I struggled in High School to make close guy friends. I didn’t experience the camaraderie sport’s teams foster or the emotional bond from clubs or theater groups. I was lonely. I remember sitting at a Friday night High School football game in a crowd of people and feeling completely alone. Even with my girlfriend right next to me I sensed a relational emptiness in my soul.
Being in a world where I felt I didn’t belong only intensified my emotional connection with John J. Dunbar, a fictitious character in the movie Dances with Wolves. Lieutenant Dunbar is a Civil War hero honored for risking his life to catalyze a battle which ended in a victory for the Union. But the fighting made no sense to him, or had lost its meaning by the near end of the war. Dunbar receives a new commission and heads out West. There he encounters the Lakota people. After many life changing events with this new culture, John J. Dunbar assumes a new identity as the man who dances with wolves. He connects with the Lakota people because their way of life makes sense to him. Watching this film stirred a deep longing in my heart to be among men, raised by warriors and chiefs who could make sense of life for me.
After High School I enrolled at Eastern College where I met my roommates John, Steve, and Jason. Soon we all connected with another guy named Eric and we formed what I thought of as a brotherhood. We ate together. We slept together. We shared our showers, our clothes, our money, and our secrets with each other. I no longer felt all alone; something inside my soul was deeply satisfied.
It was one evening in the woods when we were all huddled together talking about life when I suggested we get tattoos. My speech started out like this, “What if we all got the same tattoo in the same place? What if we each got a feather, like the Sioux Indians, to symbolize our brotherhood?” Someone else improved on the idea and said we should all get different color tips to our feathers to represent something unique about that person. I remember Steve said his would be red, like blood, to mean loyalty. The enthusiasm grew as each brother imagined what their color would be and what it would symbolize.
One feather, with a unique color tip, on our right ankle. Eric, Steve, and Jay all got their tattoos the following week. John had his done almost 16 years later. I got my feather after I turned 40. The brotherhood is now complete. Though we live scattered over the United States, I hope we can take a trip out West together and bond again in the wilderness.
When I was a boy, the Sioux owned the world.
The sun rose and set on their land;
They sent ten thousand men to battle.
Where are the warriors today?
Who slew them?
Where are our lands?
Who owns them?