History Keeps Repeating – A Reblog

The news about Afghanistan this morning was heartbreaking and decontextualized. How easily we forget the tragic U.S. and global actions that led to so much needless devastation, suffering, and death. It brought to mind my memories from the aftermath of September 11, 2001, almost 20 years ago. It seems important to reblog something I wrote in 2017. I hope it helps provide another perspective in these troubling times when news seems so one-sided.

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History Keeps Repeating

(April 19, 2017)

I wonder how many have experienced being a sensitive child born into a world of chaos and abuse. Perhaps your first memories are similar to the ones described in a post I wrote years ago for a friend’s blog.

My first memory as a child is so clear in my mind even though experts in brain development say it is not possible. It was my first Christmas. A February baby born on the cusp of Pisces and Aquarius, I lay in my crib as the winter sun streamed through the window. My mother and father stood on opposite sides of my crib, arguing. The personal pain and insecurities that led to their argument were so clear to me. But more compelling were the strengths and beauty I saw in both of them. I struggled helplessly in a body that could not give voice to what I saw. All I could do was cry.

Thus began a life lived in the tragic gap between what is and what could be. A life straddling cultures, socio-economic classes, and religious beliefs. Surviving childhood abuse and rape as a sensitive soul brings powerful insights and abilities as well as deep wounds that may take more than one lifetime to heal. Compassion, sorrow, and rage at callous injustice compete in ongoing inner struggles. “Breathe. Detach. Reflect. Do what you can to inspire others to see their own beauty and create new possibilities even though you know it’s not an easy journey. Try anyway, even though you don’t always see yourself worthy of walking this path.”

Events like the bombing of Afghanistan – again – remind me why it’s important to try anyway. History keeps repeating itself. Maybe this time I’ll be able to communicate the message in a way that can be heard.

In 2001-2002, I conducted a critical ethnographic study of child welfare in a rural Ojibwe community. The topic was important to me because Native American children continue to be removed from families and communities in disproportionate numbers. Removing children is a continuing form of cultural genocide. Many previous studies of Native Americans offered justification for this practice. They portrayed Native communities as though they were isolated from the rest of the world, and cultures as if frozen in the long ago past destined to inevitably disappear. I still wonder how anyone could ignore the obvious and profound effects that colonial subjugation has continued to have for Indigenous communities and cultures.

The past and present socio-political context of U.S. Indian and child welfare policies were an important part of my research. I wanted to understand the community and culture from as many different vantage points as possible during my time “in the field.” My first week, I was lucky. An Ojibwe elder shared a story about his childhood that provided a crucial framework and foundation for my study. The information would have remained significant in any case. But the date of our conversation, September 10, 2001, made it clear that even in remote areas global issues have profound effects.

As I work on editing the book manuscript I wrote about my research, I can’t help reflecting on our inability as a nation to learn from history. Two weeks ago, I edited and revised the following excerpt.

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Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001

I’m eager to return to the border town and reservation. The morning is cool and clear as I set out for the long drive. But my heart is heavy with news from the world far from the ceded territories of the Ojibwe. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began yesterday as the U.S. and its ally, Great Britain, launched an intensive bombing campaign. Retaliation against a poor nation that is not responsible for 911 is so senseless. There will be no positive outcomes for killing other innocent people. “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion is named, will not bring freedom. I fear it will only result in more death and suffering.

As I drive, I remember President Eisenhower’s observations from so many years ago.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. (Chance of Peace speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC on April 16, 1953)

War will affect the hopes of all of the children in the U.S. and Afghanistan. I have no words to express the deep sadness I feel. So I sing, belting out verses of songs and prayers for peace as tears stream from my eyes. I notice the bald-headed eagle flying above my car, circling overhead as I pray and sing. I wonder. “Is the eagle’s presence merely a coincidence? Or is it a sign that what I’m doing will forge a path to build understanding and peace?

***

Present-day Reflections. I don’t remember ever learning anything about Afghanistan in school, even though it’s been inhabited for at least 50,000 years and is the location of some the oldest farming communities in the world. It has been a predominantly Muslim country since 882 CE comprised of diverse indigenous tribes ruled by a central monarchy. Despite its land-locked location, Afghanistan has remained an important connecting point between the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

In recent history it once again became the site of competing interests. In the mid-1800s, Great Britain imposed colonial rule over Afghanistan’s neighbor, India, leading to an ongoing struggle between Britain and the Soviet Union for control of the area. Internal conflicts within Afghanistan between those with differing views of governance, monarchy versus communism, erupted into civil war. Both the Soviet Union and United States provided cash and weapons to aid and arm competing armies. In 1979, the Soviet Union finally sent in troops and took control of the country. It’s estimated that 1 million Afghan people were killed by Soviet troops and their Afghan allies. Many more Afghan people fled to other nations before the Soviet Union withdrew their forces in 1989 (Admin, PBS, 2006).

