Blackness in the Darkness
upon a time, long before the white man ever came to the shores of
Black Lightning had his problems though. He was one of the poorest members of his tribe. He had the shabbiest of tee-pees, which was patched together with scraps of inferior hides that no one else wanted. He wore the scraggliest of buckskins - usually ones which were worn out and discarded by other members of the tribe. He had nothing extra and many times would stoop to scavenging his village for leftover scraps of food to eat because he had nothing to trade with the hunters and his own skills at hunting were woefully underdeveloped because he’d spent all his dreams and visions on becoming the original people’s best electrician.
Black Lightning attributed his meager existence to the fact that no one in his village, nor indeed in all the land, would call upon him for his services as an electrician and trade him valuable goods in exchange for those services. He could not understand why his people seemed to shun him so. He fell into a deep pit of melancholy. He could not understand why the Great Spirit had come to him and led him, so clearly and convincingly, down the trail upon which he now found himself.
Black Lightning went to his village medicine man for help. The old and very wise holy man instructed Black Lightning to go on a vision quest to which he complained, “I’ve been on vision quest after vision quest. I’ve been visited by the Great Spirit in dream after dream, and it’s always the same. I ask the Great Spirit what it is that I am to do, and He always instructs me to be an electrician.”
“No!” the medicine man rebuked. “Do not ask Him what you’re to do. Ask Him who you are. That is your problem, Black Lightning.” With that, Black Lightning offered his services to the medicine man in exchange for his advice, for he had nothing else to offer, but the old medicine man simply held up his hand and turned his head a bit as if to say, “No. That’s okay. Go.”
Black Lightning returned to his tee-pee and prepared for his vision quest. He did all the usual preparations that one from his village would do before an encounter with the Great Spirit. He then bade his neighbors farewell and headed off for the highest mountain and the holiest place of which his people knew.
He traveled for a day, a night, and most of another day before he came to the base of the peak upon which he would have his encounter with and get his answer from the Great Spirit. He ate some bits of dried meat that one of his neighbors had given him and then laid down to rest until morning when he would begin the ascent. This would be the last time he’d eat until he returned to that same spot at the base of the mountain where he’d hide a cache in the crevice of a rock before leaving.
He awoke the next morning and began to climb. He was now in the hands of the Great Spirit. It might be seven, ten, or more days and nights before he’d return and again take sustenance. He prayed, and as he ascended he began to feel the presence of the Great Spirit in ever increasing amounts. He was solemn and focused. No longer did he think of earthly concerns - of food, clothing, shelter, or vocation. He concentrated solely upon the question he was to ask the Great Spirit when he met Him in his vision quest, “Who am I?”
Though the ascent took many hours, Black Lightning barely noticed it, nor was he aware of the toll the journey was taking on him physically. He was only barely in the physical world at this point. He was doing it right this time! He was going to get his answer!
He reached the summit, staked off the area in which his vision quest would take place, and then sat crossed-legged in the center of it. He was facing due east and gazing out over the most riveting and panoramic view that the land of his people had to offer. The sun was on his bare back and though the view was before his eyes, he saw it not, nor did he feel the sun’s warmth, for he was no longer “in” the physical world.
As the sun began to rise the next morning, its rays warming Mother Earth and the mountain upon which he sat, Black Lightning barely blinked. He was searching for the Great Spirit in all of Its glorious creation which was laid out before his eyes, but his eyes were not seeing clouds and trees and mountains and streams. He was looking into all theses things - through all these things and for the Great Spirit.
The sun sat, and the chill of another night lay upon Black Lightning. He did not shiver. He did not notice the cold or even the night. He was too busy searching. He looked into and through the night sky - through the moon - through the stars, even the falling ones for the Great Spirit. But still… It did not come.
Time and again, the cycle of night and day revolved around the mountain upon which Black Lightning sat until his body could no longer stand it. He collapsed one morning as the sun was just beginning to paint a whitewash of light over the eastern sky. In this unconscious state, Black Lightning began to dream. He dreamt wild dreams of animal people who were welcoming him to their land. They were gathering all around him as he walked further into their village.
