Late June Reflections – 2022

June 22, 2022

One can’t predict air quality on the southwest side of the city where I live. It depends on the time of day, which way the wind blows, and whether residents decide to build bonfires that smolder during times of thermal inversion when the smoke and smell will continue to linger in stagnant air. Obviously, that creates challenges for those of us who rely on open windows and fans in the summer rather than on air conditioners. But last night after a couple uncharacteristically hot days, the air was clear and sweet. The intake/exhaust window fan worked. But it needs to be removed in the morning before the heat of the day arrives.

This morning, the process of removing the fan provided a vantage point to witness a wee drama unfolding. The raucous calls of crows filled the air. Three crows came into view and landed on the power lines, crying out excitedly as if in warning just as a rather large skunk came waddling across my neighbor’s backyard. The crows seemed to be chasing and terrorizing the skunk, usually a nocturnal animal, perhaps a mother trying to find food for a hungry brood. She briefly disappeared amid the tall weeds behind a shed, and emerged by the left back corner and began digging furiously. She was able to find momentary safety and the crows took flight and quickly disappeared.

skunk sanctuary june 22 2022

The shed sanctuary has been home to skunks and rabbits in past years so I’ve learned to be attentive when venturing out at night, especially when my little dog, Pinto, was with me. His brief encounter with a baby skunk during his first spring here taught me how important that was. Fortunately, the baby skunk hadn’t yet learned how to aim his/her spray but it was still a very stinky adventure.

***

This may be the last post on my blog for a while. These days, it’s hard to find time to blog, as the following post I began a few days ago explains. Today, I decided to share these brief reflections along with a post from eight years ago. Although most of the links no longer work, the old post still seems relevant now. I truly wish things had changed for the better since then. We haven’t made much progress coming together as communities to work collectively as an inclusive team on the crucial issues we all face. I’m not sure what to do to help that happen.

June 16, 2022: Rainy Day Respite – Revisiting the Past

Mid-June, and the garden plants are still struggling to emerge. May was cold and rainy, and early June was dry. I had to replant bean and cucumber seeds, and I may have to do the same for chard. The weeds have been hardy and prolific, though, covering every inch of soil. But still, I am grateful for the gift of a piece of land once peopled by my Anishinaabe ancestors, and before them, the Dakota. I’m grateful for the chance to try to try to revitalize the soil and provide a safe haven for my plant and animal relations. It’s not an easy undertaking these days when too few seem to understand the responsibility we all carry to be wise stewards for the sake of future generations.

lilac late june 2022

But today, it’s too wet to garden or mow an overgrown lawn.

I need to transition cultures anyway to work on a manuscript I began in 2015 that’s still waiting to be edited from beginning to end. I’ve edited the beginning chapters at least 30 times but I want to revisit the beginning again. I’m not the same person featured in the most recent draft of the introduction. And authentic ethnographic work needs to include an honest accounting of who the author is in order to help readers discern the trustworthiness of what is being presented as “truth,” at least as seen through the author’s lenses.

A few days ago as I was beginning my transition, I noticed something that symbolized differences in cultures. Two plants still constrained in planters that are slowly dying. It hurts me whenever I notice living beings struggling – earth, lakes and rivers, flora, fauna, and humans.

The effects of being unaware of other beings and the metaphor of constrained roots inspired me to venture into my file cabinets to find a paper I wrote years ago. It was about my commune experiences for a course I was taking on organizational theory. I briefly contemplated sharing the paper. It describes how changing positions within an organization, the commune, affected what I saw and understood about being true to one’s roots. It was a descriptive assessment of the impact of power and positionality on peoples’ ability to view “reality” and their consequent responsibility to be aware of how their behavioral choices affect others’ wellbeing.

***

In Search of Community

“Is it not right, then, that education should help you, as you grow up, to perceive the importance of bringing about a world in which there is no conflict either within or without, a world in which you are not in conflict with your neighbor or with a group of people because the drive of ambition, which is the desire for position and power, has utterly ceased? And is it possible to create a society in which there will be no inward or outward conflict?”
(Krishnamurti, 1964, Think on these things, p. 52)

*

Living through the polar vortex forced me to question the wisdom of continuing to try to survive on my own. Of course, I am not totally alone. I have supportive friends and family, but this past winter they all had their own challenges to attend to, their own leaking roofs and freezing pipes, icy roads to travel to get places not served by public transportation, and never-ending snow to shovel despite artic temperatures. It has led me to the realization that living the way we do in this neighborhood isn’t wise or sustainable. Each family has its own separate dwelling, heating system, and needs to attend to all of the chores associated with survival on their own.

As much as I would like to head off to an intentional community, I am skeptical. I already tried that, twice. I am still laughing about the second attempt. A group of successful, smart people coalesced to prepare for the end of the world in a small farming community in central Illinois. I wasn’t there because of the nonsense the charismatic leader espoused. I was there because it made sense to share the work of growing food, contributing one’s unique skills to a collective, and reducing one’s carbon footprint on the environment. But the need many people have to follow leaders has never ceased to baffle me. Taken to extremes it is hilariously ridiculous or frighteningly dangerous.

carnival swing miss dash thrifty dot co dot uk

Photo Credit: Carnival Swing – miss-thrifty.co.uk

When I think of collective living, I think of people in my second alternative community experience. The leader organized a community-wide event for members — a chance to raise their IQs, for a moderate-sized fee of course. One of the members offered his large home as the training venue, and many attended the evening event. Attendees were greeted at the door and were given small brown paper bags as they entered. At the appointed time, the lights were dimmed and attendees were told to strip down to their underwear and breathe in and out of the paper bag for 10 minutes. They were promised that this exercise would improve their IQs – it would make them smarter!

(Then, I didn’t have internet tools to research the scientific validity of these claims, but in writing this essay many years later, it seemed wise to give it a try. Breathing into a paper bag for 5 minutes does seem to be a credible treatment for anxiety-triggered panic attacks – it helps rebalance elevated oxygen levels from over-breathing during attacks by increasing CO2 levels in the blood stream. People often feel immediate relief. So in this ingenious money-maker, creating a stressor and then reducing its impact left people with the impression that they felt better and brighter as a result of the exercise! Yet I only discovered wily walnut’s claim that the “Brain Bubbles” created by blowing in and out of a paper bag is one of the techniques one can use to raise IQ.

