When I was 12, on family vacation in New Mexico, I watched a group of elaborately-costumed Navajo men belt out one intimidating song after the next. They executed a set of beautifully coordinated dance turns to honour the four cardinal directions, each one symbolising sacred gifts from the gods. Yet the tourist-packed audience lost interest and my family, too, prepared to leave. Then, all of a sudden, the dancers were surprised by a haunting, muscled old man adorned with strange pendants, animal skulls, and scars etching patterns into his body and face.
Because the dancers were obviously terrified of this man I, too, became afraid and wanted to run, but we all stood rooted to the spot as he walked silently and majestically into the desert night. Afterwards, the lead dancer apologized profusely for the tribe’s shaman, or medicine man: he was holy but a bit eccentric. My 12-year-old self wondered how one might become like this extraordinary individual, so singular, respected and brave he could take the desert night alone.