They weren’t directing him, but neither were they discouraging him in his direction. It were as if he was supposed to be there doing exactly what he was doing. The animal people were all so friendly. Black Lightning felt so at peace - so at home. He felt as though he were returning to his native village after a long, long journey, and the animal people were friends and family who’d come to welcome him home - to a hero’s welcome.
He was overwhelmed, in his dream, by the affections of the animal people as they patted his back and shoulders as he was drawn ever deeper into the center of their village - his village. They were all around him, smiling, patting, and talking in garbled, unintelligible voices. It were as though he was in a dream within his dream. Then… the crowd of friendly creatures suddenly parted from before him revealing a totem pole which stood just outside the great lodge at the heart of the village. It was his family’s totem. He was drawn inside the great lodge.
Inside, the air was thick with steam and smoke. He could barely see the wall behind him, let alone the one on the other side of the lodge where the sacred articles and totemic symbols were kept. He began to creep forward as if he’d rehearsed this before and knew exactly what he was supposed to do. As he reached the center of the great lodge, he became aware of a presence. Suddenly a voice boomed out of the smoke and steam behind him, “What is it you seek?” It was… the Great Spirit!
Black Lightning turned and fell to his knees, placing his face upon the floor of the great lodge - his hands stretched out before him, giving due reverence to the Great Spirit. Again It boomed, “What is it you seek, Black Lightning?” He trembled with fear, respect, and anticipation of the answer he would receive from the question he was about to ask.
“Who am I?” he managed after a moment. There was a pause. It only lasted a few seconds, but to Black Lightning it seemed to last an eternity.
“You are… Black Lightning,” came the response. Black Lightning waited… He knew there was more to come, so he waited… Nothing else came.
“Yes,” he said, “I know that I am Black Lightning, but… who is he?”
“He is you.” This time the response was immediate. It was almost as if the Great Spirit had anticipated this question and began to respond to it before Black Lightning had even finished asking it. Black Lightning was confused by the Great Spirit’s responses. He felt as if they were speaking two different languages, but yet they could understand each other’s words.
Black Lightning became overwhelmed and began to panic. He just knew that he was blowing his one and only chance to find out who he was. He felt the Great Spirit slipping away. It was like he was stuck in quick sand and the more he struggled, the more he sank deeper into the abyss - into the darkness. He muttered as he slipped away, “Who… am I?”
“You… are Black Lightning!” the booming voice of the Great Spirit replied. “You… are the greatest electrician in your village, in all the land of your people, and indeed, in all the land of all the original peoples, and… of all time. Do you understand what that means, Black Lightning? Do you know why you’re called Black Lightning?”
“No, Great Spirit. I do not,” came Black Lightning’s meek reply.
“Your people live in darkness, Black Lightning, and even though your name sake may flash across their dark sky, they cannot see it. Blackness in the darkness cannot be seen. Do you understand this, Black Lightning?” the Great Spirit asked of him.
“Uhhhhh… yyyyyes, Great Spirit. I guess so, but… what am I to do?” he asked.
“There you go again, Black Lightning, asking what it is that you are to do. Do you still not get it? Do you still not understand? Can you not see that it matters not what you do until you know who you are and to whom you belong? Do you know, Black Lightning, to whom you belong?” asked the Great Spirit.
“Myyyself?” his answer came as a hesitant question.
“No, Black Lightning, that is not completely true.” The Great Spirit continued, “You and all that I have created belong to Me. You belong as well to your people, as the wolf belongs to the wolf people, the deer belongs to the deer people, and the eagle belongs to the eagle people. Your whole purpose is determined by Me.”
“Great Spirit,” Black Lightning spoke as he was pondering the Great Spirit’s words, “I am more confused now than ever. I thought You wanted me to be an electrician, and now You say that my whole purpose is determined by You. What does that mean? Please tell me, Great Spirit, who am I?”