My partner and I were invited, but we declined. I heard about the event later from a friend who did go and felt even less intelligent as a result. My partner and I decided to leave the periphery of the community soon after.

The reasons for leaving my first attempt at “community” were not as amusing. Like the second community, the first was organized around a charismatic leader. But the followers were much younger, as was I when I first arrived, a single mother with a one and a half year old daughter. We hitchhiked, my little one in her stroller packed with necessary supplies and $20 in my pocket, trusting the kindness of the universe to help us survive. We weren’t escaping abuse, merely a mind and spirit-numbing environment of never-ending criticism and cold indifference — a life lacking warmth and laughter and possibilities for something better than the pursuit of empty material comforts. In the next four and a half years, our lives were transformed.

By the time we arrived, the alternative community had been in existence for more than 3 years and had grown from less than 20 people sharing a treehouse to more than 200 people spread across four towns in northwestern Massachusetts. I willingly agreed to accept the principles espoused by the community, no drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity. Newer arrivals like my daughter and me were initially relegated to live with more than 100 members in a rural setting that included a large house and dormitory with a smaller two-story shed. Despite my battered self-esteem, I looked around the community and noticed more than 25 children under five roaming about who were without care or supervision. With two other mothers, I set out to create a daycare center. We were able to renovate the first floor of the two-story shed, adding a sink that I helped plumb, and a stove and refrigerator we were able to get for free. We scrubbed and painted, and found some furniture and made sure kids had meals and supervision.

During the first few months, there were a number of observations that raised my curiosity about cultural differences. I watched as people pushed each other out of the way so they could be the first on the bus to attend meetings organized by the community leader. They competed for the white sweaters that proved they were more spiritually evolved than others and bullied and demeaned those who were forced to wear brown sweaters showing their lack of spirituality. I pondered the disconnect between the spirituality they gave lip service to and their actions. I also pondered it as I witnessed how mothers who previously ignored their children suddenly were only concerned about their children, stashing private bags of food for their children in the daycare center refrigerator. Unlike other mothers, I felt the need to make sure all children had the best we could provide.

I was also aware of how disrespected and patronized I felt by those who were in the upper echelon within the rural setting hierarchy, explaining it away to myself as another indicator of my many deficiencies. Despite my lack of self-confidence, there was still a noticeable difference between me and most of the members I encountered. I still thought about each of my actions and made my own decisions. I was perplexed by my observations that otherwise smart caring people did whatever the leader told them to do without question, even if it contradicted their deeply held values. Almost everyone else did unkind, foolish or illegal things because the leader told them to do it. Yet I stayed because I genuinely cared about my new friends despite all of these differences.

Slowly over the years, I gained skills and had experiences I doubt would ever have come my way in another setting. I worked outside jobs as a waitress, nurse’s aide, donut finisher, receptionist, and seamstress, and as an attendant for an institution for people with cognitive and developmental challenges. As my status in the community rose, I moved from setting to setting. I travelled to the south to promote the community radio show, served as the booking agent and lightshow operator for a mobile disco, and ended up as the general office manager for the community, a buffer between the leader and ruling elite and the 200 members of the community. As my status in the community shifted, so did my ability to see more of what was really occurring. At first, I had believed most people followed the publicly proclaimed principles. I even believed that when I was the office manager, collecting members’ weekly donations, allocating funds to members to cover their needs, purchasing household supplies and food for twelve different enclaves, and buffering members from the never-ending demands for more money by the elite.

Again I pondered cultural differences. There were members who worked multiple jobs to donate all they could for the well-being of the community as a whole. There were members who never donated anything, but who were exempt because the leader favored them. There were members who were so wounded by life that they were unable to contribute anything but still needed resources multiple times a day every day. My carefully calculated food purchases to make sure each person in each house could have two eggs a day on Saturday and Sunday were glibly blown away by members from privileged backgrounds who thanked me for buying the eggs, proclaiming “I had six eggs this morning and it was such a treat.” I wondered how many children would be denied protein as a result.

But these were minor annoyances. There were deeper secrets I finally discovered – the way people’s hard-earned dollars were used to subsidize the costs of the leader’s alcohol and cocaine addiction. I thought long and hard about whether to stay and try to help someone whom I thought at the time wanted to recover or leave for my daughter’s sake. I came up with an alternative that I felt was reasonable. My daughter’s father agreed to take care of her for the summer. I would stay for that time to see what I could do to help the community get back on track. Two days after my daughter left, the leader of the community accosted me, yelling. “What the FUCK did you DO! Sending your daughter away was SO FUCKED UP!” (Those of you who have read my previous blog posts probably can guess how I responded.) I looked him at him calmly and replied in a quiet voice, “If you want to understand why I act as I do, it would be better to ask me. I always consider important decisions very carefully knowing that it is my karma not someone else’s if I make mistakes. It is not your right to question or judge my decisions. And it’s certainly not your right to tell me what to do.” He turned red in the face and screamed “GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT NOW!!!!” This was the only command I obeyed, but based on my own decision that it was the wisest course of action. It was not until decades later that I learned about the sexual abuse women and children experienced at the hands of the leader and his closest cronies, something many former members still prefer to ignore as they continue to believe they are “more spiritually evolved.”

So as I ponder the wisdom of living in an intentional community, I remember these experiences and ask if it is possible to find people who can really build a community based on comradeship. Can people escape the need to follow a leader? The organizational structure that both communities and every organization I have worked for shared in common was based on hierarchical power distinctions. Those organizations that were the most dysfunctional took oppression a bit further, using the “hub” style of management. The person in charge developed personal connections with each member or employee separately and discouraged the development of inter-collegial relationships by pointing out the deficiencies of all the others, a divide and conquer tactic that isolated people from each other and made them easier to manipulate. A picture is worth a thousand words here.

hub management

Photo Credit: Hub-Management Powerpoint slide

The three-dimensional picture of the carnival swing (above) is a more effective illustration. Each person is isolated, reliant on a thin tether that connects them to the power source for their continued survival, a power structure they are incapable of penetrating because of its distance and protective isolation. Each worker or member is easily replaceable, a part of the ride. How can such a structure do anything other than encourage individualism and selfish preoccupation? Can intentional communities undo the unconscious programming of what “leadership” means to those socialized in the dominant culture?

