February 21st

A good friend is dead. Al D. Sowers was a friend of mine, a mentor, a shaman, family, and he is gone at a young age from liver cancer.

Al has been mentioned here in this journal many times - the elk heart dinner, Panther and my rope pull, the Bloodbath, the buffalo skull drag, and others. He has been a healthy part of my life.

I'm writing this entry after a few days, as I couldn't earlier. I still have a hard time trying to trivialize to words the life and passing of this good man. My greatest comfort is that somewhere he and his mentor and good friend Tom Finch are sitting around, having a ball together once again.

A gay man, Al welcomed this bi man into his world. Orientation seemed the least important label. A student of the Lakota, he knew I was of mountain man ancestry rather than native, and he taught me and brought me along, just as my ancestors lived with and were taught by those they found here in this land. Professionally, he was a level setter internationally. The sanitary requirements of his piercing and tattooing establishments were always of a higher standard than any medical facility I've worked in.

Having seen each other around in passing, the first time we really chatted was running into each other at a breakfast counter many years ago. As we ate, we talked and got to know each other. I'll always remember his chuckle when I asked him if he learned any of his medical background in the service. "Oh, lordie, I'm afraid I'm too much of an outlaw for them." He had good reason to be proud of his having made his own way, and it gave him strength all of his life.

When I first saw him perform a version of the sun dance, I had been asked there as - at that time - a casual friend but primarily as a medical resource. Standing around, prior to beginning, he and I in conversation found out that we shared a spirit animal, the beaver. He immediately turned to his altar of sacred items and took a beaver tooth necklace and placed it around my neck, saying that I had to have it. His spontaneous generosity overwhelmed me and I've gathered strength from the necklace in ritual ever since. I felt bonded at that moment and it was the start of my growth in a new direction. In the years since then he has known that my poor fortitude for pain has been a barrier to some experiences, but that I was striving to grow. He invited me to accompany him, never pushing but always letting me know that when I was ready, I was capable of reaching above myself. With him I've now done intense shamanistic rituals of transcendence through pain several times. Each time he has been there with me, and created the safe space for it to be a learning experience. He is the finest spiritual leader I've ever known.

Perhaps later I'll have further thoughts; right now I'm beginning to babble and he deserves better. All I know is that I'll be doing whatever I can to pass on to others what he has given and taught me for a long time, and will still be far from adequately paying back.

Life is so much better for Al having been here.

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