“Black Lightning,” the Great Spirit continued, “walk with Me. I have something to show you.”
Black Lightning arose from the floor at the center of the great lodge, and as he did so, the smoke and steam gave way to a fog that lifted, revealing the scene of a trail running along the face of a cliff overlooking a river below. There was a waterfall more beautiful than any Black Lightning had ever before seen. Animals such as deer and rabbits were drinking from the pool at the bottom of the falls and there were birds of all kinds filling the skies.
The Great Spirit was there with Black Lightning, but He was just a voice. “Do you see the deer?” He asked Black Lightning.
“Yes, Great Spirit,” he replied.
“Does the deer try to live as the elk or the moose?” The Great Spirit interrogated Black Lightning further, “Does the sparrow attempt to fly like the swift or to soar like the eagle?”
“No, Great Spirit, they do not…” Black Lightning’s face became contorted in confusion as his words trailed off. “…but what does all this mean? I’m still so confused,” he managed after a moment. It were as if the Great Spirit was trying to draw from Black Lightning answers to his own questions, but none came forth.
The Great Spirit continued, “I have given to the deer all he needs to survive in his world and among his people. Though the elk and moose are brothers to the deer, it would not do for them to try to live as the deer or among the deer people. I have given to each of them unique abilities to survive in their respective places and to get along with their respective peoples. Their whole purpose is to do just that - to get along with their respective peoples and to, not only survive, but to thrive in their respective lands. Do you thrive, Black Lightning?”
“No, Great Spirit. Not really,” replied Black Lightning. “But… I do get by,” he offered after a moment of contemplation with the intent of justifying his existence.
The Great Spirit was silent. It was an uncomfortable silence for Black Lightning. It lasted longer than he could stand. “No, Great Spirit. I do not thrive,” he finally confessed.
The Great Spirit pressed on, “And why do you think that is?”
There was a long pause as Black Lightning considered the Great Spirit’s question. “I don’t really know. My people never seem to want my services, Great Spirit, so I guess… I guess they are partially to blame…” his words trailed off with uncertainty.
“Yes, Great Spirit.”
“Do you see the deer below?”
“Yes, Great Spirit,” Black Lightning nodded.
“Do you see how plump and vibrant they are?” the Great Spirit continued.
“Yes, Great Spirit. I do.”
“Do you think any of them attribute their current state of being to the other deer in the herd?” He asked.
“Well no, Great Spirit. They all have equal access to the grasses and acorns. It would be ridiculous to think that one deer should be upholding to another…” Black Lightning cut his words sharply as he realized where the Great Spirit was leading him. “Yes, Great Spirit, I see the truth in Your questioning, but it is an unfair comparison,” he quipped.
The Great Spirit drew him into His trap a bit further. “How so?” He asked.
“Well… the deer needs no skill to live and thrive. All he must do is eat the acorns he finds laying around on the ground beneath the mighty oaks and avoid the wolf at night…” again Black Lightning cut short his words as he realized that the Great Spirit had lead him down a trail which circled around on itself.
“Really?” The Great Spirit emphasized the point even harder, “Perhaps you’d like to try to outrun a pack of hungry wolves in the darkness.”
The point was clearly made. Black Lightning retreated, “But what am I to do?”
“Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh,” the Great Spirit admonished, “you are here to find out who you are - not what you’re to do.”
“Yes, Great Spirit,” Black Lightning agreed.
“Now,” the Great Spirit continued baiting His trap. This was no trap of ill intent though. It was not a trap to kill but a trap to liberate - a live trap - as one set to catch a wild animal that had “trapped” itself in a situation from which it could not escape.
Many times, small birds would fly in through the doorway of a lodge or tee-pee and have to be “trapped” with a soft piece of buckskin to be released once again outside. The bird’s natural tendency was to fly up when threatened. Though the door was open to it, it did not know to use it. Time and again it would fly up and against the ceiling of the lodge or the walls of the tee-pee. It was imprisoned by its own natural instincts, even though a way out was freely available to it at all times.
