Feather In Our Hand

I do what I can to help where I can, but the truth is that often, if not most of the time, I really don’t feel seen or heard. I feel as effective as a tiny chirp at the back of the cacophony that earns maybe a slight eyebrow raise from some bored listener on Facebook.

I resist the urge to screech louder. We’re supposed to be cautious about over-sharing or zealotry… Even so, I know at times I push that envelope – so bewildered that so few seem to understand or see what I see, even though what I end up screeching about is very much about their world too – equity and equality, corrupt industry and leadership, preserving clean waters… This is OUR world, damn it.

Realistically, of course I know I’m not really an island and I’m definitely not alone in my concerns nor alone on the front lines of a march or rally. Still, while people outside of those rallies, on social media et al, may seem not to notice, I think some, at least do. But what can really be said in response? How many times will people say, yes, I agree, before moving on?

So where do I or anyone else who desire to influence or create change for the better go from there? I suppose it’s at this point that some of us quit and maybe go look for whatever peace is available in our daily survival struggles. Or maybe we push even harder, hoping more serious agitation will move greater numbers. Or maybe like me, regardless of how despondent, quitting is impossible, (trust me, Cree blood is hot!). So, we continue to push for some semblance of balance in all options.

Having said all that, once in a while something happens out of the blue, maybe even something really quite sweet or even astonishing. Like an old friend and Juno Award winner writes a song and he says your efforts inspired him and all you can think is… holay!

What a beautiful event, this unexpected gift from a friend’s heart. He told me I could sing and record it; it’s mine to do with as I wish. Maybe I will sing and record it. Maybe I’ll just sing it with him some day – and I’d love that, but for now, I’d really love to share it with all the other dreamers who dare to strive. We can’t possibly know all who actually see or hear us, but someone is there and maybe, no matter how many, they’re all we’re meant to connect with. Maybe that really is enough…

A Feather In Our Hand, by Lawrence S. Martin

Kininiskimotin, my friend.

RL

Second Chances

25 years ago on this day, the impact two special friends had on my life was solidified. I send my love to all who knew them and felt the same. This is a reprise of something I published a few years ago…

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There was an article in 1998 that warned young reporters were getting their careers turned around by getting too involved with their stories, sometimes even making up details.  I know it seems like a simple case of common sense to just not do either, but if you’re in touch with emotions and recording certain events, that’s not always do-able.

When I wrote as a correspondent in the wilds of northwestern Ontario 25 yrs ago, I experienced something similar. Despite the seemingly tranquil setting of an aurora borealis framed mini mecca of 600, called Pickle Lake, I actually wrote quite a variety of stories around events that would rival any city. To be fair, there were another 600 or so around the town.

My ‘beat’ covered a collection of assaults, robberies, and murder, and my community profiles provided just as much color.  All of this belies the fact that despite that record, most people in the area couldn’t be a stronger, kinder, and more generous humankind sample.

I want to recount one story that I wrote then, that I wish I could re-write now.

One of my favorite “P.L.” adventures, which took even me by surprise, was joining the town’s volunteer ambulance service.  I studied the necessary courses until I qualified, completed by also getting the license to drive the ambulance aka the ‘bus, which incidentally also qualifies you to drive an actual bus.

One of the senior attendants was a fellow by the name of Dave Halteman.  Dave was one of those friendly folksy type that make a name for themselves by being ready to help anyone, any time. He owned the local auto repair and service station, which also served as the base for all kind of local rescue.  I think one of his favorites was pulling my car out of a few snowbanks and ditches on those bitter winter roads, and for the record, local jeer-ers, I was not the only one.

Dave was up for anything, which he was called to do often, but most of his town volunteering was devoted to the fire and ambulance departments. He did a fantastic job assisting the oversight of those critical services.  Of course, it goes without saying those jobs take some bravery, and it turned out his personal bar was set at -quite high-.

