Cortez, Colorado was the only town during my two month road trip around the South Western states of the USA that had no campsite open at that time of year (it was late October, 2009). No obvious reason – I’d been camping in sub zero temperatures at various other locations. I checked into a motel and drove along the main boulevard looking for a cheap fast food place.
My ritual: When camping I would eat Top Ramen noodles and beef jerky, when staying with friends I was generally blessed to enjoy their incredible and unmistakable US hospitality and if I was passing through a town I’d look for a Taco Bell or burger chain with a 99¢ burger offer (I know, very unhealthy!).
So, I was in some fast food chain. Handed an empty cup with my meal by the guy behind the counter, I walked over to the soda fountains to fill the cup with my choice of carbonated drink – something which I always find extremely exciting (especially the free refills). A man sitting at a table nearby held his cup out and asked if I’d refill it with orange.
I took it from him. He was a First Nation American and his eyes were extremely bloodshot. He wreaked of alcohol. His whole countenance looked more than drunk though. It looked lost. I gave him his orange and asked if he was Navajo (or Diné, which is the word Navajos use) to which he answered that he was.
We chatted for a bit. He didn’t make a huge amount of sense but he was pretty upset about life.
I did one of those things that Christians do sometimes, yes, I asked him if he’d like me to pray for him. He said that he would and explained that he was a follower of Christ too. So we sat there in the almost empty restaurant, over-illuminated in crude, fast food, unflattering fluorescent lighting and imbibing high fructose corn syrup and I prayed for him.
What happened next took me by surprise. He asked if he could pray for me. He was clearly fighting his own demons yet, in all of that pain, he was offering something to me. Who was I to presume this would only be a one way transaction of care?
He prayed out loud for me in his first language, Diné bizaad. I had no idea what he said, not speaking a single word of any Native American tongue, but what has always stayed with me is the beauty of that moment – a drunk and broken man making the brave and generous gesture of reaching out and praying in his wonderful, ancient language, for me.