“… you see” the Great Spirit continued, “that the deer people do not hold one another responsible for their individual states of being. That is My job. And you see, as well, that I have given to the deer people the “skill” they need in to live in their world, right?”
“Yes, Great Spirit.”
“So, Black Lightning, why do you not thrive among your people?” the Great Spirit asked of him.
“I…” Black Lightning shook his head, “…just don’t know. All the other members of my tribe have specific tasks that they perform a little better than other members. Those other members seem to appreciate that in them and are willing to trade with them for their services. But!” Black Lightning shook his head, “No one seems to appreciate what I have to offer. I just don’t understand, Great Spirit. What am I…” his words trailed off as he realized what he was about to ask.
“That’s a good question, Black Lightning. What are you?”
“Well…” Black Lightning said, pondering his own abbreviated question, “…I am human.”
“So you are, Black Lightning, and what does that mean? What do humans do?” the Great Spirit pursued.
In his dream, Black Lightning was walking along the trail on the face of the cliff. His hands were behind his back with his fingers interlaced. It were as if the Great Spirit was incarnate and walking along the trail right beside Black Lightning, but He was only a voice. They were walking toward the falls on this trail, and the roar of the falls grew louder with each step.
Black Lightning’s lips twisted and he scrunched up his nose as he considered the Great Spirit’s question, “Uh… well we gather acorns and beech nuts - berries and yams. We hunt the deer and thank it for giving itself to us. We use its skins and antlers for many, many things that we need in our villages to survive. We celebrate times of plenty and prepare for times of scarcity. We dance around the great fire at night, and our children play games during the day. We eat… we live… we die…” Black Lightning’s words trailed off. He could think of nothing further to say.
Except for the growing roar of the falls, there was silence. Black Lightning could feel the mist of the falls upon his skin. It felt so real in his dream. Was this really… a dream?
The Great Spirit then spoke, “And what of Black Lightning? How does he fit into the cycle of life in the world of the humans?”
“What do You mean, Great Spirit?”
“You are an electrician, are you not?”
“Yes, Great Spirit. I am.”
“Well what do you do amongst your people?”
“That’s the problem, Great Spirit. I don’t do anything amongst them. They have nothing for me to do,” Black Lightning frowned. “It’s really all very disappointing.”
“Yes, Great Spirit.”
“Can you not see that you are a moose amongst deer people?” the Great Spirit posed.
Black Lightning’s face twisted again in confusion. “How so?” he asked.
“Where is your electrician’s tool box?”
“Do your neighbor’s tee-pees have any electrical devices in them? Where do you go for your electrical supplies, Black Lightning?”
Black Lightning stopped and turned toward the sound of the Great Spirit’s voice with an unblinking stare. He no longer knew what to say. He’d never considered the things of which the Great Spirit now spoke. It were as if the Great Spirit had just made him aware of a great truth that he’d always known to be true down deep in the pit of his being. He’d just never openly admitted it.
Suddenly, Black Lightning became fully aware that there were no devices in his village, nor, indeed, in all the land of his people, that required the services of an electrician. He now realized that the Great Spirit was right - there were no electrical supplies or tools to be found in his tee-pee, his village, or in any of the land of his people, but this revelation now confused Black Lightning even more.
The Great Spirit knew Black Lightning’s mind. He knew that Black Lightning was trying to figure out how he’d come to be the greatest electrician in all the land of the original people when there were no electrical tools, no electrical supplies, and no electrical devices anywhere in the land of those people.
Black Lightning’s unblinking stare had long since given way to the furrowed brow and sideways glare of a man in deep concentration. He was gathering his thoughts and trying to figure out what next to ask the Great Spirit when the Great Spirit’s voice broke in, “The deer and the moose are brothers, Black Lightning, but they live in different villages. Each has adapted, using skills I gave them, to the conditions of the lands around their respective villages. It would not do for the moose to live as the deer or amongst the deer people.