He willingly took on the job to train a skinny, completely citified, 115 lb. greenhorn. Think about what it would take to teach that winning combo how to hoist a 95 lb. stretcher holding a 200 lb. patient into the back of an ambulance and then drive back to the clinic without skidding off the icy roads, and without breaking a nail.  Yeah, he was cool with priorities like that.

Dave’s easygoing nature didn’t mean easy; he made for darn sure I knew we were working for lives, for real.  Luckily, his patience level was set at -infinite-, because I definitely tested that bar too.  When I bungled, I got a stare that I would answer with my own mortified gape. Then this laugh would ring out.  Anyone who ever heard it, would agree – one of a kind.  Infectious. Unforgettable.

Whoever was treated to that laugh was also served by his decency.  He made a friend out of pretty much everyone who crossed his path because of his honest belief in ‘do unto others’.  Despite all the heroics of his emergency work, this was probably what earned him the most and deepest regard overall.  To say he was beloved to many is not an overstatement, his personality filled a town.

So on that December day, when the news came that his plane went down on the way home from a hunting trip, shock reverberated throughout the region.  No one could believe it and no one wanted to. Many of us held hope that there’d been a mistake. We would learn that the crash took not only Dave, but also his endearing and respected son-in-law, Everett Moore.  Ev was soft-spoken, tall, handsome, filled with kindness, and so young.

The town became still in the days that lead up to the funeral service. As everyone struggled to comprehend that what happened was real, the two caskets at the front of the community hall laid down all hope for good.

Those of us who served with Dave were privileged to stand in observance as his Honour Guard. The hall seats filled quickly, and everyone else stood outside on a bright, but frigid day listening through speakers.  There were several hundred who stood in that biting cold for the entire service and the interment.  I’m sure desire for relief from that cold was strong, but it couldn’t overcome the desire to pay those deeply felt respects.

The town took a while to rev back to some kind of normal. We learned there was a lot of navigating to figure out how to carry on without the steady assurances and answers of Dave.  We did though, because in many ways, the footprints he laid down were clear enough for us to follow, and so he still shaped worthwhile aspects of our own capabilities.

I wish I could have written all this in that memoriam story years ago, but I was too involved in my own grief. I couldn’t get myself to the place that does justice to the role of reporting, and in service to people who knew he deserved so much more.

I hope what I can put down now, this little bit more, will add to the legacy of how well Dave and Ev impacted people.

One last thing still bears saying too.  For a long time, many of us would often say how we’d give anything to hear that Dave laugh again.  The truth is, when I think of him I still do, and I believe that whenever we think of him, most of us still do.

RL

PostScript: I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Managing Editor, Thunder Bay Chronicle, Nick Hirst, for helping me cobble together the part of the story I did then.

Hello to my old friends in Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang First Nation who stood out in the cold with us that day.

The Mysterious Activist, *insert eyeroll here*

My previous post inspired a few good laughs about what stepping up for a cause is about. “Activists”. Who are these odd people on the news being called some version of ‘Post-Modern Social Marxists” or some such non-existent epithet? Community (not Communist) activism is neither Marxist nor some mysterious hippy, trippy march into an abyss of prison sentences.

Practising compassion over comfort doesn’t require giving up our freedom and worldly goods in solidarity. Thus it really doesn’t need hard thought on whether or not we want to perform an act of decency. It does require us to take a few steps now and then out of our regular ruts – which incidentally, doesn’t hurt. It’s always been a pretty good idea to round out our little worlds for the sake of our own sanity and growth.

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Yeah, nah, the average activist is not required to hang from a bridge, or from anything, actually. (Greenpeace TransMountain protest at the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, July 4, 2018)

Back to the point – if you’re someone who marched into your school Principal’s office to demand a particular activity or homeroom class for your child, you’ve graduated in Activism 101 right there. Same if you ever requested a pay raise or demanded your rightful discount while shopping.

If you’ve ever organized a play, a school fundraising event, a lunch or dinner, you know how to organize a group to paint up some signs and meet at the corners of wherever to make your case public for an hour. Let’s maybe call this – Activism 201. Still, we can see there’s really nothing untenable about this level either. There’s always the option of just following organizers in a march.

