

Being the lone parent without obligations in the annual Christmas program (spare the duet I had lately agreed to sing with my sister), defeated, I loaded him into the car and drove home. After he calmed down a bit, I was fortunate to have distracted him with Veggie Tales for the remainder of the evening.

I was inclined to be upset, but I snapped a shot of the scene above and the frustration I felt melted away.

It occurred to me, even Jesus was a toddler at one point. And as parenting goes, I'm sure Mary and Joseph had their share of embarrassing evenings with young Jesus too. It's just sort of what toddlers do. Even Divine ones.

And so, I fired up Clark's favorite Veggie Tales and proceeded to get some of the food ready for our family's gift exchange tonight. Better to productive than mope at what I missed.

All told, I think things worked out for the best.


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There's no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room of a hospital.

While participating in the 'hanging of the greens' this morning (a fanciful phrase for decorating the church for Christmas), Clark hit his head on one of the speakers.

Not being the festive sort, I wasn't there. But my wife called in a panic and mentioned that Clark had fallen down some steps, and clipped his forehead on the corner of a speaker, leaving him a bloody, wailing mess. She also mentioned the need for stitches, and I was out the door within the moment.

I arrived at the 'urgent care' not long after she did to the sight above. His wound didn't bleed much. But he had a deep gash and seemed, understandably, crankier than usual.

The waiting room was filled with people. Some with coughs. Others with aches. None seemed to have the obvious urgency that Clark's cut had. And yet we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A full hour.

In retrospect, I realize this wasn't very long. But I couldn't help feeling my blood boil for every able-bodied person that walked past my son's bleeding forehead.

In the end, he only needed a couple of stitches. As of this afternoon he's back to his old, mischievous self.


But still. There's no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room. And it's not that other patients were there. Or the wait. Or the skill of the doctors and nurses, who were all top-notch, and wonderful to a person.

It's the feeling of helplessness that you have when there's nothing you can do to make it all better.


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