“There was a time, long ago, when the moose people and the deer people were very young that they lived in the same village. They shared the same totem and tee-pee, but as they grew and spread out from their original village, they each encountered different challenges which had to be met with different skills. It would not do for Me to have given the moose people the skills that they now possess back when they shared a tee-pee with the deer people, now would it?”
“No, Great Spirit. It wouldn’t.” Black Lightning was now back to being coherent - in his dream - and was again walking with his fingers interlaced behind his back towards the falls. He was having to speak forcefully now, over the roar of the falls, but he still couldn’t formulate a question for the Great Spirit. His thoughts were all tangled together like a pile of sticks and twigs outside the door of his tee-pee. It would take a while to pull them apart and organize them again.
“So it is with you, Black Lightning,” the Great Spirit continued. “You are a moose among the ancestors to the moose and the deer. You possess a skill you do not yet need. You are an ancestor to those who will need your services.”
“But why, Great Spirit? Why,” Black Lightning pleaded, “have you lead me down the path of the electrician when I live in a village that does not require one?”
“Close your eyes, Black Lightning,” the Great Spirit commanded. “Now visualize the setting of the sun. Imagine that the sun has risen and set again. Picture it going around Mother Earth over and over as many times as you have drawn a breath since you left your village in search of this vision. Now… open your eyes.”
Black lightning opened his eyes, in his dream, and found himself back in his village, only… it was no longer his village. There were strange people with oddly colored clothes and white faces. They were everywhere and were being conveyed to and fro by terrifying contraptions with blinding eyes on their fronts and fiery eyes on their backs. Their contraptions growled as they passed by on hard black trails that were illuminated by little moons atop tall poles. There were colorful lights which seemed to control the flow of these contraptions at the intersections of the strange black trails.
The great lodges of these strange people were great indeed, towering into the sky like mountains. They too were illuminated throughout by little suns upon their ceilings. Color and brightness were everywhere to be found in this village. In fact, the village was so bright that Black Lightning could scarcely see the moon, let alone the stars that used to be so clearly visible in the sky above “his” village.
Black Lightning was both thrilled and terrified at the sight of it all. “Great Spirit,” he said.
“Yes, Black Lightning.”
“What is this that my eyes are seeing?” he continued.
“This is the village of those who will one day need your services,” the Great Spirit spoke with compassion as Black Lightning trembled in awe.
“Really, Great Spirit?”
“Yes, Black lightning.”
“Why, Great Spirit, do the villages of my people not have such devices in them? Why do none of my people need my services?” Black Lightning pleaded.
“You are ahead of your time, Black Lightning. You cannot be appreciated, nor will your services be considered useful until your people are changed - until they are transformed into such a people as are now before your eyes.”
“But how can that be accomplished, Great Spirit? How can this… ‘transformation’ come to pass?”
“How did those who once shared the tee-pee with the ancestors to the deer people, the moose people, and the elk people come to be the deer, the moose, and the elk?” the Great Spirit posed of Black Lightning.
“I don’t know, Great Spirit,” came Black Lightning’s reply.
“By encountering varying challenges as each brother went a different direction, the three brothers had to rely upon different strengths and yield to different weaknesses in order to survive in their respective lands. The deer did not just wake up one morning as the deer, the moose did not just return to his tee-pee one night as the moose, and the elk did not just look into a clear mountain stream one day and see the reflection of an elk staring back into his own eyes. Neither will your people be as these people when you once again return to your village, but over time and through adversity, I will change them too! Now, Black Lightning, close your eyes and return to your dream.”
As Black Lightning closed his eyes, he found himself once again on the trail overlooking the falls. It was as if he’d never left, for he was still walking with his hands behind his back. “Great Spirit,” he asked, “why did You instruct me to become an electrician?”
“To illuminate your soul, Black Lightning.”
“Has that been done, Great Spirit?”
“Who are you, Black Lightning?”
“I am Black Lightning,” he replied.
“To whom do you belong, Black Lightning?”
“I belong to You, Great Spirit - to You and to my people.”
“And what are you, Black Lightning?”
