Hitchhiking in Winter

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

The snow was drifting across the highway in a fine powder. I glanced at the thermometer: 8 degrees. In my imagination I pictured the place I would be in less than an hour – warm, safe, peaceful. And then his image came into my peripheral vision: a lone figure standing on the side of the road, thumb up in the air, surrounded by his gear, lots of it, more than makes hitchhiking convenient.

When I could I pulled over and backed on the shoulder in his direction. In the rear-view mirror I could see him snatching up all his stuff to jog my way. Temperatures like that get you moving. He piled his bags into my back seat and plopped down in the passenger seat. Max was his name. He was all appreciation.

It seems that Max was heading back to Montana, his home, to live with his son until he could get on his feet again. He was a Sioux Indian and grew up on the reservation, which was, in his words, a god forsaken and impoverished place. He told stories of his travel and how he nearly froze on the way. If it wasn’t for his tent and cold climate sleeping bag he might have.

The night before he was stranded in a rural area and his cheap radio could only pick up the AM stations. All that was beaming through was a program by some guy named Dave Ramsey. He talked about getting your financial house in order and to do it from a spiritual point of view. God must have wanted him stranded just there with no access to anything but AM because he had never heard of this character and certainly would not have tuned him in of his own volition. But it was just what he needed to hear. All his life he had blown every dollar he made and now he had an idea of how he might turn that around – and never be put in the position of hitching a thousand miles in the middle of winter.

An evangelical Christian gave him a ride and lectured him for two hours on how none of his native American Indian religious tradition is true and how the Christian faith is the only way. He almost got out of the car, he said, but it was just too damn cold. I talked about the God of all peoples, a creator who knows each one in each place. He listened respectfully.

Then I asked how the religious traditions of his tribe were passed from one generation to the next. Max said that in addition to the home and grandparents, the most important spiritual formation took place in the sweat lodge – a time for great spiritual discernment and teaching. By the time he was four years old he was a regular there. And the holy man, the medicine man, passed on the traditions and wisdom among the steam and smoke.

I offered to take Max a little farther, by a different route, but he had his mind made up. No, he would get out and continue West by Northwest. Most of it was not interstate but that was beside the point. His gear offloaded into pile by the side of the road. As I drove off I’m sure I heard flutes. I don’t know. The mind plays funny tricks on you.

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