For Paddy
December 2, 2006
Long ago, when the people were still new in this world, Coyote came up to his brother Wolf and said, "Brother, why must they sicken? They struggle hard to please this world, but their efforts only bring some pain and sickness even when they honor the earth as they should. Can't we at least take away sickness from them?"

Wolf did not look up from his work, but answered, "Sickening serves to remind them that everything in this world is fleeting. If they do not have this reminder, they grow lax and think they have all the time in the world for their own cares. Sickening reminds them to take care of each other so that someone is there to take care of them during their need."

Knowing how wise Wolf was, Coyote determined to watch the People further and find some way to help them. He watched how they struggled to raise crops and to hunt. Their days and months revolved around gathering necessities to keep them fed. He returned to Wolf and asked, "Brother I understand why they must sicken and see that you are right. But must they also toil so hard and so long just for nourishment? Surely we can help them and provide their food for them."

Again Wolf did not look up from his work. This time, he was silent for a long time until Coyote began to get restive, his bristle-tail twitching with the strain of trying to be patient. "If they do not work to stay alive, Little Brother, they quickly forget the beauty and harmony in this world and their walk becomes unbalanced and eventually destructive."

Coyote thought about this for a while and said nothing more to Wolf. After a time, he went back to the People, watched them suffer with sickness and with war and then returned to Wolf again.

"Brother, I have seen how those who do not stay connected to the earth and strive to call forth nourishment from her do destroy that which they no longer understand. But the People's lives are so short and filled with pain. Why can't their lives be long like ours? Why must they die?"

Wolf paused for a moment in his work, but did not look at Coyote. "It is to remind them that life is precious, brother. When it is fast and short, they value it more and treasure each other."

Coyote sat with his brother for some time and then, as his brother continued in his work, Coyote turned and walked to where Wolf's cubs were playing. He observed them at play for a while and then, without warning, struck a cub down with one great swipe of his paw. The others, shocked, were silent and then began to howl at their still brother.

Wolf came quickly and stood in horror at his dead cub and looked in astonishment at his brother. "What have you done? Why would you do such a thing? Why?"

Coyote finished cleaning his paw and said deliberately, "If the People must remember that life is precious, a treasure, you should also feel what death means."


I don't recall what American Indian tribe this myth belongs to or where I first read it. I'm sure I've mangled the details a bit, but it's always stuck with me. Some tribes, particuarly Navajo, believe that Coyote is a very sinister trickster and while this story does have its sinister aspect, Coyote is essentially arguing to make people's lives easier.

I think it's telling that Wolf cries "Why" on the death of one of his children. Most of us wonder the same thing at the ending of any life that comes suddenly, sometimes those that come slowly, and particularly those that come premature.

Posted by Red Monkey at December 2, 2006 12:41 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Red said:

Great post...hope you are having a relaxing weekend. Stay warm!

December 2, 2006 2:12 PM


Templar said:

What I understand from this is that you can't truly appreciate life without can't fully understand what it means to be alive until that very thing is threatened. Since my illness I for one know just what life means to me.

As for the is much easier to be complacent about the suffering of others than one's own.

My apologies for if I've stated the obvious.

December 2, 2006 6:16 PM


Templar said:

I am sorry for your loss.

December 2, 2006 6:17 PM


MsDemmie said:

I love ancient stories like this - thank you for posting it.

December 3, 2006 5:41 AM


mike said:

No matter the length of your life, in essence life is short.

December 3, 2006 8:34 AM
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