A Response to “From a Tin Box” – M.L. Smoker

When I was in elementary school, my favorite uncle made me a dream catcher.

What is a dream catcher?

Something to free you from your nightmares,.
              Silence your demons.
                             if you’re lucky, it may save you from yourself.

My uncle was very interested in charting our family heritage but, unfortunately, nobody really knows the full extent of our Indigenous roots. Throughout my life, I’ve heard claims of Apache, Mohawk-Mahican, and Cherokee but, to my family’s knowledge, there are no birth certificates, tribal registrations, or other “formal” proof of such ancestry.


I imagine a male figure whispering secrets to the spirit of a fallen animal. He’s searching for advice, or direction, but whether he seeks external guidance, or a path to guidance from within himself, appears to be an unspoken question. As a scientist, I’m interested in discovering what meaning he derives from these clinking teeth. Is it different from the meaning that he’s searching for? does it matter if it’s different? Intuition tells me is a nuanced “no”, whose undertones I can neither see nor derive. Does he ever pass judgment on the emotions he feels, the thoughts he collects, or the interpretations that he receives? if so, does he search for value within his own thoughts, while facing the appraisal that he seeks.


I can’t be trusted to make my own decisions; you need make them for me!
You need to be an adult; even though I’m helping you learn how to manage your ADD, I’m not always going to be there, and I can’t make personal decisions for you.

I started wrestling with the idea of free will versus predetermination in middle school. Some combination of neglect, anger, and shame, coupled with extreme ADD/anxiety/depression led to many dark days. I couldn’t trust myself to make decisions because, more often than not, it felt like my mind was unraveling with every breath I took. Self-destruction burned cracks within my bones and, while I rejected the concept of predetermination, I didn’t believe that I possessed free will either. My greatest fear was trusting myself because, quite simply, I knew that I could not be trusted.


According to Merriam-Webster, the word “sacrifice” has two main definitions.

1. “an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially: the killing of a victim on an alter.”
2. “destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else / something given up or lost.”

M. L. Smoker wrote the “elk who gave up his life,” but I wonder how different this phrase is, in terms of meaning, from the “elk who sacrificed his life.” Because the word “sacrifice” connotes feelings of loss, resignation, and a lack of perceived autonomy, one may assume that the word’s power lay inherently within the entity doing the sacrificing. I think, however, that it’s possible for such power to belong to whom or what is being sacrificed. Following this claim, it’s interesting for me to think about whether the elk found power within his sacrifice; maybe he felt fueled by the devotion that accompanies guardianship.


What do you mean that you don’t believe in God? Don’t be stupid; how else would we all have gotten here? 

I’m pretty sure that a God who preaches love and peace wouldn’t appreciate you calling your child “stupid” while defending His honor.


I never found God, but I did find love in the form of art.

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