Fighting With a Smile

The Navajo Nation is filled with many unexpected gems.

I first discovered this back in 1993 when we moved to Arizona when I accepted an appointment as the Cabinet Secretary and Director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. Over the years, I have traveled to Navajo Land many times.

It seems that each trip there exponentially increases my love of the scenery and the people. When I think of the four corners area, great memories are associated with trips, film productions, and photo shoots that have taken me to places like Canyon de Chelly, Antelope Canyon, Hubbell Trading Post, Monument Valley, and the ruggedly handsome landscape in between.

Through western literature, modern movies, and travel media, people around the world are often familiar with one or more of these treasures. Far fewer have experienced the joy of visiting these places and meeting some of the humble, often deeply spiritual, people that make this their home.

Last week, I had the pleasure of tagging along when my son Andrew had a couple of video productions scheduled at St. Michael Indian School near Window Rock (see my photo on the left). The school was founded in 1902 by Saint Katharine Drexel of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Once again, another trip to this special reservation provided great memories, pleasant surprises, and awesome photo-remedy.

Part of Andrew’s focus was on the love of basketball that is so frequently embraced by Navajo children and, often, their families. Many of the high school students had some serious hoop skills (check out Andrew’s video).  They played hard and clearly enjoyed competition, but I was in awe when I looked back at the pictures I took. I was so busy snapping away that I missed what was most impressive about the way they play the game. Thankfully, the pictures helped my get the insight I blindly missed when I had my face glued to the view finder.

What did I see when reviewing the photos? Smiles. Lots of smiles. While many of the kids’ struggles on the court can mirror difficult lives, they fight with a smile.

Ironically, the saying I’ve crafted and adopted since my spine and pain challenges began escalating is, “I’m fighting with a smile.” I say it. These kids do it.

Their spirit inspires and leaves me with a smile. I pray that it does for others as well.

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