During the 1980s in the U.S., funding was significantly reduced for the social welfare safety net programs intended to help poor families and children with access to health care, education, housing, income security, and nutrition (Karger & Stoesz, 2010). At the same time, billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan to arm and support insurgent anti-communist forces that were fighting against Soviet occupation (Coll, 2005).

Due to ongoing wars, Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the world when Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, an estimated 1,000 to 1,300 civilians were killed as a direct result of bombing (Conetta, 2002a). By mid-January, 2002, another 3,200 had died of starvation, exposure, illness or injuries related to invasive bombing by the U.S. and Great Britain (Conetta, 2002b).

Eisenhower’s warning proved to be true. Children and families in both nations have continued to be affected by the costs of war on many levels.

***

Research Fieldnotes: Monday, October 8, 2001 (continued)

The eagle and long drive give me a chance to compose myself before I reach the reservation.

I arrive at Henry’s house at about 10:40, only ten minutes late for our scheduled meeting….

Community members gathered at the elder’s center the next day for lunch, as they did most weekdays. “I can’t understand why the Afghani people don’t like us,” Maymie says. The elders talk of anthrax, gardens, and making apple cider. They don’t seem to be concerned about the threat of terrorism here, but they do express their confusion about why others in the world seem to hate Americans.

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A few days ago, the U.S bombed Afghanistan again with “the mother of all bombs.” Operation Enduring Freedom? Other choices are possible and far more likely to be successful if that really is the goal of U.S. international actions.

I honestly don’t know how to effectively communicate with those who don’t seem to be able to listen or hear. Sometimes all I can do is find moments of beauty despite the deep sorrow I feel. Other times, I just cry, as I did on my first Christmas. Today, I choose to share this message along with my prayers for peace despite the risk of being ignored, criticized or misunderstood.

Works Cited:

Admin (2006, October 10). The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. PBS Newshour. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/asia-july-dec06-soviet_10-10/.

Coll, Steve (1005). Ghost wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Conetta, Carl. (24 January, 2002a). Operation Enduring Freedom: Why a higher rate of civilian bombing casualties. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html .

Conetta, Carl. (30 January, 2002). Strange victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war. PDA: Project on Defense Alternatives. Retrieved on April 19, 2017 from http://www.comw.org/pda/0201strangevic.html.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1953, April 16). Chance of Peace. Speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_for_Peace_speech on March 15, 2015.

Karger, Howard Jacob & Stoesz, David (2010). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Reflections about “The Great Hurt”

November 16, 2020

each alone yet with others on the stage
masked, dressed in black, seated
in a darkened auditorium
in appropriately physically distanced chairs
the present-day requirements for COVID-19

scripts in hand – readers of others’ stories –
ready to share the painful journey of our ancestors
through times of death and suffering
to help ourselves and others
better understand the forces that molded us
centuries before we were born

through the legacy of suffering passed on in our DNA,
the inferior social status, powerlessness, and social institutions
forced on our ancestors by newcomers
who saw us as savages and heathens
because they knew nothing about our ways

it’s a heavy burden we’ve carried for a lifetime
but we’re learning that our ancestors’ legacy
provides a road map of tenacious resiliency
that can help us face the sometimes overwhelming grief
over what was lost as we strengthen our connections
with each other and the earth to heal the past
and breathe life into new possibilities

I chose to be present to learn and share
despite the frailty of my aging frame
bones cold and aching in the chilly auditorium
stiffly walking to the podium with my heart glowing
resolved to share words of suffering and healing
from the depths of my spirit for the sake of all my relations
of the past, present and future…



Acknowledgements

On November 14, 2020, The College of St. Scholastica’s (CSS) Department of Social Work presented “The Great Hurt: A Readers Theatre” produced by renowned Ojibwe artist and historian Carl Gawboy. I was privileged to be among the nine readers who shared historical accounts of the American Indian boarding schools in the United States.

Although there were only three CSS personnel in the audience and a reduced cast of readers because of the accelerating spread of COVID in our state and county, the performance still had a profound effect on those who were present. This poem is my way of thanking Carl Gawboy and the two coordinators of the event, Michelle Robertson and Cynthia Donner (both Assistant Professors at CSS), for their continuing commitment to raise awareness about the legacy of historical trauma that has touched the lives of Indigenous survivors of genocidal policies for centuries in an effort to promote healing of the soul-deep wounds survivors still carry.