Perhaps I am stuck in my romantic notions of “traditional” Ojibwe culture. In order to become an adult, each individual was encouraged to find his or her own gifts in order to more fully contribute from a grounded foundation to the well-being and survival of the community as a whole while protecting the environment for future generations. I wonder if this ideal is possible. I wonder if the moral of the Sufi story that John McKnight relates is true, “You will only learn what you already know.” Do we as a people already know that our survival really does depend on everyone else who shares the planet? Do we really already know what it takes to live with others in inclusive, respectful, constructive, peaceful ways?

For the sake of my grandchildren and generations to come, I hope we already do know or are still able to learn.

***

french lilac june 21 2022

Postscript:

Allowing others in power to tell us to do things that we feel or know are harmful was all too common for commune members during my time there. It was something I had hoped to escape, but it seems to be a universal issue regardless of cultural or organizational context. I believe we are still responsible for the choices we make. Those in power are responsible for theirs only, not ours. Our best hope for a healthier future is directly connected to our willingness to make choices that nurture the health of the earth, each other, and all our relations.

No One Ever Asked …

Carol A. Hand

All the child welfare system could do
Was take a mother’s children away
No one ever asked why she always had tears in her eyes
Although her daughter cried for her beautiful mother
No one ever asked what her mother needed to heal
So the child spent her childhood with strangers
A mother mourned and the strangers felt virtuous
The community lost yet another child to removal
And the system closed the case, its job complete

Carlisle_pupils

Photo: Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Wikipedia

Can the circle of caring community ever be mended?

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections on a Grey November Day

Carol A. Hand

It’s easier for me to write the facts
Than to decipher what I feel
Still, when I look back in time I wonder
What is fantasy and what is real

I think of an Ojiwe man who survived foster care abuse
And struggled to heal through the years
I  later heard that he died young but I didn’t ask how
Although my heart grieves I no longer shed tears

Instead I write about oppression
In everyday past choices
To share peoples’ dreams and suffering
And I try to honor their voices

Today as I greet the mild grey morning
Watching a crow strut as it chatters
I realize that contributing in some small way
To build understanding is what really matters

crow-767415_640

Photo: A Wise Crow

 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Family

Carol A. Hand

If you can’t say something kind
Don’t say anything at all
It’s the thought that comes to mind
As I greet this grey morning in fall

The message light on my phone
Is still blinking, signaling your call
I’m sad to admit I wish to be alone
I prefer to simply be free once and for all

Free from the fiction of family ties
Free from reliving years of abuse
Free from survivors’ guilt and lies
Listening to history revised is of little use

There are so many truths I cannot share
Probably you were too drunk to recall
You set me up for beatings without a care
I still bear visible scars from it all

me age 8

I forgave you many many years ago
And although I can feel your pain
I can’t forget the violence, you know
I don’t have to tolerate it again

I hope you find internal peace
It’s not in my power to give
I suspect the only real release
Comes from choosing how we live

Honestly I wish you well
There’s nothing else I have to say
Choosing to be kind tempers my words
So I won’t call you back today

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beginning a New Adventure

Carol A. Hand

I have to admit that I was worried about being discovered as a “fraud” for enrolling in a novel-writing project. I didn’t really want to write a novel because I feel a need to acknowledge and honor the stories of others. I want to be true to their accounts, share critical reflections, and offer possible solutions while protecting identities. I’m so grateful for taking time today to explore options. I wrote this poem in gratitude to celebrate what I discovered.

I’ve discovered where I belong
And it shouldn’t be surprising
I’m on the margins with rebels
An old but new story arising

I feel the fear and excitement
As I face this new daunting task
Can I weave stories together
So readers will finally ask

What can we do in the future
To undo egregious harm done
So we can care for all children
Because we know we are all one

Let the words that flow though me
And onto a page speak true
Without blame, inspiring hope
It’s what I’m inspired to do

For the sake of our children
Whose lives end if we fail to care
About bombs, bullets, and drones
About hunger, cold, and poison air

The collateral damage is
Borne by my own heart and soul
Silence when witnessing pain
Carries such a heavy toll

norma age 7

Photo: My Mother Age 7

me age 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Me Age 7 (?)

When I write, I need an image or title to serve as a computer-sort button to keep me on track. Here’s my draft working title: We Remember: Ojibwe Stories about Surviving the Child Welfare (Ill-fare) Years. It may change as I write, but it’s a start…

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Watch, Listen, and Consider …”

Carol A. Hand

Standing in the center of the high bridge between cultures is not a safe, comfortable place. I know I’ve said that in many ways before. Yet, eventually, I reach a point of being grateful for the vantage point. I realize what I share is often misunderstood initially, but I share it any way, hoping that in time, it will make sense.

I promised a while ago that I would let my virtual friends know about the outcome of the play I submitted for review. It was not among those selected to be performed. I can’t say I’m either surprised or disappointed. In the process of writing this piece, I discovered something I might not have otherwise. I have struggled for years with the stories I heard about the abuse of Native American children and the suffering I’ve witnessed. How can anyone make sense of corporate colonial destruction? Sometimes, I have been immobilized by overwhelming grief or rage. Yet writing this play helped be find deeper meaning in the teachings and prophesies of a culture that, at least in principle, recognized the sanctity and oneness of all life. I’m deeply grateful for that discovery.

I’m sharing the play here, now that it’s no longer being considered for publication elsewhere. I know I’ve shared these stories in other ways many times. Yet in the play, the stories are woven together in a new way with a resolution that honors the closest I’ve come to understanding truth and finding a path forward toward reconciliation. Unlike other posts, the only images are words that allow you to tap your own imagination.

YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO HEAR MY STORY
Ojibwe Elders Share Their Stories and Future Hopes
A Play in 3 Acts

Character Breakdown (In order of appearance):

  • Cousin Linda: An Ojibwe community member in her middle 40s who agrees to help a researcher make connections in the reservation community.
  • Researcher: An Ojibwe woman in her early 50s who was conducting an ethnographic study of Indian child welfare on the reservation.
  • Uncle Raymond: An Ojibwe elder in his middle 60s. Although he spent short periods of time working off the reservation, most of his life was spent in the community where he was born and raised.
  • Auntie Lucille: An Ojibwe in her middle 60s. Although she was born on the reservation, she was taken away from her family by county child welfare workers and placed in foster care with a White family far from the reservation. She aged out of the foster-care system, leaving the abusive foster family she lived with for nine years. She didn’t return to her Ojibwe community until she retired.
  • Council Members: Two Ojibwe men in their 40s, Nathan and Howard, well-dressed and stately.
  • Young Uncle Raymond: An eight-year old Ojibwe boy.
  • Ogema: The hereditary tribal chief, in his mid-40s at the time, who prevented Uncle Raymond’s removal.
  • White Farmer 1: The 50-year old man who forgave Uncle Raymond for his childhood indiscretion.
  • Young Auntie Lucille: A nine-year old Ojibwe girl.
  • Group: Six Ojibwe elders (3 men, 3 women), Three Ojibwe adults (women), and Two Ojibwe children (1 girl, 1 boy).
  • White Farmer 2: The 40-year old man who headed the family that served as a foster care placement home for Auntie Lucille and other Native American children after they were removed from their homes and community.

Setting:

  • Scene One – Tribal Office. Desk, computer, several chairs.
  • Scenes Two and Three – Elders’ center dining room. Three tables – one toward front stage right, one middle stage a little toward the back, and one back stage left. See diagram below.

Play diagram

Scene One

Setting

A tribal office with a desk, computer and a few chairs.

Cousin Linda:

[seated at her desk turning from her computer to look at the door as the Researcher knocks on the semi-open door and peeks through the opening]

Come in. Have a seat and tell me more about the research you want to do.

Researcher:

First, I want to thank you for agreeing to help me find my way here. [Walking in, shaking hands, and smiling as she speaks.] Basically, I want to learn more about people’s experiences growing up. I would like to look at the child welfare system and see how it fits with tribal views in the past and today. Here are the materials the university requires me to share with people who agree to talk to me. [handing a pile of papers to Cousin Linda]

Cousin Linda:

[laughing as she glances at the papers]

You can’t share these questions with people in the community. They won’t understand them. No one will talk to you! Let’s rewrite them, but we have to hurry to make it to the elder’s center on time.

[Cousin Linda turns toward her computer and begins typing. The Researcher pulls a chair up next to Cousin Linda. The scene ends as they are both looking at the computer screen, talking animatedly and laughing. Lights dim and curtain closes.]

Scene Two

Setting

A Tribal Elder’s Center in the congregate dining room. Elders, adults, and children of varying ages are seated at the three tables in the room. Everyone is already eating their lunch.

The dining room is crowded as Cousin Linda and the Researcher enter the room. They sit down at the table Cousin Linda has chosen where Uncle Raymond and Auntie Lucille are seated along with two Tribal Council Members, Nathan and Howard, both in their 40s.

Cousin Linda:

I’d like to introduce a friend of mine who wants to learn more about the community. She’s from the university and wants to study children and families. Here’s some information about the questions she wants to ask community members.

[Everyone at the table becomes quiet as the glance over the papers. Cousin Linda and the Researcher go to the food table to get their lunch and return to their seats. ]

Council Member Nathan:

I’d be willing to share my story. Here’s my card. [handing his card to the Researcher]
Give me a call so we can schedule a time to talk.

Uncle Raymond:

I’d be willing to talk to you, too. [as he’s looking at the Researcher].
Can you come to my house this afternoon?

Researcher:

Thank you both. I will give you a call, Councilman [looking at Nathan].
And I welcome the chance to hear your stories today, Uncle Raymond [looking at Uncle Raymond and shaking his hand].

[Those seated at the tables all leave, except for the Researcher and Uncle Raymond. The two rear tables are moved to create space in the corners. The Researcher remains where she is seated. Uncle Raymond walks to the middle of the stage and sits down on a chair. The spotlight falls on him as he begins his story. The other lights are dimmed.]

Uncle Raymond:

When I was a boy, there were only about twenty-eight families that lived in the village here. [A dreamy look on his face as he remembers] All of the families were poor, but we hunted and shared what we gathered. Deer were divided among all of the families, and my friend and I snared rabbits as young boys and would share what we caught with everyone.

[Laughing]

I remember one time when I was a young boy, it was winter time, and all of us were really cold. We didn’t have any fire wood. So I had gone off to find some wood, and there was little to be seen. It was cold, and it was getting dark when I came up to a white farmer’s fenced in land. I thought “those fence posts would burn nicely.” So, I cut them and brought them home. We had a fire that night. The farmer was really mad when he saw that his posts were gone and wanted to have the thief arrested.

Ogema found out about it and figured out who had taken the posts. He came to wake me up early the next morning. It wasn’t even light out yet. He told me to get up and get dressed. We were going out to the woods to gather cedar trees. He showed me how to choose the right tress, cut them, and prepare the wood that is sacred to the Ojibwe people, and he taught me how to make posts.

[On the right side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights Ogema kneeling next to the Young Uncle Raymond, showing him how to prepare a cedar post. There is no audible discussion as Uncle Raymond continues his story. The spotlight fades after a minute or two]

[Note – This side scene and others that follow could also be choreographed as a dance with a drum and flute softly playing]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

When we were finished, we brought the posts to the farmer and helped him repair the fence. I apologized for taking the posts. Ogema persuaded the farmer not to report me since I realized what I had done was wrong and worked hard to make up for my mistake. The farmer agreed. After that, Ogema knew how many families in the village were cold, so from then on he made sure that the community worked together so there was enough wood for everyone in the village.

[On the left side of the stage, a spotlight highlights Ogema introducing young Cousin Raymond to the White Farmer. The Farmer leans down and shakes Uncle Raymond’s hand. Again, there is no audible dialogue as Uncle Raymond continues]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

Ogema also taught me that hunting is not a sport – it’s something that you do for food. It’s not a sport if you leave something for what you take. That’s why we leave tobacco for something we take – we’re being responsible. [He pulls a tobacco tie from his shirt pocket, handling it gently in his left hand, gazing at it wistfully as he remembers]

We are at the mercy of the Great One and the power when we’re out there, but we go, knowing that we have to have food to live and we have to do that.

