a year of morning thanks
Marvin did exactly as his father had instructed. He took his little brother's body up to the mountains and laid it on a tree or a rock, the traditional Navajo way.
But something bothered him about what he’d done, even though it was his father's request and his parents' way. When he went to the trading post, the Mexican trader, a Roman Catholic, told him that what he'd done just wasn’t right. “’You bring that body back, and I’ll buy you the lumber to make a box, and we’ll put him away right—in the right way,’” the trader told him.
That's exactly what he did. He had to undress himself because of the stigma of the death itself. So he did, and he built a coffin with his own hands, and brought his brother’s body back down and buried it in a little cemetery at the foot of the hills. The trader got him the lumber.
All of this he’d done on the sly because he did not want his parents to know. After all, they were very traditional, and cemeteries were not the way of traditional Navajos. The coffin would have been wrong.
But even though Marvin listened to his conscience, already being shaped by missionaries and a Catholic trader, he still respected his father. Rather than face him and tell the truth, he walked away from the hogan and left for California. Months later, when he returned, he thought they would have forgotten, but they asked him—and then he told them what he'd done with his little brother's body, how he'd rejected the traditional ways for a one.
Marvin's daughter, almost 70, told me that story. She said that her father used to tell her that story to explain how it was that he became a believer.
Marvin's story woke me up with this morning, a true story, because it's been on my mind and just won't left--a dead child, a kind trader, a naked man hammering together a coffin against his own father's wishes, then walking away for months, even years, rather than face the music, only to return and be asked to explain.
Maybe most amazing of all is this: he tells his daughter, when she was a girl, that this very story explains how he came to believe in Jesus.
A true story, just about as amazing as grace itself.