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April Reflections 2020

A comment from a dear friend, Migo, from Unnecessary News from Earth, inspired me to finish and share a post I have been working on in the few free moments I have had this month. 

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April 10

No words flow through me
to ease a heavy heart
or bring comfort or joy to others

I’ve absorbed a plethora
of muddled thoughts
and far too many
powerful emotions
not my own

I remember to breathe
and muster discipline
knowing integrity
means fulfilling
responsibilities one carries
to ease the suffering
of others in troubling times
by being present, listening,
and caring



Fleeting moments of wonder
are a precious reminder
why it matters to care

***

April 13

My little dog has been sick for the past week,

sometimes struggling to breathe or pee

Some days, he seems to be better, but others, not

We still take brisk walks at least twice daily

on residential streets that are relatively empty

 

This morning, there were only two people out –

one woman on the sidewalk in front of her house,

The other in her idling car with her window down.

Neither acknowledged our presence

as my dog and I walked by giving them wide berth

They merely kept talking, their conversation troubling

and impossible to ignore as they shouted to each other

across the requisite social distancing

I don’t trust anyone now,” said the woman on the sidewalk.

I don’t either,” was the reply.

 

At least they could give voice to their fear

and find a little comfort through an increasingly

rare sense of human and community connection.

Their fear encouraged me to finish a task I had begun

not out of fear to protect myself, but as a signal to others

that I care enough about keeping them safe

to be willing to look and feel ridiculous

Note:

Not the best of pictures… 🙄

A student showed me one of the face masks she was making for elders on her reservation during our video conference. She inspired me to pull out my sewing machine, find an online pattern, and make some, at least for myself, with long-neglected skills and clumsy hands. Fortunately, I had fabric thanks to another student from long ago who bought way too much material to make tobacco ties to thank participants in a research project we were working on together with a multidisciplinary team.

For information about the effectiveness of home-made cloth face masks, you can checkout this NPR link.

***

April 18

Pandemic Reflections

 

While washing the cup

my son-in-law, Billie,

gave me more than a decade ago

when he visited me

in Missoula, Montana

I wondered …

Where do people go

when they die?

 

I miss him and

so many others

who have passed on

Is there a consciousness

that survives the transition

from one state to another?

Or do the molecules

of our being merely disperse

into the cosmos unaware

of all the lives we lived

as essential elements

of the many other forms

that contributed to our being

for eons untold before

we were born?

 

Perhaps those who fear death,

as I sometimes do,

sense that we may simply

cease to be

making all of our petty concerns

so pointless in the end

 

Maybe we only live on

in the memories of others

because of the kindness or cruelty

we shared during the short time

we were here…

My granddaughter’s first birthday with her mom and dad, March 5, 2008. Her father died just before Christmas in 2018 when she was 11.

***

Sending my best wishes and hoping you are all finding moments of peace and meaningful connections during these challenging times. 💜

 

Checking In

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I commented on a blogging friend’s post. It seemed important to share an edited version of what I wrote on my own blog. I have come down with something that feels like a cold or the flu, so I am staying home although I walk my dog periodically in my mostly deserted neighborhood.

March 19, 2020

I have no idea when or where I caught this illness. Fortunately, my symptoms are mild at the moment and I have the luxury of a part-time job teaching college students that is now completely online.

Each morning I awake grateful that I can still breathe deeply and do what I can remotely to reach out to others with kindness. My heart is heavy, though, for all of my students and for others who have lost homes, jobs and are seriously ill. I worry about my daughter, the last person I was with this weekend, and about my grandchildren.

I will do all I can to keep from spreading whatever illness I have to others.

Please don’t worry if you don’t hear from me right away. I have student papers to grade and online content to prepare.

I hope you are all well and as safe as one can be in these times.

Sending my best wishes to all. 💜

 

A Grateful Farewell to 2019

Carol A. Hand

Surveying the snowy, icy, windswept land
clearing a path yet again with the tools at hand
knowing it’s a task that will be repeated
before the long winter has retreated
with the spring of the coming new year

*

*

I wonder …
How many more paths will I have to clear
before I can finally rest away from here?
Some days the pain of life is so hard to bear
making me wish for the long sleep that will take me elsewhere
Branches broken in storms, youth who make poor choices
I feel their loss and anguish in these times of clueless angry voices

*

Spruce branches broken by 2-feet of heavy snow

*

All I ask is the strength to contribute something worthwhile
to raise awareness,
inspire curiosity,
touch a heart,
or bring a smile
to encourage others to clear a path toward peaceful possibilities…
*

December 21, 2019

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Thank you so much for sharing the challenges and opportunities of 2019 with me. May the new year, 2020, be kinder and gentler for us all.