It’s work. I don’t really like to kill. There’s a sadness there for that deer. I don’t hunt just to kill it, and I don’t feel good about killing. Sometimes, the deer doesn’t die right away. That’s why we leave something, to ask forgiveness. That’s why we take it home to feed our family and others who are hungry – out of respect. My relatives and I like to hunt together and we all feel that sadness – that loss or sadness. Ojibwe people have been doing this for thousands of years.

Ogema and my grandmother told me that a lot of our people feel that way – feel that sadness. That’s why we have to eat it all and use all of the parts – out of respect. If we don’t do that, we won’t have that relationship with the deer. That relationship with the deer is important. That’s why we always put moccasins on when we are preparing someone who has died – so that they will have that deer skin on their feet when they take that long journey – so we can walk with deer skin on our feet.

Cousin Linda:

[Quietly enters the right side of the stage behind Uncle Raymond, highlighted by a spot light while she speaks]

“Ogema” is not the name of a person, it is the Ojibwe word for “leader” or “chief” – a title earned through generosity, wisdom, and actions that bring people together and protect the community. Uncle Raymond’s story shows the enduring legacy of a culture that valued children and all life. They had highly developed and sophisticated techniques for ensuring the education and well-being of the next generations and building alliances with other groups. Sadly, many Ojibwe adults also felt the need to protect children in ways that meant the loss of their language. [the spotlight fades and Cousin Linda exits]

Uncle Raymond [continuing]:

When I was growing up, my cousin and I would follow the elders when they went out into the woods. We would hide behind brush so we could listen to them speak Ojibwe. The elders would come and chase us away so we wouldn’t be able to learn the language. They told us they didn’t want us to suffer the way that they had.

Even though Ogema was there to teach me when I was growing up, my life wasn’t easy. I dropped out when I was a junior in high school. I was kicked out of the house when I turned 18. My sister took me in, but there was no support to finish high school. So I went into the military, and sent money home and hoped they wouldn’t drink it all up.

When I dropped out of school, I got a job and I realized that I needed more education. I went to night school for high school and college credits. I didn’t want to go through the process of getting a diploma with younger kids, so I took the GED test and passed. I went to technical school and college. I took courses in business, accounting, English language, tribal history. I wanted to be able to do my job better. I went as someone who wanted to learn, not for a degree.

I never wanted to be dependent on any authority. I provided for my family, and I provided for myself for years. I still believe this. I don’t believe the tribe owes me a thing. But I still try to follow Ogema’s example by caring for others in the community and try to also pass on the skills and traditions and traditions I learned to the next generations. It’s not always easy.

There’s a young non-Indian girl here who told me that she couldn’t eat most kinds of meat, fish, or shrimp – it makes her sick. But she can eat venison. So I’m going to give her one of the deer my grandson and his friend shot yesterday. My brother and I have been teaching them how to hunt in the right way and I’m proud of them. My daughter and granddaughter go with me to gather cranberries – mashkiigiminan – in the swamp like I did as a child, and my children and grandchildren are learning how to gather and preserve manoomin – wild rice. It’s important for us to remember our ways and pass them on. That’s why I’m sharing my story – so the next generation can remember our ways.

[Lights dim and curtain closes.]

Scene Three

Setting

A Tribal Elder’s Center in the congregate dining room a year later. A few elders are left after the desert, sitting at tables. You can hear their animated conversations although it’s impossible to hear much of what they are saying because they’re all talking at the same time to their own table-mates, interspersed with laughter.

At one of the tables, the Researcher is listening to elders share stories about the old days as Auntie Lucille walks up to the table to clear away the remaining dishes as she tidies up the room. She bends down and gently touches the shoulder of the Researcher.

Auntie Lucille:

I grew up in foster care, but you wouldn’t want to hear my story. It’s not a happy one.

Researcher:

I would welcome the chance to hear your story when you have time.

Auntie Lucille:

I don’t know … Maybe today in about an hour after everyone leaves and I’m done with my clean up.

Researcher:

Can I help you finish the clean up?

[The Researcher stands and helps clear the last of the dishes, everyone else leaves. The two rear tables are moved to create space in the corners, The Researcher returns to her seat at the front table when they’re done and Auntie Lucille sits in the center. Auntie Lucille is in the spotlight as the rest of the lights dim.]

Auntie Lucille:

When I was little, with grandma and grandpa, when it was time for doing canoes, I went with them to get bark for the canoes, for the wigwam. I went with grandpa. He always did that. Grandma always taught beadwork. I had to tan hides – I’m glad I didn’t have to clean them [smiling dreamily]. They were spread out on frames in the house – I would scrape them [she lifts her hand and moves it through the air with back and force motions] until they were nice and soft.

The big drum was here and grandma and grandpa were part of it. The drum was presented to grandma. Every time they would have a feast, she’d take me and my brother. I sat on the right side of grandma, and my brother sat on her left. As long as the drum was out, we couldn’t get up or say anything.

[On the left side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights a small group of adults around a drum, playing softly, while a few children, including the young Auntie Lucille, are seated watching them. The light fades and the soft sound of the drum plays in the background for several minutes as Auntie Lucille continues her story.]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

My job after school was to go to all of the elders’ houses to see if they needed anything, any work done or water or wood. My job was to do whatever they needed. I guess that’s why I do it now. I always got along better with elders. If they ask for help you give it, or you offer. I could sit and visit with elders and I always felt better. [smiling as she remembers these times]

I had a lot of good times when grandma and I would sit on the porch. She would talk Indian and I could understand what she was saying. My brother and I always knew what she was saying, but she wouldn’t teach us because she said it was going to be a white man’s world. “They’re taking over and I don’t want you to be beaten up for talking Indian.” And she was right. It was our heritage, but we couldn’t learn because the white man’s going to take over. [She frowns as she says this in a rougher tone of voice]

[Suddenly her face lights up and she talks animatedly] We went to ball games. Grandpa would be an umpire and we’d go all over. I was always with grandpa and grandma, going everywhere with them – [her smile fades] – more than with my mom. Mom didn’t care. She’d come home drunk and chase us out of the house at 3 or 4 in the morning. We’d run to grandma’s. [a wistful smile returns].

