Tag Archives: harmony

Revisiting “Reflections on River Teeth”

Carol A. Hand

This past week, my granddaughter was on vacation from school. She stayed with me while her mother worked, creating an impressive collection of artwork. Once again, I was reminded of kinder times and a neighbor whose gift enabled me to witness my grandson’s seventeen birthdays and be present in my granddaughter’s life. In this time of gift-giving, it’s important for me to give thanks for the gift of a life that has been worth living.

My grandson's 17th birthday celebration - January 2016
My grandson’s 17th birthday celebration – January 2016

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Reflections on River Teeth
(Originally posted by on October 26, 2013)

Recently, I have been reflecting on what I would identify as the “river teeth” of my life thus far. River teeth, according to David James Duncan (2006), are the hard resinous knots that are all that remain after the softer wooden fibers of pine trees have been dissolved by the river waters into which they have fallen. Applied to life, they are the memories that remain decades later as transformative experiences and epiphanies.

This morning, I awoke with gratitude to Frank Bates, an elder and neighbor from my New Jersey childhood who literally gave me a reason to live. I no longer remember exactly what led to the profound sadness I felt by the age of 4. Perhaps it was the absence of peace, joy, and love in my family. Perhaps it was because of my mother’s emotional distance and disapproval of anything I did. When I was born, my father’s white family in New Jersey commented on the “lovely dark child” my mother gave birth to because of my straight dark hair and dark brown eyes. It reminded my mother of the shame she carried from her years in a Catholic Indian boarding school where she was constantly told that she was inferior to white children and faculty because of her Ojibwe heritage. She preferred to “pass” as white, so my younger brother, with his curly light brown hair and hazel-colored eyes was more acceptable. Perhaps it was because of my father’s emotional volatility, charming to strangers, abusive to family, and sometimes deeply depressed and suicidal, a legacy of childhood abuse and PTSD from his Korean War experiences. Or perhaps it was because of the cruelty and bullying of other children in my neighborhood. When the little white boys beat me up, I would run home crying. My father would kick me out of the house and lock the door, telling me not to come home again until I made the bullies cry. Perhaps all of these cumulative sorrows were too much for me to bear as a 4-year-old.

I only know that by the age of 4, I no longer wished to live, so I stopped eating. I understand from what my mother told me years later that she tried everything to encourage me to eat, but nothing she did worked. I became so weak that she had to carry me everywhere. It was my next door neighbor who worked a miracle.

My special connection with Frank Bates began because of an apple tree that grew just inside our side of the property line, with branches that hung heavy with fruit over his yard. One day, as he was picking an apple from an overhanging branch, I confronted him. “You can’t do that. It’s my pop-a-tee.” He laughed and acknowledged that I was correct, it was my property, and from that moment on, we became friends. When Frank later learned that I was not eating, he and his wife, Grace, invited me over to their house. I sat at their kitchen table as Frank prepared a special “feast” for me. He peeled the skin from an apple from the disputed tree and placed the spiraling peel in a clear glass of water. I drank it, and the subtle taste of apple flavored the water. During the weeks that followed, I drank many other glasses of this apple water prepared with love and kindness.

Frank then learned that my favorite food was pickles, so his next feast consisted of mashed potatoes filled with slices of pickles. I ate the feast, and many more. As I regained my strength, Frank lost his. He died from stomach cancer soon after saving me from starvation. I never had a chance to thank him while he was alive. (My tears are flowing as I write this.)

This morning I awoke pondering what type of picture I would draw to illustrate this special river tooth from my childhood. Perhaps the branch of an apple tree reaching down from the left corner of the page, a glass of water in the center with its spiraling peel, a cored apple and a peeler below. So, I took my camera out to capture apple tree branches in the morning sunlight… Even if I never have a chance to draw this picture, I am writing to thank my friend from 6 decades ago for the gift of life.

