The Garden of Eden

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Mt Adams and Whiskey Jim Flats

Have you ever had the kind of day or even a week that you just feel like nothing goes right? As best sang by Mary Chapin Carpenter “The stars are stacked you girl get back bed!” However, then one person a total stranger can totally brighten your day with just a few thoughtful words that not only changes your whole disposition but enlightens your life all at the same time. Then you don’t know who benefited more from this encounter you or them. This one day, in January of 2014. I was living in Houston, Texas at the time and working for the Houston Methodist Hospital. I must have turned my alarm off unconsciously, because I woke up at 0500. This is when I'm supposed to be a work. I get half way down the street then I realize I forgot my badge. I had to turn around to go home to get that. I finally get to work and the peri-op world is busy as usual. As a charge nurse I had to put my roller skates on and get down to business. I didn’t even have time to get my boost of caffeine to start my day . I was then called to relieve our IV nurse to start an IV for a patient in need of a spinal before his surgery. One of our Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA's) was saying beautiful prayer with this patient and his wife. It was during this prayer I found out this patient was a minister. He seemed very anxious and nothing but fear shown in his eyes. You know nobody likes it when a nurse comes in with a needle. Some, will say the worst part of the whole surgery process. Hence, I could tell I definitely wasn’t the person he wanted to be with him that moment. Ultimately, what is our motto “Stay calm and Nurse on!”

However, after the beautiful prayer. I introduced myself and explained that I'd be starting his IV. With my big smile I told him everything would be smooth sailing from then on. While I was starting his IV he was asked me where I was from. Of course I had to tell him, I'm Sarah Swan from White Swan “God’s Country” on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State. Not looking at what I was doing, or even at me in general he asked me "Do you believe being a nurse is your calling?" I had to tell him that not only nursing, but also healing, and creating are just a few of the many gifts that have been bestowed on me…most definitely a true calling. I was taping him up, and he looked down as said, “Wow, I didn’t even realize you already had the IV in!” Not every patient is lucky to get Sarah Swan, RN, BSN to start their IV. I have to be honest. I was a little leery to be in this man's presence. Too many times when my patients or anyone outside of Indian country for that matter, find out that I'm Indigenous they feel it’s their duty to save my soul. Then they give me that Hollywood smile that doesn’t match their eyes and invite me to come join their congregation. I'm no saint, but I don't need no saving! With that being said, this minister had genuine eyes, and I could tell that he was truly scared of the procedure he was about to encounter. I don't know whether he was questioning his own faith or just being inquisitive. Yet he grabbed my hand, looked me straight in the eye and asked “When did you find God?" Kind of took me by surprised. How did he know that the I knew God the Creator? Yet, I explained I was born knowing God the Creator. I can't explain it but I know he has always been with me I didn’t have to find him I acknowledged. I was surrounded by him. I could see him in the flowers, in the waterfalls, in the butterflies, in the tree, and in the river, etc, etc, etc. Of course when I was old enough I explained, I learned to be a good Catholic. I learned the stories of bible and about the saints in CCD classes. I also learned the Yakama traditional way in the longhouse. As I even got older learned the Cree and Blackfeet ways too. He had this very puzzled look on his face and then he asked, “Do you have father?” I said yes and I was surrounded by uncles, my adoptive brothers, cousins, my grandmas and grandpas, and most of all I had the best teacher my great grandma Alma Olney Fiander even though my time with her was short she is still with me and still teaches me everyday. I told him the story of how the Swan’s came to be in White Swan, which I will share with you one day. Nevertheless, this story softened his eyes and brought a smile to his face. He said “It’s very important that you have a father, it’s very hard to teach those of God the Father, when their own fathers are not in their lives.” I could not disagree with him on this point.

My Dad Tom Swan and I 1977

My Dad Tom Swan and I 2016

My Dad Tom Swan and my uncle Nick Swan

So, he has asked me to tell him more about my Great Grandma Fiander. I told him how she was born in 1882 and died in 1981. I explained that I could only dream of everything she seen in her days. From witnessing the boarding school era (that she was in the first class of the Missionary School on the Yakama Reservation), to experience the near genocide of Indian people...her people, my people. To witness the first airplane, the first automobile, the man land on the moon, etc, etc etc. I discussed how she was a great Catholic but an even better Yakama! I then told him my favorite story of when she would use all the grandchildren's blue jeans cut them up and make a big skirt so she could sit down and pick huckleberries and not get poked by the bushes. Bears would come up to her eat from the same bushes she would pick from, the bears never bothering her. His blue eyes brightened then said “Just like the Garden of Eden, where all humans and creatures living in peace, harmony and unity as one.” He then carried on “it is a shame how many Christians have spent so much time, causing much historical trauma with the missionaries and assimilation of Indian people, because their beliefs and traditional ways were different. If only they took a moment to see that Indian people have a lot to share and may have many answers of the unknown that we are still searching for. I’m so blessed to meet you my dear child and you are from ‘God’s County’ and you truly are doing ‘God’s Work’, I pray you carry on these gifts with your children and family!” With this being said, no Hollywood smile and no invitation to his congregation.

Big Leaf Huckleberry

My Great Grandma Alma Olney Fiander 1980

I was called to another room, with a hug and kiss on his forehead. I left this minister in the hands of anesthesia, with his eyes bright, smile on his face and the look of fear subsided. I felt honored to have met this man. I felt like I totally bonded with him and yet I don’t even remember his name. It’s amazing the people that cross our paths in this journey that we call life. Treasure everyone, every moment you never know what gifts you may bestow on them or the gifts they may bestow on you!

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