I fight myself to not tell her how lovely she is. She has dark almond eyes that take in the world with an observant urgency, and her hair shines like oil in the sun. She is a beautiful child on the crest of adolescence and mischievously intelligent. She reminds me, just a bit, of myself at that age. There is one stark difference between this girl and myself at eleven, however, and it is the reason I cannot tell her how wonderfully her hair shines in the light. K. Sue is Hopi. In Hopi, nothing is given any kind of extra value for aesthetics. The best compliment one could give a Hopi is a comment about her humility. This cultural standard is quite different from my own, but it is not my place to take it from her. So I refrain. Still, she is an extremely beautiful child.
Her well balanced steps make me feel large and awkward as I follow her up the narrow trail to the spring on her grandmother’s property. She cups her hands in the cool clear water and holds it to her face. “It’s fresh!” she exclaims and encourages me to drink also. I reach my fingers into the small pool and press the liquid to my lips before it runs down the backs of my hands. She’s right. This water is fresh. It tastes sweet and untampered with. I am stunned by the simplicity of our activity, and it occurs to me that K. Sue truly loves this place. I think of all the memories she will collect here, and I am tempted to tell her not to grow up to fast. I resist the urge however, as the phrase is cliché. Likely she wouldn’t understand anyway and would push forward even faster in order to know what meant.
I watch K. Sue’s eyes widen with a thought. “When you go to Kachina tomorrow, you’d better watch out for the Hopi clowns!” she warns as spring water dribbles down her chin. Kachina is an incredibly important ritual for the Hopi. It is performed to bring water and fertility to their crops. K. Sue is rather knowledgeable about the subject and is well up to the task of telling me all about it – without taking any breaths. To be honest, half of what she said was wholly incomprehensible. It is okay that I didn’t understand her, however. The important aspect is that she knows what she said. More importantly even, is her excitement to be a part of it. She is genuinely interested in Hopi culture; her culture.
All children are living a rare opportunity. Without knowing it, the survival of entire cultures rests in their small, developing hands. Today, the world is becoming more and more globalized by television, cell phones, and all kinds of distractions that encourage them to pay less attention to the traditions being passed on to them. They become uprooted and detached from the lands that bore their ancestors. It is imperative that the wonder for their own culture persists as it has in K. Sue. Children like her are the only reason Hopi culture as well as others have remained intact, and will continue to thrive. Children like her are the key to creating resilient societies that will last hundreds of years. Children like her, are beautiful.