After writing this essay and remembering a river tooth from my past, I found the courage to draw the picture I envisioned. I do not claim to be an artist, but I believe that the act of remembering our river teeth gives us the courage to challenge the socially constructed rules of “good” art, freeing us to express deep gratitude authentically in our own ways.

Remembering River Teeth - by Carol A. Hand
Remembering River Teeth – by Carol A. Hand

Chi miigwetch , Mr. Bates, for the kindness and compassion that gave me a reason to live. (Chi miigwetch means thank you very much in the Ojibwe language.) I am sorry I never had a chance to thank you in person. I am also grateful to my parents, now deceased, who did the best they could, and better by far than their own parents and caregivers. They gave me the strength to be independent and the opportunity to learn how to stand up to bullies, not by returning their violence but by using intelligence, creativity, and humor.

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The greatest gift I can imagine this holiday season is for all of us to reach out to our neighbors. We may never know how many lives will be transformed and given meaning through loving kindness.

Author Cited

Duncan, J. D. (2006). River Teeth: Stories and writings. New York, NY: Dial Press Trade Paperbacks.

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Snow and Childhood Memories

Carol A. Hand

Frigid air and fluffy snow
Grateful there’s no place I need to go
What’s the wisest choice today?
Instead of whining, go out and play

Reach out and gather fallen star-flakes
Behold tiny miracles – that’s really all it takes
Although the sparkling crystals will soon disappear
joyful memories of winters past will return year after year

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Memories from Allendale, NJ - 1957
Memories from Allendale, NJ – 1957

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Sending peaceful winter blessings to all

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Celebrating Peaceful Moments

Carol A. Hand

Supermoon rising in the darkening sky
We watch in wonder, my daughter, granddaughter, and I
Spellbound by its beauty, enthralled by its light
Gratefully greeting this peaceful November night
Chaos may swirl around us threatening dark times ahead
Still, in this moment, we’re united,
celebrating loving connections and nature’s miracles instead

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supermoon-rising-2

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Reflections – Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Photography Day Nine: “A Pop of Color” – Incorporate Color

The directions for today’s photo emphasized focusing on simple lines and one color against a neutral background. Yet when I set out to capture images, the ones that caught my eye reminded me of a poem I wrote some time ago, especially the last verse.

WP color 1

Let’s paint this world together
In colors bold and bright

WP color 2

In colors of hope and kindness

WP color 3

In colors of peace and light.

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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.

Reflection – Sunday, June 19, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Let me look deep enough
to see the sacred spark of life
deep within
now masked on the surface
by a protective covering
forged from fear and suffering

I would prefer to shift my gaze
yet we’ve met for some reason
beyond my ken
Perhaps if I can see deeply enough
we’ll be able to unlock our hearts
to joy and love again

If you see your inner beauty
reflected back by
loving eyes
maybe we’ll both awake
and feel our joyful peaceful spirits
rise

highspeed-photography-1004250_960_720

Photo: Reflection (Pixabay)

For some of the neighbors and colleagues I’ve encountered

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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 Unhealed Pain

Carol A. Hand

A history of unhealed hurts remains hidden
Buried, waiting patiently in memories that surface unbidden
Coloring the present to wound spirit again and again
Each new experience colored by remembered pain
Deflecting attention away from the beauty and potential
Both within and surrounding us

Dancer (2)

Drawing: Carol A. Hand

The impenetrable walls we build to protect tender hearts
Isolating us from the joy of connections that unlock the joy
Of singing together in harmony with all we are
Look within, deeper, with compassion to understand
And allow the dance of rewounding to end
With the grace of forgiving oneself and others

dancer (1)

Drawing: Carol A. Hand

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 Peace and Snow

Carol A. Hand

Finally it’s snowing this December day
When I awoke it this morning it was raining,
Dark, and dreary, with solstice three weeks away

Yes, climate change is really here
It’s not like the days of my childhood
Building snow forts this time of year

me 5

Photo: Playing in New Jersey Snow – 1957

I know from the forecast this snow will melt too fast
Leaving the earth exposed to the weather
May dissident voices unite before all hope is past

Let us remember that all life is sacred, peace the only way
Perhaps we can’t undo the damage already done
But working in harmony is a small price to pay
For the life of our earth, the shared home of every one

Kids_for_Peace_logo

Image: Kids for Peace 

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.

