Seven Gifts from the Stone of Death – Part 1

“Each night when we go to sleep, Creator places the Stone of Death on our eyes. When the sun rises the next morning, Creator lifts the stone from our eyes that we might live another day.” 

This is an old Panji Sippe belief that my Mide’ has always taught me: When we open our eyes the next day, it is the gift of Creator which has allowed us to do so. 

This morning as I awoke once again to a beautiful blue sky sunny day here in the desert, I was reminded of this gift and several others. Each time Creator lifts the Stone of Death from our eyes, we are given seven gifts to take into our day. These are guideposts that show the path forward, to fulfillment for that day, to peace of mind, and calm for the soul. 

In Part 1 of this two part series, we will look at the first three gifts:

Hope – why it is the root of all the other gifts,

Choice – how to stop the feeling of entrapment and become powerful,

Resources – what causes us to think we are limited.

Let’s begin…

Josefa Cunat Sabatka and husband Mike

The First Gift – Hope

Josefa’s Journey

Josefa Cunat boarded the S.S. Weimar in Bremen, Germany in the spring of 1891. Alone. At the age of eighteen. She was bound for Ohio in the United States, as documented on the ship’s passenger list. Her “calling” (interesting word) is listed as “servant” and she is assigned to Compartment B in steerage… the compartment in which all unaccompanied single women were given space for the journey to America. 

I have found no record of how she got from her little town of Písek, South Bohemia to Bremen, Germany, almost 500 miles away. Nonetheless, I have the ship’s Passenger List which proves she was at the port that spring day to embark upon a trans Atlantic journey on a screw steamer ocean liner. She arrived in Baltimore on April 22, 1891 and did indeed make it to her destination of Ohio. 

How do I know all this about events that occurred more than one and a quarter centuries ago? And why am I so interested in, and passionate about, the details?

She was my maternal grandfather’s mother – my great grandmother. 

The voyage must have been incredibly difficult. Sea sickness would have been prevalent – and all the horrible sounds and smells that accompany it. The “accommodations,” as they were, had to have been crude at best. Crowded, uncomfortable, and dark. Steerage was a place for poor people, plain and simple. There were nineteen hundred (1900) of them – men, women and children – on this voyage, in steerage, on a ship that typically carried only about 850 passengers. There were eighteen hundred and sixteen (1816) pieces of baggage, which was the total count of baggage for all 1644 adults on board that trip, including first and second class travelers. 

In America… they would lay down their heads on a pillow of hope, with an earnest prayer for honest opportunities. Opportunities they would grasp with outstretched hands, ready to grab hold and never let go.

Point: Immigrants were leaving their birthplaces to come to America with nothing more than they could carry. Brave people. Desperate people. They were dreaming of a better life.

But the biggest thing they all had in common was hope. Hope that their leap of faith would realize into a new life of safety, prosperity, and robust health. No more constant fear of death, no more endless backbreaking work with nothing to call their own, and no more empty bellies as they lay down their heads at night.

In America… they would lay down their heads on a pillow of hope, with an earnest prayer for honest opportunities. Opportunities they would grasp with outstretched hands, ready to grab hold and never let go. 

Hope is the root of every thought, choice, action. Every decision we make begins with the idea to have or be something or someone better than we currently are. Without hope, most of us would lose our lust for life, our reason for being. 

Tonight as you set your alarm for tomorrow morning, remember hope springs eternal. 

As the Stone of Death is lifted from your eyes for another day… accept the gift of hope. 

Recall Josefa’s journey, and seize the day with determination! As long as you have hope, anything is possible.


My sister Helen at my 40th birthday party in 2006

The Second Gift – Choices

Don’t sit down with it!

“I could hear some woman screaming and I thought, ‘Shut up already! Why are you screaming?! It’s so loud.’ And then I realized later that it had been me. I was laying there in the stairwell trying to figure out what had happened.”

My oldest sister Helen was twenty one years older than me. During her short 63 years, she had her share of health challenges. Most significant of which was a fall down the steps leading to her basement when she was in her early forties. 

She broke her hip that day. So badly that she needed a full joint replacement. 

In today’s world, that is almost a nonstarter. They are so common, as are total knees, that they have become routine. Walk in, get a new joint, walk out usually the same day or next, and back to your normal activities within a few short weeks.

Not when Helen fell in 1987. It wasn’t like that at all. She was days in the hospital, recovering from both the joint replacement and the fall itself. When she came home, she needed constant care for weeks as she healed and learned to walk again.

She and I were not yet in each other’s lives when she broke her hip. (Long story for another time. I was 32 before I met my sisters from Dad’s first marriage.) But she told me about it often in following years. And it left her with a chronic pain issue with which she contended the last 20 years of her life.

Shortly after she and I found one another, I was in a significant car crash which left me with trauma induced fibromyalgia. Three years after that, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I spent the next decade fighting my way back from a life of debilitating chronic pain and morbid obesity. By 2011, I had lost 100 pounds, put my RA into remission, and my fibro was just “a thing” in my past. 

But during that decade, as I built deep and abiding relationships with my two sisters, Helen and Diane, I was often gifted with Helen’s key point of advice, “Don’t sit down with it!” 

Every moment of every day we have the privilege to make choices. Our days are filled with them… Hundreds of choices, every day, are ours to make.

Huh? When she first told me that I laughed. 

After some time, though, I came to learn how valuable that advice is. It is filled with complex meaning. The most superficial and basic is… keep moving or your joints will stiffen up and make it that much harder to get moving later. The deepest is… you can choose to let it get you down, or you can choose to acknowledge it and just keep on keeping on. 