Grandma always had a crock pot of biscuits by the door, it was covered with a towel, and we’d go in and grab a biscuit and go upstairs to the bed – they always had a bed for us. When grandpa got up in the morning, we’d hear him say “Well our kids are home again.” I could never figure out how they knew we were there, and then one day I realized that my brother never put the towel over the crock pot after he took his biscuits.[laughing softly as she remembers]

My grandparents got up early. In the morning, my grandpa would say “It’s 6 a.m., daylight in the swamp kids.” My grandpa trapped in the winter time. He’d come and wake me up early and tell me to go with him. I’d ask him why he wasn’t taking my brother instead. He’d say “you’re the oldest so you’re coming.” If I wanted money, I’d have to work for it. I’d cut wood, or pump water if I wanted money. If I wanted a nickel or dime, I had to work for it first.

I could always count on them. They always had something to eat and there was always a bed ready. [she sits up straighter and says this with conviction]

[the drumming stops, and emotions of anger and sadness appear on her face, her voice is matter-of-fact as she tells the next stories, sometimes increasing in volume and speed with anger or slowing and quieting with sadness.]

After I was 9, for 9 years I was away from that love, heritage, pride, life. Where’s an Indian supposed to fit in? When you have those values and are denied a chance to practice them? It was just nine years of hell. How to work was all I got out of it. There was no love – no nothing.

I was 9 years old when I was told welfare was going to come and take me and my little brother to a foster home. Grandpa and grandma wanted to keep us but they were told they were too old. They were not willing to have us go away, but the county social workers took us anyway.

We were one of the first ones taken away. They came and picked us up and took us to this farm. I was 9, so I tried to remember the route. I remembered the highway. They said it was 80 miles, but it was more than that. They said that Mom could come and see us whenever she wanted but that did not happen.

The home on the farm had three daughters of their own, but we – the Indian foster kids – had to do all of the work. We had to wait on them all. [anger and disgust in her voice] We were supposed to get $3 a month for an allowance, but we never got it. We didn’t know anything but work and school. We were not allowed to go anywhere else. We couldn’t have any friends. They were mean to us – we were hit and beat by horse straps. We would tell the social worker at our monthly meetings, but for the 9 years my brother and I were there, we never had the same worker twice. They kept changing workers.

[On the right side of the stage toward the back, a spotlight highlights a white farmer with a strap in his hand hitting the younger Auntie Lucille while other children sit and watch. The soft sound of children crying and a drum plays in the background for a minute or two as Auntie Lucille continues her story]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

After I was there, they started bringing others – my other brothers, my sister, and my cousins from the reservation community. My grandma told me “You’re the oldest so you need to watch out for the others.” I took a lot of beatings to protect them so they wouldn’t be hit. [her voice firm and angry, her fists clenched and again, she sits up straighter, adjusting herself in the chair]

They only took us in because of the work they could get out of us. They never took me to the doctor or dentist like they were supposed to do. I never went to the dentist until I was 18 and I got out of there.

They had these fields of green beans. They took us there to work in the fields picking beans every day in the summer. We were there from 6 in the morning until they came to get us. We earned 3 cents a bushel, but we never got to keep our money – they took it.

My brothers ran away. I got beat until they came back.

My grandma told me “You’re a survivor – you’ll make it no matter what.” And that kept me going. I had a couple of nervous breakdowns. When I was raising my own kids everything that I went through at that farm – it all started to come back.

[tearing up, you can hear her voice breaking as she struggles not to cry] I can’t have no hate in my heart. If you can’t forgive, take charge of your life, you’re lost. I don’t blame anyone, I don’t blame my mom – she thought she was doing the best thing for us. Mom drank a lot. There were nine of us kids. She was a good mom, other than going and out drinking. She was not a mean mom, but a lot of the reservation thought she wasn’t a very good mother. Her own sister did it to her – reported her to welfare. Her sister later told me that if she had known what was happening in the foster home she never would have done it.

I don’t have anything good to say about the welfare system. I don’t care that much for foster homes because there is no one who oversees the homes. I don’t think Indian children should be raised in a white man’s home. They don’t share our culture, and they don’t want to understand us. The only way is their way. I don’t think that’s right for Indian children.

[Auntie Lucille stands. Cousin Linda slowly enters as Auntie Lucille is finishing her story and stands to the right of Auntie Lucille. Soft drumming begins and continues until the Auntie Lucille stops talking]

Auntie Lucille [continuing]:

I did survive even though it’s been hard. I have lived with the hurt and the shame of what happened to me as a child. I never shared this story before. Now I see that we need to share our stories with each other. As a tribe and community, we need to heal the circle for those like me who return looking for the love we knew or missed as children. We return looking for the sense of acceptance and belonging we remember from our childhood.

I just want to help others who have had hard lives. If my story helps at least one person, then what I went through will be worth it.

[Drumming ends. Cousin Linda gently hugs Auntie Lucille when she stops talking. She stands on Auntie Lucille’s right and speaks firmly, perhaps with tears in her voice]

Cousin Linda:

I’m so glad you came home, Auntie Lucille. [gently, as she looks at Auntie Lucille and smiles]

We have lost so many tribal members through the centuries. First to boarding schools, then to adoption and foster care in White families – far from the reservation. And now we are losing our youth to juvenile detention centers and group homes. We’ve lost families, too, when they were relocated by federal policies to urban areas. We’re lucky that you returned. [smiling, looks at Auntie Lucille and takes her hand]

[looking toward the audience] Only some return like Auntie Lucille. Some died too young, and others never returned. We have lost so many.

[As Cousin Linda is speaking, Uncle Raymond enters and stands next to Auntie Lucille on her left side]

Cousin Linda [continuing]:

We want to thank the Researcher for encouraging us to tell our stories and recording them so future generations can remember both the suffering and strengths of our ancestors and our elders. We survived as Ojibwe people because they did all they could to protect us and teach us our ways.

[the Researcher stands from her seat by the table, where she’s remained during the scene. She gives a tobacco tie to Uncle Raymond, Auntie Lucille, and Cousin Linda to acknowledge her gratitude and hugs each one. The Researcher exits while Auntie Lucille, Cousin Linda, and Uncle Raymond remain standing in center stage.]

Uncle Raymond:

It’s important for us to remember our stories – both the good and the bad. What happened to Auntie Lucille is still happening today. As a tribe, we need to do something about that. The kids are our future people, our tribe. We should have something for them to look forward to. We need to have something that provides a strong sense of connection and foundation. Now, many of them feel lost and invisible. We need to remember what Ogema taught us about being a community and caring for all of our children.