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Reflections – August 21, 2019

Carol A. Hand

Dear Billie,
You are in my thoughts today
Perhaps it’s because the cup
you brought as a gift
on your visit to Montana
more than a decade ago
is holding the coffee I’m drinking
on this sunny August afternoon

*

*

I miss you
and I know your daughter,
my beloved granddaughter, does too
I’m not sure if you can see
how kind and beautiful she is now
I promise to remind her
what a thoughtful loving father you were

*

*

I send you thoughts of love and joy
May your spirit soar peacefully
like the eagle on the gift cup
that always reminds me of you
a kind and generous young man
who was deeply loved by all
who had the honor of knowing you
in the short time you were here

*

After the Storm

Carol A. Hand

My little dog lay in pain
suffering
slowing dying
a victim of unintended incompetence
and lack of compassion in a capitalistic culture
I could only bear witness
offering soft hands and soothing words
without the skills and knowledge
to heal him

*

After the Storm – July 14, 2019

*

I learned survival and healing are possible
even in situations that sometimes appear hopeless
if you are willing and able to pay enough
for competence and caring

*

After the Storm (2) – July 14, 2019

*

Nature doesn’t charge a fee
for the beauty she shares for all to see
She merely waits patiently for us
to awaken to our responsibilities
to care

*

After the Storm (3) – July 14, 2019

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Revisiting “The Burden of the Sentinels”

Carol A. Hand

Reflecting about some of the places I have been where people were harmed reminded me of another one of my first posts. It seems fitting to share it again when I feel the need to remember how important it is for us all to listen to the voices of sentinels among us.

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Throughout my career in academia, I was unable to move from the space between cultures. Like some of my students, I, too, carried the burden of the sentinels. Most of my fellow faculty defined their role as that of gatekeepers for the profession of social work. Many faculty felt the purpose of education was to inculcate and enforce student compliance with professional competencies and standards.

Of course, few questioned the origins of these standards and who really benefited from the resulting assimilation. Fewer still contemplated what was lost through the process of homogenization. In my work, I tried to create a space for students to find their own voice and develop the skills to overcome or buffer the forces of conformity. Yet I sometimes had to witness the painful and tragic costs of my colleagues’ oppressive approach to education. Sometimes, all I could do was write about my observations and insights, as in the following essay drawn from those years.

It is tragic and deeply troubling that three students have committed suicide in the past two years. The faculty who worked with the students were grieving and confused. In an effort to heal, the head of student counseling services came to discuss suicide during the faculty meeting yesterday. I did not know the students who died, so as a person on the margins, my reaction to the discussion was very different than that of my colleagues. In fact, the discussion left me deeply troubled. The focus was on a new university policy. In order to reduce liability for the university, faculty would be required to force suffering students to meet with the dean for possible expulsion. The head of counseling services explained that suicide was a form of violence perpetrated by imbalanced individuals on those around them. They needed to be stopped.

When the discussion of suicide ended, no one asked what we might do differently in the future. When we seamlessly moved on to mundane issues, I was angry and distressed. I have seen the way our actions as faculty create problems for the most gifted and sensitive of our students. So I asked what we might do differently. There was no response. The conversation shifted to how to use the corporate credit cards. My response was to get up and leave the meeting at that point, slamming the door as I exited the room.

I know my colleagues interpreted my behavior as strange and annoying rather than as the only way I could express the depth of my distress. So be it. This reflection is my attempt to make sense of the strength of my reactions. And typically, my reflections are based on stories and metaphors that may seem unrelated.

A while ago, my partner at the time shared a story he heard on public radio about the experiences of researchers who were conducting a study of a community of chimpanzees (Thom Hartmann, November 22, 2006, Transcript: Drugs, Depression & Chimpanzees). Early in the study, the researchers noted that about 5 percent of the community appeared to exhibit all of the characteristics of depression. They stayed on the periphery of the community, they rarely engaged in social activities, and they appeared lethargic. With the best of intentions, the researchers decided to treat this isolated group for depression, so they removed the “depressed” chimpanzees from the community and worked with them. The treatment seemed to work. But each time the researchers returned to the troop, they noted that new chimps had taken up posts on the periphery, and they too were removed. At the end of the year, when the researchers returned to the troop’s home again to reintroduce the “healthy” chimps, they discovered that the rest of the troop had perished from an undetermined cause.