What a novel concept! You mean, I don’t have to behave like a broken down old woman in my early 30s? I can choose to acknowledge something but don’t give it power?

I still use this diamond of advice to this day. I’m six months out from a total knee replacement and during the entire recovery I had a silent mantra to not allow myself “to sit down with it.” At least not for any longer than was necessary to get good sleep and start again the next day.

Point: Every moment of every day we have the privilege to make choices. Our days are filled with them. From the choice to snooze the alarm, to what we wear, what to eat, what to do, with whom to speak, what time to go to bed, and everything in between. Hundreds of choices, every day, are ours to make.

When we experience stress and challenges in our lives, we often say, “But I have no choice!” You may think you do not, and you may be feeling trapped and anxious… but there are always choices. They may not be ones you want to make, they may be uncomfortable and even far from ideal… but they are nonetheless always there. 

As the Stone of Death is lifted from your eyes for another day… Accept the gift of choice. 

Allow yourself to see options and alternatives. Do not accept the feeling of entrapment and despair. Open yourself to possibilities, both comfortable and safe, and scary and daring.

The choices you are open to, and willing to explore, will bring opportunity and freedom. You are never without choices. Acknowledge it and let it empower you.


Great Depression Cooking with Clara

The Third Gift – Resources

Clara Cannucciari

“We had everything in that garden. Saved a lot of money that way. My father planted the garden, then my mother would can everything. So we’d have enough for the winter.”

Clara Bonfanti Cannucciari was born in 1915 in Melrose Park, Illinois, on the west side of Chicago. Her Sicilian parents emigrated to America and struggled tremendously when the Great Depression hit. She met her husband Dino while he was touring with the Vatican Choir from Rome in the 1940s. They were married for 43 years. Later she went on to become an unlikely star in a YouTube video series called, “Great Depression Cooking with Clara.”

I found Clara’s video series online shortly after it became apparent to me that the COVID19 virus was going to have a profoundly negative effect on our economy and on our everyday lives. In the late winter and early spring of 2020, lockdowns were happening all over the US. People were told to stay home unless they needed to go out for medical services or groceries. Vast numbers of service workers lost their jobs and unemployment skyrocketed. Professionals and office workers were allowed to work from home and had to learn how to use Zoom. 

Food and other products were becoming a thing to hoard, and were therefore scarce in major supermarkets. At the beginning of March 2020, it looked to me like we should adjust our mentality to one of preparation for rough times ahead. We stocked our food supplies – pantries, freezers, and refrigerators. And we hunkered down to wait it out. We even reduced our use of paper products as much as possible and I began to prepare for how I could stretch our food supply to avoid trips to grocery stores that were not crucial. 

And that is when I found Clara on YouTube. At first it was a curiosity to learn what cooking looked like during a time of extreme financial crisis. My own (maternal) grandparents had lived through it in Cleveland, Ohio and raised three girls on the back end of the hard times. They never talked about it, that I can recall, so I never had an opportunity to learn about their experiences first hand.

As the virus continued to decimate large Eastern cities, and the fear started to really take hold, I watched Clara and listened to the stories she told in between her cooking. She had so many hardships to endure with her family, but she speaks about them as just something that happened and they survived, eating “well” – as she confirms again and again – and sticking together as a family. 

[We are] resourceful beyond our wildest dreams. We’re simply rarely of the state of mind that we can make things happen.

Even during a time when resources are nearly nonexistent, many people… many Americans… found resources in the most creative and determined way. They made do for food by always cooking at home, growing a large garden for fresh produce with enough extra to “put up for the winter.” They darned and repaired clothing repeatedly. And they had imaginative ways to conserve fuel for cooking and staying warm in the Chicago winters. 

As the Great Depression lifted… they came out on the other side as a healthy and strong family. Still alive. Still together. Still a family. And stronger than ever to deal with life’s sometimes cruel twists and turns.

Point: We all have resources for which we seldom give ourselves credit. And we all have the ability to create where there is lack or need. Every one of us is resourceful beyond our wildest dreams. We’re simply rarely of the state of mind that we can make things happen. We get stuck in the usual complaints:

“There aren’t enough hours in the day!”

“I can’t afford that.”

“I’m not qualified.”

“I’ve looked everywhere, and I just can’t find what I need!”

“I don’t know how to do that.” 

“I just want someone to love and to love me in return!”

Granted, some resources we need for life are indeed limited. Like, time. We have only so many hours in a day and in our lifetime. But…! How we use those hours is the important thing. 

Finding resources is not an impossible talent. It is something we all need to learn. Most importantly, it’s about setting priorities and understanding that a budget (time, money, your energy) is always necessary to manage limited resources.

And there is always a way to create more – time, money, energy. And we all have the ability to find those ways. We are all resourceful… it is just a matter of acknowledging our own power to be so! Get your mind right, and get creative!

As the Stone of Death is lifted from your eyes for another day… Accept the gift of resources. 

Seize this opportunity. Make your day what you want it to be, and supply yourself with what you need to make it happen. Your ability is nearly boundless. Accept it, work with it, and give thanks for it.

Check back next week for Part 2 of “Seven Gifts from the Stone of Death” in which you will learn the last four gifts of:

Attitude – why it can make or break you,

Senses – how they are the root of our communication, 

Action – what it really means in our everyday lives

…and Perfection – when and where perfection exists, and why you are already perfect!

Until then, stay hopeful, own your choices, and embrace your resourcefulness. 


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The Keepers

Jim Great Elk (kiji) and Kelly Talking Heron (Ashá) are Wisdom Keepers,
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Through the Powaka Experience, you master four basic Stepping Stones to
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