A news item had it that the custom of firemen is to put their boots on last at the site of a fire, leaving their everyday shoes on the sidewalks outside.
On Sept. 12, 2001, the sidewalks of New York were crowded with shoes ? empty shoes, shoes of the strong who stepped up, shoes of the brave who made their haste to the World Trade Center as its towers burned. To this inferno they sped in service to others, trading length of days for the place of danger, turning ground zero into what has been aptly described as "Ground Hero."
Like the Dog Soldiers of old, like Crazy Horse at Fort Robinson, and like countless American Indians of the past known only to their people as those who gave what they had, in starvation, harsh winters or other hard times ? these firemen risk their lives so that others will live. In doing so they have also seized the high ground from the terrorists who, for all their unholy propaganda, give up their lives so that others will die. The terrorists had lost hold of the greater spirituality within life long before they killed themselves and many innocent others.
With spiritual guidance, we walk worthy on higher ground. We can stand in the place of danger, as all Americans must while the war on terror proceeds, knowing that we may lose our lives but not our greater spirits. And we can move beyond that knowledge of danger and sacrifice with our hearts uplifted and our spirits united.
From this time forward, we must cultivate a more profound understanding of the sacred ? the sacred must be recognized as humankind's spiritual counterweight to evil deeds and endless violence. The profundity will be found in a perspective that embraces mutual regard, that races fully on to save life, not one's own, selfishly, but rather selflessly drawn by a sacred connection to the life in others. The firemen of Sept. 11 instinctively understood this mutual regard as a sacred duty to assist others in need. For centuries, Native cultures have understood it as a sacred concept of stewardship enshrined in a simple statement, "We are all related." Yet the statement itself is only the capsule endorsement of an enduring substance that has come around time and again in Indian country to give us courage in times of testing, to lift our spirits, and to speak of the sacredness of life.
No one walks away from sacred obligations. The firemen of New York City, moving bold to that place of danger claimed now by a nation, have been resurrected in a way that can help the whole country as we enter a time of trials such as no modern state has ever faced before.
In Indian country too, we stay our ground however dangerous, honoring our obligations to our families, to our communities, to our ancestors and to our future generations. In doing so we call upon the deep traditions of spirituality whose wherewithal has sustained us.
We must uphold these traditions so we can all stand together. In fact, after decades that have underscored the many distinctions to be made among Native peoples, the time is at hand to focus not on differences but on kinship and commonalities ? to share the treasures of our traditional spirituality. This is the enduring insight of the Native worldview and gives spiritual meaning to this time of tragedy.