My Angels: Evelyn and Forgiveness
I wouldn’t be where I am today, or possibly even be alive, if it hadn’t been for the angels in my life. In my memoir, The Pale-Faced Lie, I describe the handful of kind people who saved me from following in my parents’ footsteps and, most importantly, who helped me not to give up hope.
The lives of the four Crow children were bleak from the beginning. Our father spent time in San Quentin for a crime that could have gotten him the death penalty or at least a long prison stay. He brilliantly convinced the chief psychiatrist and warden that none of it was his fault and he deserved an early release. I was born nine months after he got out. Starting when I was 10, he groomed me to be his partner in crime, making me his lookout during his frequent stealing trips.
Our mother was mentally ill and far more of a child than any of her own children. We veered between protecting her and escaping the vicious physical and mental punishments of my father. I stayed away from the house as much as possible, oftentimes dragging my younger brother along.
At a particularly low time—after my father abandoned my mother and became more violent—a miracle happened. We were living in Mud Flats, a part of the Navajo Indian Reservation where Anglos weren’t allowed and even Navajos entered with trepidation. I didn’t feel safe stepping into the pockmarked dirt road leading out of our yard. If the wild dogs didn’t attack us, the Navajo bullies did. Every day became a fight for survival as we walked the half mile back and forth to school.
Then one afternoon, an elderly Navajo woman knocked on our door. I recognized her from the rusted trailer across the street.
“I been watching,” she said in her broken English. “Think you need help. I Evelyn.”
I couldn’t believe it. Why would this woman show kindness to four children she had no connection to? And as a Navajo, she would have hated us for living on the reservation.
But she came out of concern, and soon I realized she was the first adult who loved me unconditionally, who wanted nothing back but our friendship. I couldn’t imagine such kindness. I began pouring my heart out to her, and she dried my tears and listened with the patience Navajos are known for.
Before long, many of my secrets spilled out: that we had abandoned my mother and I was afraid she was dead; that my dad beat us and I was afraid he would kill me if the Navajo bullies didn’t do it first. I shared my deepest fears, often not knowing how afraid I was until the words tumbled out of my mouth.
Evelyn talked about hozhoni (harmony) and aana’diyiit’ah (forgiveness). She told us about the Long Walk, when the Navajo people, including her grandmother at age four, had been forced to walk the 250 miles from Fort Sumner to Fort Defiance, and about the soldiers who killed many of them along the way. She said that she forgave those sins against her people and that happiness never happens when we are angry and hateful.
I think about Evelyn every day and regret so much that she passed away before I could adequately thank her for all she did for me and my siblings. She will always have a place in my heart.
One of my missions in life has been to pay forward the kindness shown to me. My lobbying firm, DCLRS Inc., has an intern program that helps six students annually get a start in the work. We’ve interned 250 students since we launched the program. And in addition to volunteering for such charitable organizations as Save the Children and Big Brothers Big Sisters, I support the Barrett House in Albuquerque, a homeless shelter for women and children.