“I am human, Great Spirit.” With each exchange, Black Lightning’s responses grew in intensity. He was more bold with each answer - more confident - more sure of himself, who he was, and what he was for.
Finally, the Great Spirit asked, “Now… Black Lightning… what are you to do?”
Black Lightning stopped in his tracks and threw his hands up into the air. The roar of the falls was now so distracting and the moisture from the mist of the falls now dripped from his body. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, taking the mist from the falls and drops from his nose into his now wide-open mouth. The roar of the falls was deafening. He could no longer think.
He stood there in the noise and the mist. His mind was a blank slate. He lowered his arms till they were level with the ground and then became aware that the Great Spirit was no longer present. Slowly, he opened his eyes and found that he was back on the mountain where his vision quest had begun.
It was midmorning, and a warm rain had blown up from the south. Its cloud enveloped Black Lightning’s mountain, and moisture clung heavily to everything, including the air that Black Lightning breathed. Black Lightning slowly came to, then knelt down and thanked the Great Spirit for his vision. He took up the stakes from the area in which his vision had come and began the descent.
Along the way, his body and mind began to come back to him. He stopped at a rocky outcropping and drank some water as it trickled off the rocks. As he continued on, he became aware of the toll that this vision quest had taken on him. He was very weak an unsteady on his feet. He had no idea how many days had passed since his vision quest had begun, nor would he know until he could see the moon and note its phase.
As Black Lightning continued his descent, he began to reflect upon his vision and the words of the Great Spirit. He now “saw” why he had, for so many years, been led to believe that he was the original people’s best electrician. Had he not have gone down that path and been led to despair, he’d not have come to this mountain and undertaken this vision quest - he’d not have walked with the Great Spirit among the mists of the falls and been shown the deer and been told of the brotherhood of the deer, the moose, and the elk.
Had he’d been successful amongst his people as a great hunter, a skilled bender of the bow, or a master maker of buckskins, he’d not have questioned his existence, he’d not have sought relief from his plight, and he’d not have found the Great Spirit upon the mountain and in his vision. He’d not have been led to see that the human spirit which soars so high in the celebrations and rituals of his people is many times entrapped by the very instincts which enable his people to survive the harsh realities of the Great Spirit’s creation. Like a bird that traps itself by flying upward rather than outward from the doorway of a tee-pee, we humans also trap ourselves as we react with our natural instincts in a very unnatural environment - the fallen human condition - known as “civilization”.
Black Lightning smiled as he feebly walked down the trail that led back to the base of the mountain and the cache of food that awaited him in the rock crevice there. He was filled with joy and appreciation for his vision and the insight it brought to him. Though the people of his village would not have use for his services - though none of the original peoples in any of the native lands would either - Black Lightning was comforted in the thought that one day… in some future time… they would.
He then thought of the deer people, the moose people, and the tee-pee they once shared with the elk people. He envisioned a family of deer and how they must get along and survive in the land of their village - how they know nothing of the tee-pee they once shared with the moose people and their brothers the elk people, and how they worry not of their generations to come. Their only concern is that of the fat white oak acorns that lie on the ground before them… and whether or not it’s safe to drop their muzzles to ground and retrieve them.
Consoled to the fact that the Great Spirit has a time and a place for everything, including an ancient electrician, Black Lightning vowed to return to his village and commit himself to the service of it. He will find out where they most need him, and where he most has talent, and he will serve at the intersection of the two. He will dedicate himself to the enlightenment of his people and to the prevention of “little birds” trapping themselves in the “tee-pees” and “great lodges” of the villages of his people and the villages of people yet to come.
No longer will he worry what he is to do, for he knows who he is and to whom he belongs. It matters not what he does - only it matters how he does it! Black Lightning arrives at the base of the mountain late that afternoon. He retrieves the food he had hidden away and slowly ingests a portion of it. He will rest and save the remainder of it for the morning and his journey home. Black Lightning thanks the Great Spirit for the food and for the vision, and he then lies down to rest his weary body, mind, and soul.