Thursday, December 13, 2012

thank you for being alive

Last night a group gathered in the parish hall to watch a video and talk about surviving boarding school abuse. It barely scratched the surface, but it was a beginning.

And I was torn.... Schools and schooling have been the 'tool' (for lack of a better word) of various agendas since at least the mid-nineteenth century, particularly schools in the west populated by teachers from the northeast --a whole raft of 'em. And promoting citizenship and skills for the common good --not for personal benefit, were the main core of much of the ideology. So, some were trained to be scholars and doctors and some trained to be maids, janitors and secretaries, all for the presumed common good.

I was torn, because having studied the history of education, knowing it was compulsory no matter who you were --and all I could think about was Shirley Temple in Captain January being chased by the truant officer, a poor orphan having been rescued by a well-meaning big-hearted lighthouse keeper --ripped from his care and forced to attend boarding school, and the broken hearts in the aftermath... ending in joyful resolve, of course, because it is Shirley Temple.... (sorry, the youtube version doesn't play).

And thinking of Shirley Temple being torn from her lovely lighthouse keeper as a symbol of compulsory education everywhere, and then hearing the stories of abuse and pain in the room --knowing that the abuse and pain were part of a long march of blatant genocide... I knew I was part in denial, and part in a detached historian mode instead of being present.

So, I tried to put Shirley Temple and all the other failed historical attempts at compulsory education in my pocket, and just listened. And it was so difficult --from the mouths of parishioners, stories of public beatings, hair cutting, shame.... And how the violence and shame learned were then perpetrated upon the next generation....

--and quietly afterwards, the short conversations of --yes, but boarding school, as bad as it was, was still better than home....

The movie ended with a bit of redemption --the guy saying, even so at last I am a human being. And as my beloved says --even that is misunderstood --some one saying "I am a human being" doesn't mean in the Lakota mind what it means in the main-stream culture of the American mind... as best as I am able, I understand it to mean more than just having dignity and being treated as a human as opposed to an animal --it has to do with a spiritual accomplishment -it is like saying I have accomplished my mission in life AND my cup runneth over....


As Joel and I were talking about it this morning, we remembered in those many years past how so many people, having heard about the loss of our pregnancy would say --it's sad, but you can have more babies. (That line pretty much stopped after the fourth or fifth lost pregnancy....) And how so often folks say well-meaning things that often destroy rather than fulfill their intent. So, we find ourselves without words in the face of so much pain and grief here --except something like, thank you for being alive, thank you for being here. Thank you.

Who was it --Black Elk? --that said eventually the Lakota would save the whole world?
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you -- the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live.

"You have set the powers of the four quarters of the earth to cross each other. You have made me cross the good road and road of difficulties, and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in, day out, forevermore, you are the life of things."

Hey! Lean to hear my feeble voice.
At the center of the sacred hoop
You have said that I should make the tree to bloom.

With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather,
With running eyes I must say
The tree has never bloomed

Here I stand, and the tree is withered.
Again, I recall the great vision you gave me.

It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives.
Nourish it then
That it may leaf
And bloom
And fill with singing birds!

Hear me, that the people may once again
Find the good road
And the shielding tree. (Black Elk's Earth Prayer)

Black Elk --some little root of the sacred tree does still live. The people fight to speak in their own language, and the children suffer. Thank you for being alive. Thank you.

And perhaps that is scripture enough for the day?

Well, there is this... (Psalm 37:1-2)

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.

Hope is eternal....

--and I shall live in hope. Not some false hope that hides in the skirts of denial and white-washed history. But the hope that comes from being a childless mother. The up-side-down hope that blooms out of barrenness and loss --not dislodged desire, adaptation and delayed gratification, but a whole other world and way of being.

I am a human being.
--and to all of you, in your suffering, thank you for being alive.



susankay said...

I don't know about the schools in South Dakota but here in the southwest kids were trained to be maids and gardeners are low wage service jobs -- kids were literally kidnapped and then not allowed to speak Navajo or Ute. Into the '60's - that era of civil rights movements (in which I participated) but not for our First Nations People.

it's margaret said...

susankay --forcible removal from the home to boarding schools seemed pretty much the norm. I'm not sure the education was tops either.

An elder here said that they were trained to be maids and secretaries if girls, cowboys otherwise --to work on the local ranches.