Joseph Marshall III was born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota and was raised by his maternal grandparents. He is an author, historian, educator, motivational speaker, Lakota craftsman, and has been both technical advisor and actor in television movies, including Return to Lonesome Dove. A recipient of the Wyoming Humanities Award, he is the author of four collections of essays and short stories.
The author's Lakota name means "They Have Heard of His Courage" but the focus in this inspirational work is on a tribal elder named Old Hawk who counsels a young man who is grieving for this father. The young man asks, "Why is life so difficult?" and the old man answers with a mix of stories, advice, and wisdom that give flesh and bones to the art of perseverance. Marshall sets up this question-and-answer session under the family's cottonwood tree. Old Hawk says that whenever he sits there he hears both the voice of his mother and the voice of God. The author describes this grandfather:
"Old Hawk knew that the roads traveled in this life impart lessons that experientially, emotionally, and spiritually were greater than the number of hills climbed, or the borders crossed. They were greater than the turns made, or the horizons waiting ahead. He knew that the most important and enduring lessons come from the difficult roads, those that twist and turn, are narrow and dark, and filled with challenges and obstacles. Roads easily traveled offer no travail and, therefore, no sense of achievement, because anything easily attained offers little value in return."
Old Hawk tells the young man to pay attention to the opposites in his life such as joy and sadness, life and death. He wants him to start practicing perseverance. The teacher from the animal world of this virtue is the wolf. Although many people continue to vilify this creature as a blood-thirsty killer, Old Hawk knows by watching wolves that they go hungry eight or nine times out of ten because their prey gets away. The animal's true gift is perseverance. The wolf keeps going and never quits.
We love the ways in which this Native American elder sees grieving and all difficult experiences as an opportunity to learn inner strength. He almost sounds like a Taoist in this bit of advice:
"Weakness and strength are necessary for balance. No one or nothing is only weak or only strong. But some of us overlook our weaknesses, and even deny that we have them. That can be dangerous, because denying there is a weakness is in itself a weakness. Likewise, accepting that we have weaknesses becomes a strength. And by the same token, overestimating strength is a weakness. You should not be blinded by your strengths. The feeling of strength is not the same as having strength."
Although fear can tempt us to run away from difficult times and weariness can lure us into giving up or quitting in the midst of struggle, it is wise to stay the course so that our character can be tempered. Listen to Old Hawk's description of how different animals handle storms:
"The bison stand facing into the teeth of the wind, whether it's a rainstorm or a blizzard. Horses find a thicket or some kind of windbreak and stand with their tails to the wind. Some birds will put their heads under their wings, and fluff out their feathers. Others, like the grouse, find shelter in the grass or a low thicket. But they all find a way to endure the wind and the cold."
The stories that Old Hawk shares with this young man are wonderful and heart-affecting. Joseph Marshall III has fashioned a Native American classic about the art of perseverance that reveals the treasures hidden within obstacles and tragedies. The timeless truths about the natural world add additional luster to this jewel.