The researchers hypothesized that the sentinel chimps played a crucial role on the boundaries, scanning the environment and warning the troop of danger. Without sentinels, the troop fell prey to external predators. This raises questions about the importance of the “boundary spanners,” those who remain on the periphery to scan for external threats while still relating to the community, albeit in a distant manner. I have pondered this story’s links with my own observations of the burdens carried by people who are on the margins of society because of their difference.

It has been said that those Native people who are the most sensitive and gifted are the ones who do not survive. It is only those who are the strongest physically and psychologically who survive. For me, it is no wonder that Native people who carry the gifts of vision appear most susceptible to addiction. They are the boundary spanners who can see what can be, perhaps what should be, and how far we have strayed from that possibility. To be surrounded by a global society that is focused on exploitation of resources rather than preservation for future generations, on gratifying the self-interested pleasures of the moment rather than the preservation of meaningful relationships, why would not the burden sometimes be too great to bear?

To listen to a discussion of suicide, then, to hear it described as a form of violence perpetrated by deficient individuals on others, is profoundly disturbing. Is it sane or reasonable for sensitive boundary spanners to settle for the insanity of war, the destructive exploitation of nature, the disparities that mean some individuals can buy gold-laced shower curtains while many people throughout the world die of starvation? Where does the violence originate that leads to despair for those who are most sensitive? Does it help give heart to boundary spanners when we label them as deviant? When we medicate them to see the world through a drug-induced haze of mediocrity? When we fail to understand the profound suffering of those on the boundaries who try to warn those in the center about the dangers that surround the community?

When people choose to end their suffering, is it their violence or ours as a society that is the cause? To take one’s own life is the most profound sacrifice. It may be the only way left to alert others of the dangers we face because we have created a world where the brightest and most sensitive among us find no hope, no comfort, no sense of a deeper meaning in life. And when they die, who will be left as sentinels to alert us to the dangers that surround us? Who will protect us from our self-destructive consumerism and exploitation of the environment and others’ labor? Who will alert us to the slow death this imbalance promises for those generations to follow?

The well-meaning among us who would remove the sentinels for their own good may only be hastening the death of that which makes us most human. We can try to convince those who see what we cannot that their visions are hallucinations. We can anaesthetize them and preserve them in a state of half-life because it makes us feel “moral” and it makes our life more comfortable. Yet, by doing so, we do not even serve our own self-interests. The lesson of the chimpanzees is that we need to understand what the sentinels are telling us.

We need to create a space to truly listen to what they are trying to tell us about a world that has become toxic to the most sensitive among us. It may be the world of our classrooms. It may be the world outside. How can we, as social work faculty, learn from the sentinels about our own practice as teachers and advisors? Are there things we need to change about how and what we teach to create a place where sentinels can preserve a sense of hope and possibility? I do not have the answers to these questions. I grieve the deaths of these students even though I did not know them as individuals. And I grieve the lost opportunity to explore this issue in a thoughtful way with my colleagues.

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By sharing this essay penned years ago, it is my intention to honor the sentinels who remind us what it means to be truly human. It is my hope that we can learn to value them while they live so they no longer feel the need to sacrifice themselves.

***

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2018 Goodbyes

Carol A. Hand

There are times when I just cannot write from the heart. I need to take a break and focus on physical or analytical tasks that help me find emotional detachment and balance. It’s one of the major reasons I have not posted or visited blogs during the holidays.

***

I took this photo in the morning
before I learned that a dear friend died

*

November 28, 2018

*

It portrays what days of loss
sometimes feel like to me
My grandson’s other grandmother died
just before Christmas, and this morning,
my granddaughter’s father passed away
2018 was a year of so many losses and changes
It’s the third year I have faced my own mortality
Despite a heavy heart, though,
I still awake each morning
knowing that what I do for others now
in the time I have left matters even more

 

I have snowy sidewalks to shovel
in the north country I love

*

December 31, 2018

*

There are courses to plan for students
I will learn to care about this year,
and dear family to care for while I’m here

*

My daughter’s birthday dinner, October 18, 2018

*

Despite losses I will continue to rise and greet each day
to do what I can to stay healthy and balanced,
to contribute to the light in simple humble ways
and to remain grateful for the wonder and blessings of life

***

Please know that I am grateful to all of you for being part of my life, too. I send my best wishes to all. May you have a peaceful and wonder-filled new year.

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