Sunday, April 4, 2010

Aboriginal Teaching - Part 2

Normally I don't write another article on the same subject so soon after writing the first one, but my wife just read this earlier article on Aboriginal teaching, and reminded me of another story that I just felt I had to share.

First, though, I'd like to draw your attention to an earlier article in which I wrote about the importance of friendship. The story in that article, to which I'd like to draw your attention, is this one:
Another friend whom I truly love, and haven't seen in way too long, is Kamao. I used to visit him and his family out in Saskatchewan every time I would drive there, and every time I learned so much from him. His gentle spirit, quiet wisdom, and practical knowledge all impressed me.

And then there was his "sense of humour". Please note the judicious use of quotes.

This guy, remember that he is still a dearly loved friend, raises horses, and one time when I was out there, I asked him to put me to work. I seem to recall that I was working in the evenings doing some training or something, but had my days free, so I asked him to let me be of service.

"Sure," he said, "you see that horse over there? The one with the rope around his neck? Just go over and take the rope off. You know how to approach horses."

So I tried.

I would quietly talk to the horse,and place my hand on its flanks, slowly moving closer to the head. When I got close, I would have to quickly jump way, because the horse was about to buck. And buck he did. Every single time. For hours.

I am conservatively leaving out all the expletives I could use for this horse, dear Reader. Suffice it to say, it took a few of us to get this horse pinned against a fence so that we could get the stupid rope off that bleeping horse.

Kamao really demonstrated his trust of my ability to read an animal's body language that day. (Or else he was trying to get me killed. I'm not sure which.)

And Kamao, my dearly loved friend, over dinner that evening, was telling his wife about it.

"Yeah, this White guy," he said, lovingly referring to me. "He's got a lot guts. No brains, but a lot of guts."
So, now you have an idea of the kind of "humour" you may have to put up with when you visit these dear souls. (I love to joke about this with Kamao, and pray he knows how much I love him and treasure his friendship.)

One of Kamao's relatives is a man named Harvey. Harvey Ironeagle. If I find it difficult to tell you of my love and admiration for Kamao, it is nearly impossible for me to express my feelings for Harvey.
Now Harvey has been a Baha'i since, I think, the 10-Year World Crusade, and he is a highly regarded elder in his community. When I am around him, I find it very difficult to say anything, for what could one such as I say around one such as him? But all this is tempered by his gentle loving way, his modesty and his true humility.
One day, a few years ago, he had asked me to come out to a culture camp, a gathering for the Aboriginal youth at which they could learn about their culture. It was an honour to be asked to attend for a bit, and I was eager to sit in the back and listen.
But Harvey, dear Harvey, had other plans.
The meeting was in a large teepee, and Harvey happened to be the one speaking. So when he said, "And now Mead Simon will tell you a bit about the Baha'i Faith," no but me questioned him. Of course, I only questioned him in my heart, not out loud. But in my heart I was screaming, " What???" I couldn't believe he had done that. I mean, I wasn't ready. I had no idea what to say.
But Harvey, dear Harvey, had faith. He later said that he felt moved to call on me at that moment, and so he did.
As you can imagine, I said a prayer. And yes, it was my favorite prayer for that sort of occasion. It was the one that goes, "Oh God. Help!"
And then my training took over.
As a public speaker, one of the things I have learned over the years is to comment on the building if I'm in someone else's place. Make a connection. Draw them in, and let them know that you appreciate their space.
But I was in a teepee. What could I say?
Then a thought popped into my mind, which I gave voice to. I know that it wasn't my thought, that I was only priveleged to be the bearer of it. And to this day I am grateful to Harvey for having given me the honour of that moment.
"The Baha'i Faith is like this teepee. When you look at the earth, all the religions appear seperate, like the different poles of this teepee. But when you turn your vision to the heavens, they all come together. And only when they come together can they support the cover and offer protection." And I sat down. I'm sure I said something about the direction of the door facing east, the rising sun, but I can't recall it right now.
That image of the Faith as a teepee has stayed with me ever since.
Another gift that Harvey has given me is the chance to take part in a sweatlodge. Well, actually a few. He has shown me how to make them, how to take them down, and how to survive them. They really are quite hot, and I'm amazed that I never passed out.
When I went in the first time, we all sat around the firepit, and they brought in the hot stones, placed them in the pit, and closed the flap. We were engulfed in the darkness, with only the glow of the rocks for company. The elders began to chant. Water was poured over the stones. There was a hissing, a surge of heat, and a shower of sparks.

During this time, I had a vision of the sparks ushering in a veritable parade of elders, the grandfathers who had passed on. They were resplendent in their regalia, noble and honourable. They circled around us, offering their blessings and prayers. And there, at the very end, was a short man with a yarmulke and a prayer shawl: Grandpa Leo. Now he wasn't my Grandpa, but my cousins' grandfather. He was the one who always led our family prayers during the Passover Seder.

And there he was, offering his prayers again.

Now, I have to tell you, this didn't occur just once, but every single time I was there. I thought it was some weird part of my subconscious trying desperately to make some connection to show me how we were all one.

Until one day, when we were all toweling off after a sweat, Harvey made a comment that made me wide-eyed with surprise.
He said, "I don't understand it. Every time you're with us, Mead, there is this funny little grandfather who comes in right at the end." And he proceeded to describe Grandpa Leo to a tee.
I don't know why I'm sharing these two stories right now, but I feel moved to share them, and hope that they will mean something to you, dear Reader.
I know they mean a lot to me.
Oh, and thanks Harvey. Perhaps some day I'll be able to tell you how much you mean to me.

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