So there I was, on the phone with my friend Daniel. Daniel is an old pal. He lives in southeastern Montana, a father of four, and he is Cheyenne.
If I’m being completely honest, I’m never sure what the appropriate term is; whether to call Daniel a Native American, an American Indian, or what.
Daniel clears things up with a laugh, “Just call me Cheyenne. It’s what I am.”
I dialed him yesterday so that I could get in touch with Daniel’s grandfather, who happened to be puttering around Daniel’s house.
When the elderly man got on the phone, his voice was soft, dry, and worn, like old leather.
“Hallo?” said the aged man.
I reintroduced myself.
“You’re who?” he said.
“You probably don’t remember meeting me, it was a long time ago.”
Then I asked the old man if he would do me a favor. I asked if he would recite a Native prayer I once heard him pray at a Presbyterian wedding when I was young. I asked him to offer a prayer of peace. For a friend.
“Peace,” he said soberly. “Nanomónestôtse. Who is it that needs peace?”
So I told the elder all about it. I guess I might as well tell you, too.
My friend is named Tiffany. Although, technically, I’ve never met her. But then you don’t have to know someone to be their friend.
She is thirty-three years young, freckled, redheaded, and right now, she is located roughly 1,702 miles away from the old man’s Montana living room, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Right now her infant daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit with meningitis. Tiffany, her husband, and family are living across the street from Erlanger Hospital in the Ronald McDonald House, trying to stay sane.
“Mmmmm,” said the Cheyenne man. “That poor family.”
The day Tiffany’s daughter was born went sour in a hurry. Not long after the glowing success of delivery, Tiffany awoke from a nap to find that her daughter was not breathing.
The ordeal that followed was a mother’s private hell. Her baby was immediately whisked away by medical staffers, connected to a PICC line, attached to oxygen, and her daughter’s bloodstream was pumped with a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs, and complex medications with multi-syllable names nobody can pronounce.
“Oh, dear,” said the old man.
The support from Tiffany’s hometown, of course, has been pouring in by the freightload. The texts, the private messages, the phone calls, there have even been a scant few donations on a GoFundMe page. Half of Cherokee County, North Carolina, is praying for this family; the other half is busy cooking them church casseroles.
“And how is she holding up?” asked the Cheyenne elder. “This young mother?”
Well, as I say, I don’t know Tiffany personally. I’ve only heard about her. But what I’ve heard is that she is unflappable.
He stopped me.
“Hmmmm. I do not know this word.”
It means that when the medical experts weren’t sure whether Tiffany’s child would recover, Tiffany STAYED sure. She was rebelliously sure. Defiantly sure. As only a redheaded mother of six can be.
“A mother of six?” the old man remarked. “This is a strong woman.”
She sure is. Tiffany has remained strong despite sleepless nights on cheap vinyl hospital furniture; strong in spite of a diet consisting of vending machine food and adrenaline.
She was brave as she listened to the doc use words like “coxsackievirus,” and “streptococcus pneumoniae.” She has prayed like a woman with her face on fire.
“Prayer,” said the old man. “Mmmm. Prayer is good.”
Prayer is more than good. The prayers are actually working. Recently, the doctors have said Tiffany’s daughter’s infection is subsiding. The swelling is lessening, and they say if things keep going like this—fingers crossed—Tiffany’s baby might be able to leave the hospital once she starts keeping food down.
“I can’t do anything but cry tears of joy,” Tiffany said. “There’s been one blessing after another. I just want to thank God for keeping my baby here… God is good.”
Even so, it’s been a long month, and meningitis is no day at the beach. I know this from personal experience. A few years ago my newborn niece had viral meningitis. We held vigil for weeks. Looking back, I realize that the one thing we lacked most in that cramped little hospital room was peace.
“Nanomónestôtse,” said the old man’s quiet voice. “Peace.”
If you’re ever fortunate enough to hear a prayer uttered in Cheyenne, you will remember it. Even over the phone, the timbre will strike you in the ribs, like the powerful tone of an ancient bell. In English the peace prayer is translated:
“Let us know peace.
“For as long as the moon shall rise,
“For as long as the rivers shall flow,
“For as long as the sun shall shine,
“For as long as the grass shall grow,
“Let us know peace.”
But when said in Cheyenne, it is music.
When the old man finished speaking, there was silence on the line. The old man finally asked the inevitable.
“Why me? Why did you call and choose to tell me about this family?”
“Because,” I told him. “The baby’s name is Cheyenne.”
I could almost hear him smile.
“It is a good name,” he said.