[The spot lights on center stage fade and the spirit of Ogema appears as a hazy projected image on a screen to the left of group.]

Ogema:

My heart is grateful to see the people you have become. You have all lived through difficult times, just like our ancestors, but you have remembered their teachings.

[in a voice of warmth and kindness] Dear Lucille, you are an inspiration to others in the community. Never forget that. You have survived hard times because of your strength and love. Welcome home. Raymond, I remember you as a little boy and I am proud of the man you became. [chuckling]

[in a voice of warmth and kindness]You may not realize how profoundly you have touched the lives of others, but your deeds have helped the people preserve our ways and kept them safe. You have taught them how to hunt and gather and how to respect each other and the earth. And Linda, thank you for helping the community remember their stories and helping the youth reclaim their heritage.

[a more serious tone] But the hardest work is yet to come. The times foretold by our ancestors have arrived. The waters have been poisoned by our disrespect for the earth and each other. As Ojibwe leaders, it is your responsibility to help the community to continue walking on the path of life as an example to other nations.

  • Thank Gitche Manitou, the Great Spirit, for all of the wonders around you and the miracle of life
  • Honor elders and you honor life and wisdom
  • Honor life in all its forms and your own life will be sustained
  • Honor women and you honor the gift of life and love
  • Honor promises – by keeping your word, you will be true
  • Honor kindness – by sharing gifts you will be kind
  • Be peaceful – through peace, all will find the Great Peace
  • Be courageous – through courage, all will grow in strength
  • And be moderate in all things – watch, listen and consider so your actions will be wise.

As you have said, Raymond, the children are our future. But remember the lessons you learned long ago. The well-being of Ojibwe children depends on the well-being of all children, and therefore, on the health of our earth. Use the skills you gained in your lives to teach other peoples how to walk the path of life because our lives and the life of our earth are all connected. And remember in the difficult times ahead that the spirits of your ancestors walk with you. [voice becomes ethereal with the final sentence]

[Image fades and the drum plays as the curtain closes on the scene]

Development History

The title of this play, “You wouldn’t Want to Hear My Story,” is drawn from a quote of an Ojibwe elder who shared her story with me. The play itself is based on a critical ethnographic study conducted in 2001-2002 that focused on exploring historical and contemporary child welfare issues from an Ojibwe perspective. Although the stories have been edited to remove any place or name identifiers and for narrative flow, care has been taken to preserve the authentic perspectives and voices of the storytellers. These stories and others have been previously published in a variety of venues:

Hand, C. A. (2003). An Ojiwe perspective on the welfare of children: Rescuing children or homogenizing America? (Doctoral dissertation.) UMI Dissertation Services, ProQuest

Hand, C. A. (2006). An Ojibwe perspective on the welfare of children: Lessons of the past and visions for the future. Child and Youth Services Review, 28, 20-46.

Hand, C. A. (2015). Native American Issues. Voices from the Margins (blog). Avaialble at https://carolahand.wordpress.com/native-american-issues/.

A number of other resources were used to add contextual elements for Ogema’s ending monologue:

The path of life that Ogema shares is based on Basil Johnson (1976), Ojibway heritage (p. 93). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Historical and cultural contexts are supported by online sources:

“The teachings of the Seven fires prophecy also state that when the world has been befouled and the waters turned bitter by disrespect, human beings will have two options to choose from, materialism or spirituality. If they chose spirituality, they will survive, but if they chose materialism, it will be the end of it.” (Source: Wikipedia)

“The Seven Fires Prophecy is an Ojibwe prophecy that encourages the union of all for colours of the human race to ensure a kinship that will lead to peace and harmony. The prophecy warns that without a union of the earth’s people the earth will cleanse itself.” Source: Ojibwe Resources)

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Catfish and the Eagle

Carol A. Hand

Angeline and Valentine,
The catfish and the eagle
One lived in murky waters
And the other, born to fly

Despite mud, Angeline thrived
While crows of conformity
Kept Valentine on the ground
In a sorry state, barely alive

Sometimes Angeline would gaze
At the sky so blue up above
At eagle wings gleaming in sun’s rays
As she waited patiently for love

Valentine stood on the shore
Looking at his reflection
Feeling lost but wanting more
And wishing for affection

When their eyes met in wonder
To see another so strange
Their fate was sealed – love’s thunder
Though both sensed disastrous change

AV2

Drawing: Carol A. Hand

Angeline gave Valentine
A reason to try to fly
With talons gently holding her
They rose as fluffy clouds passed by

Suddenly she gasped for breath
She needed her water home
A reluctant Valentine
Left her and flew off alone

Ah, it would be a different tale
Had he simply stayed away
Alas they were caught in passions’ gale
Or perhaps a karmic debt to pay

Each time they flew a bit further
Valentine’s talons dug in deeper
Angeline wounded gasping for breath
Finally knew her only release would be death

Valentine tightened his grip in sorrow
Freezing his own heart for Angeline
To give her another tomorrow.
But as life would have it – call it fate
Angeline’s freedom came too late

Background:

This is a metaphoric story about my Anglo American father and my Ojibwe mother. Names do have meanings, as do Ojibwe clans.

The catfish clan is likely the one that my mother was born into – the clan of the teachers and scholars whose role is to advise leaders and help resolve disputes. The eagle was viewed as a symbol of American settlers, and the eagle clan designation was assigned to the children of mixed Ojiwe/European unions when the fathers were of European descent.