When you see stories or social media posts about an issue that you KNOW is based in inequity that rocks your decency barometer, do something before that evil little voice in the back of our mind starts its insidious claims that we’re too small, poor, uninformed or detached to make a difference anyway. It lies, and that’s what those who would take advantage of people are counting on. It’s not really apathy that they’re depending on, it’s our fear.

They make issues seem too big to be managed, on purpose. They make “the machine” look impenetrable, but just like the phony wizard of Oz, “the machine” is the same mousy wanna-dos hiding behind the drapes. They’re simply just another group of us – the same people we stood up to in schools, at work, or while shopping.

So, why am I telling you this? Because the steps we took in those situations are exactly what is required to move these mythical giant mountains of issue. These mountains are merely the piles of lies that say the inequities right in front of our eyes “take time” to undo or repair. We’re shown time and time again government is not too poor nor too big and that there are alternatives to almost every option leadership attempts to sell us.

The only thing that takes those mountains down is a push from those at the bottom – us. Our most simple efforts can get that hill all shaky and rolling in no time.  A phone call, letters, emails, tweets, whatever form we’d take to demand our kid gets the homeroom we want, or the raise we know we deserve, is what we do.

These are the actions to take when a community or national issue makes us pause because we know it’s not right. We direct our requests to our local leaders (mayors, Chiefs, MP, MLAs) with a c.c. to their boss – especially if that’s the Prime Minister – and the media, to really drive the message home. It’s that simple. It’s that effective. It’s that easy to create a better circumstance for ourselves, a neighbor, a community, or the entire country for that matter.

Yes, we may have to repeat those actions a few times, but when we see those issues, something so unfair, that it makes us stop and our heartbeat catch, don’t waste that call to your soul.  We’re hearing it because we’re more than worthy and capable of doing something about it. We do it because we prefer to live in decency and really, that is the core, the only point, of activism.

See? No mysterious forces at work here, it’s just me and you acting on our right to speak up. Welcome aboard!

 I hope.

RL

What’s Under a Fight to Do Right?

Sometimes I’m asked why do I bother to work for Indigenous causes, or any cause really, when it seems the odds against achievement are so damned overwhelming or insurmountable? Someone asked, “Why are you bothering to waste precious time”? It’s a question I’m not sure I can fully answer because how do you describe a longing intensely emanating from your very core? How do you describe desire that overwhelms your own overawed senses and fatigue to work to make something right?

Why do we push on even when it feels like we’re only speaking into a complete void of apathy & disinterest or even in the face of real, ruthless retaliation? I suppose sometimes it does seem futile and somewhat Don Quixote-ish. I know it certainly feels like that from time to time. Maybe it’s more simple than we can know. In some way in our lives, something was triggered by an act of inequity, a brutality, and/or a fear.

I’m not sure when the force was set in me to eventually strive to become an agent for action. Maybe it took a culmination of events to instill a sense that attaining justice was about more than writing letters to the Editor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that real change usually requires that step and a dozen more to make a dent in an issue.

What kind of events does it take to wake a burgeoning fire for equity? My experiences started early within family abuses based in the consequences of inter-generational traumas inflicted by colonialism. They were enforced in incidents like the group of men who – for a laugh – sicced a dog on 7 yr. old me to, “get that little redskin” and who enjoyed the moment their dog gripped onto my ankle; or the neighbor screaming, “get out of here, you dirty little Indian” as she chased me down the street when I was 10; or being cheated out of the fruits of my labor as an adult &/or having false accusations leveled at me.

I suffered through much of that pain on my own, until I could learn how and where to turn for help. I didn’t get help all the time, but when I did, it was searingly potent & it was that, I believe, that triggered the move from thinking I could be a difference to working on it.

How could I possibly stay silent in the face of inequities to which I can speak, when the people who I hold in the highest esteem today, are those who stood with me and for me, when I couldn’t? How could I possibly dishonor their teachings, their strengths of conviction, & their compassion? How could I possibly ignore the work they took on to show me how important it is to take a stand for what’s right, so I could stand for myself? How could I keep all that conviction I learned and earned for only myself?

These lessons didn’t come easily, there was a lot of hard work with many, many doubts, and certainly, I don’t win at everything. But my heroes showed me what strength of character is and in its most defining word, their power. They helped bring me to my own esteem and value. Although I’m not professionally trained in many aspects of what I do, my passion & willingness to learn is the biggest driver of change – for the good, preferably. So it is for all of us.

One of my efforts entails seeking real sovereign recognition and benefits for Indigenous communities. For that to happen, Canada has to step back and re-create its foundation in the honor it already earnestly claims. Technically, legally, there is no Canada without this relationship. The time is now for Canadians to put their money where their heart is and state with us, as the truest powers that be, that the partnership with Indigenous peoples precedes the enrichment of only some people and/or corporate interests. The inherent rights of the Indigenous greatly bolster the effort to serve the whole.

One crucial aspect my heroes provided was taking the mystery out of those intimidating forces called – “the Government”, or “the Principal”, or “corporate executives”. They’re no one other than our own neighbors who may have had a few more lucky breaks. Outside of those suffering from psycho/sociopathy, they have the same issues, fears, needs and flaws as the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, they sometimes need to be shown when their work could be better or is just plain destructive.

There’s only one group of people capable of that. That would be me – and you. Anything we can lend to this cause or any other to do life better is valuable, & I guarantee, so is everything we get back for that. It all begins and ends within ourselves; where there is decency, lies the fire.

RL

When Robyns Soar

“Mom – mom come here now – a crow just grabbed a robin in the air!” I ran to the front window to join my son, who was staring wide-eyed at what was taking place in our front yard. There was indeed a crow with a robin in its claws, but they were now on the grass. The robin was struggling under the crow as it tightened its grip and then began to peck at the smaller bird with brute force.  Within minutes, a carpet of grey and red feathers covered my lawn.

I watched the crow continue to peck at it until all movement briefly stopped. Then the crow picked up its victim to carry it to the middle of our street – presumably because the harder paved surface made it easier to dig into flesh. That’s only a guess, as is why my response, even while horrified, was to grab my camera. I kept clicking and recording every motion of the bird’s devouring power. It didn’t take long to reduce the robin to a few small ribbons of red flesh, which it then picked up again and flew off with.

I stayed at that window quite a while after, until that early spring day started to darken. I know I was dumbfounded at what I’d witnessed and by the sheer amount of feathers laying from one end of my yard to the other. How could so many feathers come from one tiny little bird? It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the ‘cold, hard facts of nature’, but there was an additional layer to the feelings this time. As the event faded, I was filled with a sense of dark foreboding.

Hindsight, of course can play into the narrative of any thoughts, but what was to follow within my own world not very long after, made it seem like that feeling wasn’t really all that out of line after all.

In a matter of months and over the next 3 years, I endured the loss of someone I adored beyond measure, part of the centre of my world, next to my son; followed by a devastating and punishing betrayal by someone I’d loved and leaned on while coping; and serious health crises over 2 years that would ultimately break me down to my own demise, albeit only momentarily. Beware the truthful tales of bad news descending in threes.

I know those events are whole stories of their own, but I wrote about them through the journey. I don’t much feel the need to recount the details now. In some ways, they almost seem like a lifetime ago. They were centre stage, but part of the play was the way those birds continued to star in revealing what was to come.

The next spring, my son and I went for a walk along a river. As we were talking, we were suddenly interrupted by a flash of black that passed right in front of us. It was a crow speeding toward the tree line to our left and it was being quickly pursued by a very vociferous little robin. My son and I looked at each other and we both reacted to that unexpected turn in events with a deep inner, ‘Whoa’.

That wasn’t the end though. As we went further, we next saw that little robin chasing after another bird, but this time it was 2 hawks! I know I was very relieved I wasn’t the only one seeing this. Who would believe me? Dare I even tell you that the last time we saw that little fierce fireball, she was chasing after an eagle? Well, she did. I don’t know if it was a she; it just felt right to assume that.

Of course, I pondered and wondered about the amazing activity of that day for some time. I also took solace in it. It seemed to confirm for me, that even though I was in the midst of major recovery on several levels, I would be fine and perhaps in some ways, even far mightier.

The experiences of those years had completely broken me and I needed to hold onto something bigger than me to keep moving forward. It wasn’t long after that, the resources I needed to begin the healing on all levels fell into place and I was on my way to becoming this newest version of me.

This brings us to this year… The edges of all that pain have been buffered and eased. I’m still regaining my physical strength, but I’ve made great strides in that. The rawness of my world has been tempered with understanding through grief therapy, and my re-connection to the teachings of my culture has pulled me through what I think (hope) is the last of the intergenerational wounds that left me vulnerable to a particular kind of predation. It’s a lifetime’s work, I know. I still have some way to go, but I know where to turn when any circumstances arrive to test my abilities. This is major healing weaponry.

So, what about this spring? Well, for over a week, I’d come home and have the be-gee-zus scared out of me as I walked to my front door. Yet another robin seemed to come out of nowhere. It would dart back and forth across my yard, but not straying beyond the trees of my property line. It would turn this way and that, sometimes even hopping onto the grass and bouncing along, in and out of my hedges. Of course, I grabbed my camera. Strangely, the little bird still wouldn’t move much even as I approached, clicking away. The next day, when I was once again, startled by the little red burst of flight, it suddenly (and finally) dawned on me; there must be a nest close by.  I scoured all the hedges in the front of my house and found – nothing.

I hadn’t been looking close enough. I have a honeysuckle vine on the post at my front door. In that unlikely spot, almost right in front of my eyes the whole time, was one of the sweetest sights I’ve ever seen. When I’d moved a few branches to look for a nest, three enormous beaks with eyes popped up. Utterly adorable, and the sense of renewal within that literal new birth presentation lit up my heart like Christmas lights.

 

I enjoyed their presence for only a few more days after I’d discovered them.  It was a little saddening, on the day I came home and they were all gone, but they did leave that beautiful, perfect little nest. I waited a few more days just to make sure they’d really flown off for good and then I brought the nest in. I moved a small bit of moss on the bottom and I discovered a gift within the gift – a most precious, tiny, glorious blue egg.  I placed it all in a round terrarium vase.

All the events of three years were succinctly re-wrapped in this unexpected bowl of symbolism. I choose to see this as the finishing touch on soothing old hurdles and as acknowledgement of the start of life for me on a whole new level. Certainly affirms the old adage, ‘big things come in small packages’. Oh, isn’t that the truth; the absolute honest truth?

So, here I go again.  A new round has begun. Cheers to small packages. The next time someone says life is for the birds, I’m going to say, “Yup, it sure is, at least, for me”. Thank God, and especially, all my grandmothers.

RL

Deep Thoughts; Worldly Vulnerability

To my friend,

Yes, I know so far 2017 or maybe more like the last decade, has been like a 24 hour rock polisher churning non-stop while stapled to your right temple. Amirite? As if the regular tests of our heart, soul and mettle weren’t already a deep enough line in the sand. Now there’s this load of heavy, huge, ponderous issues topping up our cortisol cups.  Every day blasts us with another dose of how insane our ‘new societal norm’s are becoming, because… Well, mostly because we’re all letting them, but mostly because for now, we don’t know how not to… They expose our vulnerabilities – which of course, drags our discomforts harder over the burning concerns.

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There is a shake-up going on and we can see it’s world-wide and despite all this unease, I can’t help feeling that underneath it all there is a cleansing abounding. A good one. A shift for the majority, where we see once again, that we’re being moved to something deeper and more meaningful at another level specific to each of us. That there’s more to our purpose than surviving, and even as we know that, perhaps especially more beyond even ‘prospering’.

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It feels like an intelligent energy that’s being heard and felt by greater numbers that compels us closer to the realization that all is truly connected. We get all caught up in our individual mindsets, but neither are they all that individual in the end. Not in any way we look at it. Whatever we pour forth from our minds is going to affect the person next to us and beyond….old news. But now, new times, renewed remembrances. The time is now to activate what we already know.

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The other day I woke from a dream where I heard, “Every call for water will eventually get heard”. Seriously, I don’t know what that means, but I felt within it optimism. I think it suggests it’s OK to grasp onto whatever centres us best while we weather the new climatic revolutions and evolutions, whatever they will be. But, act too. Wherever and whenever you are in the presence of that opportunity that shows up. Grab it, if needed learn the ins and outs of it later. It’s in front of you for a reason.

Steady as she goes, my friend(s) and I expect you to prop me up when I slip in the wavery too. Please. In the meantime…

Walmart need anything

RL

 

 

Shut Up; Inspiration’s Tapping

Road blocks, creativity blocks, block heads…It’s a mindbender how often we stumble into the crevices of mental-logjam hell. Where you can’t get past step: what the hell is wrong with me? We’ve all encountered it and I have a theory about why. I think it’s a kind of, forgot who we are blockage.

I don’t mean traumatic amnesia or movement away from some great metaphysical understanding, not that those couldn’t be the issue. I mean by forgetting the simplest of our own self-connection, barring an osis attached to our psyches. I’m sure this isn’t new thought, but I landed on it while catching a breather.

I’ve had a few years of weaving around so many traumas that at times, I wasn’t sure I was still in the realm of general reality. It was hard work to get through that and one of my key coping tools was writing. I wrote out everything. I put it into journals, onto my blog, worked it into comments for online stories, into letters to friends. I wrote as though I was being chased by some spade-tailed catastrophic, disaster-delivering satan ready to fork me the minute I put my pen down.

Clearly, I wasn’t suffering from any blockage throughout all that. But – it was within this flurry of activity that I realized something. So much of what I was writing really didn’t have to do with the actual events that had occurred as much as what they activated in the storage room of my life.

One single lived moment can trigger a cascading torrent of imagination. A few incredible moments that shake us up to levels unknown can offer years of material. They needn’t have been traumatic, just the kind that opens up something, a doorway to that kaleidoscopic onion of infinite colors that is our subconscious.

We’ve all had them, these events, but we can’t really know how they will affect us when they occur. Sometimes, despite even our best efforts to forget them, memory will continue to haunt as though a living character in some perverse corner of the universe stuck on auto-replay. Relentless input, a consciousness stalker and its flying monkeys.

As a writer, any of these flashy inspirations can initiate a series of songs, poems, stories, or a simple chronicle of the event detailing what, why and how we were affected. They can induce flow for anyone – a photographer hits on a fantastic series of scenes to shoot. A politician may find that ideal answer to policy, the cure for cancer will attach to a researcher, the anybody who may unlock a talent long ignored, maybe bogged in banal duty or years of focused yakking about exes or bad bosses.

Conversely, there is another inspiration reality that’s just as effective, but seems to be less courted. Remember Newton, relativity, equal action/reaction? As much as huge events of any type can inspire, so can a simple minute of letting go and shutting up.

I suppose I’ve been learning that we really don’t have to search for inspiration; not when there are literally thousands of moments already in storage ready for excavating. Every one of our memories are multi-faceted jewels and each face has absorbed a song, a smell, a sound, a texture. Each is available and waiting. The only key to their door is closing the gate to absolutely everything else for a matter of mere minutes.

It’s a bit of practice initially, just letting thoughts float around, then up, then away… and wait. There will be no sudden heraldic choir announcement that it’s time to get your ass to the grindstone & forge the greatest creation ever. At least not typically, but if we wait a few minutes, the creation is there, ready. It will seep out timidly or flood our receptors, but either way, we’ll have achieved a nice BM, as in blockage movement. Yes, just as satisfying as any other.

Bottom line: rest is a requirement of the creative process, not a death sentence. So, shut up and let your muses get through to you. Or so they tell me… Mine mince no words. Ever.

RL