Where We Walk Now

[An excerpt from my journal writing in July 2017, while on a mission trip with youth and young adults in Crow, Montana.]

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” — Matthew 13:1-9

I am the oldest one here. This is new to me. Many of my friends have always been older than me. I am learning about ageism. There is a sense of becoming invisible. Fortunately, I can journal when this happens and it reminds me of who I am and what defines me. I am the one who captures stories and weaves them together for the telling.

Earlier this evening, we gathered with other church groups with whom we are sharing our week, to be lead through The Blanket Exercise, a participatory history lesson developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders and educators.  Its purpose is to foster truth, understanding, respect and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

We entered a small classroom and were instructed to all stand somewhere on one of the old blankets that covered the floor. The blankets represented land. Once assembled, different people read as voices of the Native Americans and the U.S. Government; with the Native American voices speaking far less. As these narrators moved us through the story, blankets were taken away so that we had to move closer and closer to one another, sharing the few remaining blankets. Many of us standing on these were soon sent to the sidelines; we represented lives lost. I was killed early, by smallpox. I felt indignant when they handed me a small slip of yellow paper that sent me to the sidelines; I had only just begun to play the game.

When the game was over, a Lakota elder lead a discussion about the experience. It was hard not to feel ashamed of our history; it was hard to look directly at him or at one another. He began by quoting Dan, a character in a book he recommended:

“Okay, let me try to lay this out straight for you,” Dan said. “I’m not saying any of this is your fault or even that your grandparents did any of it. I’m saying it happened, and it happened on your people’s watch. You’re the one who benefited from it. It doesn’t matter that you’re way downstream from the actual events. You’re still drinking the water. “I don’t care if you feel guilty. I just care that you take some responsibility. Responsibility’s about what you do now, not about feeling bad about what happened in the past. You can’t erase the footprints that have already been made. What you’ve got to do is take a close look at those footprints and make sure you’re more careful where you walk in the future.” 
― Kent Nerburn, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows

“So,” he said, “let’s talk about what it means to be careful about where we walk in the future.”