Angeline (meaning “angel” or “messenger”) was my mother’s middle name, in many ways fitting. Although forced to live outside of her culture for much of her adult life and ashamed of her heritage, she was kind, hardworking, and a truly compassionate nurse and gifted healer.  Valentine (meaning “strong, vigorous, healthy’) was my father’s middle name. Certainly these were potentials he was born with but his abusive childhood and military service left serious insecurities, bitterness, and a short fuse when dealing with frustration. He could be funny and charming, or quick to anger and violence, depending on his mercurial moods. He was also brilliant, but not acknowledged as such because of his working class roots, fractious personality, and lack of even a high school diploma.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Sweet Caroline”

Carol A. Hand

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My brother’s only one
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My mother’s on the run
We’re on a train to Texas
She hopes the abuse is finally done

train

Photo: Passenger Train from the 1950s

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Open plains are rolling by
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I watch my mother cry
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Mile after mile
There’s no one else to comfort her
So I try to make her smile

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Will this journey never end
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I could use a friend
Passengers try to make me smile
Calling me “Sweet Caroline

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
Little do we know
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
There are many more miles to go
As my father follows us to New Mexico
Arizona, and finally Lac du Flambeau

Clickety-clack clickety-clack
My mother sobs, my brother cries
Clickety-clack clickety-clack
I vow to protect her
From my father’s blows
Beneath Wisconsin skies

The tracks of hoped for salvation
Are but a memory past
It took another forty years
For my mother to be free at last

Acknowledgements:

Neil Diamond, “Sweet Caroline

 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Indian Child Welfare – July 15, 2015

Carol A. Hand

The most difficult part of any new initiative for me is figuring out where to begin. What is it I hope to achieve with this newest project – a book about Indian child welfare? What can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what do I really know for sure? Who would be the best audience – the audience that would be most receptive and most likely to act in thoughtful ways to address continuing oppression? These are some of the questions I have been pondering as I look at the blinking cursor on my empty computer screen.

Start somewhere,” I tell myself. “You have a title, so draft a title page.” (Yes, I often refer to myself in third person language in my thoughts. I’m not sure why even though I think it’s rather odd …)

rescuing children title page jpg

Photo: Draft Title Page

But how should I begin? Here’s my most recent beginning. I really do welcome your honest comments and suggestions.

************

Imagine that you were a five-year old boy or girl walking along the road in your village. A village where you knew everyone, where you felt safe because the villagers all watched over you and kept you from being hungry or harmed, until that one day when no adults saw the strangers that drove by and enticed you into a car. You had never ridden in a car before and were curious as many children your age would be. Now imagine that it would be more than a decade before you would see your family or community again. You awoke from the long journey to find yourself in a strange place with many other strange children. More than seventy years later, you still carry the scar on your hand from that day when the adults in that strange new place where you found yourself hit you with a sharp-edged ruler because you asked another child where the restroom was in the only language you knew, “Indian.”

Imagine what you would feel as a parent or grandparent if your child suddenly disappeared. You knew he or she was not the first to be taken by the strangers who had invaded your homeland more than a century before. And he or she would not be the last to be taken by the descendants of strangers whose language and ways were different and who had the power to take your land and confine you to a small “reserved” area of your original homeland after they clear cut all of your trees. Strangers who had the power to outlaw your language, spiritual practices, and ways of life. Now they were taking your children and there was absolutely nothing you or anyone else in the community could do to get your children back or stop the kidnapping. Imagine what all of the relatives, elders and warriors of your community would feel and how profoundly it would forever change the community and how you felt about life.

This is only one of the stories I heard from Ojibwe community members whose childhoods were spent in places far from their families and community. This book shares some of their stories and describes the historical events and contemporary consequences for a system that claimed to be rescuing children from neglect and abuse. I leave it you as the reader to determine if the inhumane and traumatizing child welfare policies that were and are still imposed on Indigenous peoples in what is now the United States are something that should remain unacknowledged, unchanged, and unchallenged.

Acknowledgements:

1. For those who haven’t read prior posts, the photos on the title page are of my mother before and after Indian boarding school.
2. I was inspired to write this reflection after a conversation I had with a dear friend yesterday. She asked me what my purpose for writing the book was and who the intended audience was. This is my first attempt to respond to those questions. I hope you will share your views.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reflections about Being Honest and Fair

Carol A. Hand

Working on my mother’s story sometimes dredges up memories that I would prefer to forget. I don’t often speak of my father, but he’s an important part of her story. They were together for 51 years.

Wedding Photo

Photo: My Mother and Father’s Wedding – December 1943

I really know very little about him because I always tried to avoid him as much as possible – to steel my heart and shield my body from his emotional and physical abuse. I decided to see what I would find if I googled his name – an odd one – and much to my surprise I discovered personal details about him and his family here, including social security numbers! Looking through the documents my mother saved has stirred up a lot of memories and ambivalent, unresolved feelings. The following poem is an attempt to remember and make sense of past events. A warning – it’s not a light-hearted read.

Father

I rarely write about my father – It’s not a topic that’s appealing
It’s fraught with memories of abuse and the nauseated feeling
At every meal when he was present and every time when he was around
Never knowing what would trigger his yelling or being thrown to the ground.

Although I understood him – the deep insecurity caused by his class and size
His bullying and aggression didn’t earn respect in other people’s eyes.
One moment he was charming, the next holding an unraveled belt or later, a gun
For some imagined slight in a war that must be fought – a war that must be won.

It was twenty-one years ago when he died all alone
On a veterans’ psych ward that became his final home
It was my document that placed him there – a promise I made long ago
If you raise your hand and strike again, you’ll be on a psych ward quicker than you know.”

I didn’t do it out of anger – I forgave you so may years ago
But you forced me to stand up to bullies – to learn how to deal with pain
To speak truth to power and protect those who didn’t know
That they deserved more than to be hurt again and again.

I always wished there were a treatment to help you quell your inner agony,
It was your right to refuse, you had a right to make a choice – but others paid the fee,
Perhaps your fear was too great or your delusions of grandeur too overblown
I hope your suffering has ended, that you finally found peace, even though you died alone.

bird-feather-13486506267nW

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Writing accounts of other people’s lives is not an easy task for me. I feel the need to be honest and to look for everybody’s strengths at the same time. Yet I wonder what to do if, in balance, it would be dishonest to gloss over the deep legacy of harm others have done, just as it would be for me to stand by as a silent witness to abuse. The fear and abuse my mother lived through in her personal life was much like the historical trauma her ancestors experienced. Imagine feeling helpless as you stand by as a witness while your little children offer themselves up to take your beatings? How does one write about this in a way that will be read and, more importantly, be understood? How does one see the humanity and pain of those who are abusive and represent them with compassion, regardless of their past and present actions, but still hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done? How does one make clear connections to the violence embedded in the decisions politicians, corporate decision makers, and bankers make every day, the same kinds of decisions that killed millions of my indigenous ancestors and will kill millions today? Are they just really insecure people like my father who have more power to do far greater harm?

Today, I hesitated to publish this. I don’t have answers to these questions, but they are crucial and central to the work I have begun… As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: