As I think about my own storytelling projects, I am reminded of my introduction to it when I was a young child.
I grew up in a rural area where Native American culture is still very much alive. We had a family friend who was a Mohawk chief, Chief Black Bear. We would often go to visit his trading post. He was a very tall, solid, regal man. I was fascinated by him. I remember the jewelry, items fashioned from animal skins, the art, and the tobacco pipes carved from natural items. I have no Native American heritage in my blood, but I somehow felt very much at home in his culture. I still do.
One year for Christmas, my mom bought me several books about Native American history. The way they live and what they believe makes complete sense to me. They take care of the planet and each other. They believe in the connectedness of the heavens above and the Earth below. And their storytelling—that’s what captivates me the most. They make deep wisdom palpable, even to a child.
Yesterday I learned about how some members of some tribes welcome people back from war. There is a recognition that they must have transition time. They go with the medicine man for a number of days to literally and figuratively have the blood washed away. The trauma of war is recognized and processed. They deal with this in the light so that it doesn’t get subsumed into the shadows. They grieve. They’re cleaned. They’re healed so that they can return whole.
Setting war aside, if we just look at our own grieving process today with any lens, we often don’t allow space or time for it. We are supposed to move on quickly and in earnest to sunny skies and smiles. We are told to let it go as quickly and cleanly as possible. Though truthfully we hang onto things inside of us. We don’t always give ourselves time to adequately mourn our losses and reflect on what we’ve learned. And so it piles up, and up and up and up until we literally collapse under it. We do ourselves a disservice all in an effort to get on with it. Except we haven’t gotten on with anything. We are playing a role, and eventually we will have to leave the stage and all of our grief will be there waiting in the wings. And we will feel alone and isolated and ashamed of it. And we will bear it until we can’t.
Our society is dealing with massive public issues now, issues that have been ignored and swept under the rug for too long by too many. Of course they now seem unwieldy. Look how much time they’ve had to grow unattended. We cannot and should not shrink away from dealing with them now, no matter how large they loom. If we don’t recognize and set ourselves on a course to solve them, that task will fall to the next generation and the generation after that. Bringing them into the light is painful, but it is the only way to create a better tomorrow. Have faith, and let’s get to work. We can do hard things, together.
I’ve been trying to understand what’s happening in Syria and why it began. If you’re curious about this, too, here is the story in a very brief nutshell; it’s a sad, twisted, and cautionary tale of graffiti by children, an ego-maniacal President, and the danger of silently normalizing hideous behavior.
5 years ago Syrian civilians decided to peacefully protest after 15 schoolchildren were arrested – and reportedly tortured – for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. Government forces opened fired on the protesters killing 4 people. Then they open fired on the mourners at the funerals of those 4 people the following day killing 1 more person.
The people then rose up to meet violence with violence. About 3 years later an organization calling itself IS for Islamic State got involved. Taking advantage of the chaos and desperation, IS escalated the matter even further by retaliating against anyone who didn’t hold IS’s extreme religious views. Then Russia uses its muscle to support the Syrian government, the US and UK make some attempts to support the rebels, some countries slowly crack open the door to welcome Syrian refugees, and the vast majority of the rest of the world sits on its hands, waits, and watches as hundreds of thousands of innocent people are murdered without cause or reason.
Here we are 5 years later and some estimates state that roughly 500,000 people have been killed. All because Syria’s government felt threatened by the graffiti of children and the calls of its people for greater freedom of expression and democracy. It defies reason and any semblance of sanity. This is the damage that one man can cause. This is what the ego, when left unchecked, can do to an entire nation of people. Let that sink in.