Monday Morning Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Wind chimes in the gentle breeze and bird song to greet the day
Sirens and the noise of busy traffic rushing by just a block away
Dark clouds to the east yet glorious sun light is breaking through
A yard littered with leaves to rake highlighted by their golden hue.

1280px-Sky_over_Washington_Monument

Photo: Sky (Wikipedia)

The sky grows dark as the gusty strong winds begin
Announcing the storm from the west that is rolling in
Ever changing moments of life with so many choices of view
Peace and beauty coexist as sirens sound – how can both be true?

From the center of my being – let me send out the peace I feel
To those for whom the siren sounds, please let their troubles heal.

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.

Memories and Prophesies

Carol A. Hand

It was early spring, and the snow had just melted in the northwoods. I referred to this time of year as “mud season.” It meant I needed to park in the graveled parking area at the end of the dirt road that led to my cabin. (I had learned the hard way how difficult it was to dig out my car after it was swallowed up to the axels and undercarriage in a puddle of “quick mud.”) It would mean hiking seven-tenths of a mile down the muddy dirt road that led through the clear-cut national forest land, down the winding hill, and into the uncut forest that surrounded my cabin in the woods.

I had just returned from a conference where I led a workshop on Native American mascot issues. As I hiked, the straps of my laptop, purse, and suitcase were digging into my left shoulder with each step, but I barely noticed. I was lost in thought, reflecting about a comment one of the workshop participants had voiced.

But before I tell the rest of this story, I need to go back and provide some background about why I was asked to discuss this topic, and how I ended up living on the Ojibwe reservation where my mother was born.

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“More than two decades ago, when my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

Untitled

“At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

“The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

“My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

“Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.” (Carol A. Hand, We’re Honoring Indians, October 25, 2013) We’re Honoring Indians

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods. When Native American educators in the state took on the issue of Indian mascots and logos a year or two later, I was asked to lead a workshop about my experiences at their state-wide conference.

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As I walked down the road to my cabin, I was still trying to sort out my feelings about dealing with Euro-Americans whose privilege often made them feel it was their right to remain oblivious to the history and present day oppression and suffering of Native peoples. Did my unresolved anger and frustration show in my response to the comments made by a workshop participant?

“You’re so lucky you have a culture. As a white person of mixed ancestry, I don’t have one.”

I did respond, but I wasn’t really satisfied with my answer even though it was honest.

“We all have a culture. But those of us who are not part of the dominant culture have to learn to see our culture in contrast to the one that most others in society share. We have to learn to understand both in order to survive.”

But that wasn’t what I was thinking about as I walked. It is tempting to think that one’s own culture is superior. I found myself thinking about the differences between the Ojibwe Midewiwin Code, the “Path of Life,” and the Christian Ten Commandments. I realized that there were many reasons why I prefer the tenets of the Path of Life. I was tempted to see it as superior. And as that thought passed through my mind, it seemed as if the earth itself spoke to me, or perhaps it was the spirits of my Ojibwe ancestors who had once lived here.

“Codes of conduct and spirituality may differ, but the existence of a code signifies that people need rules to live by because no culture or individual is perfect. You may prefer one approach over others, but that doesn’t make it better. All codes of conduct serve the same purpose – to help guide people as they live their lives or when they lose their way.”

I suspect many who will read this post know the Ten Commandments by heart, but few have heard of the Midewiwin Code.

  • 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.
    (Adapted from Basil Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

It would be years later when I would learn about the Ojibwe “Seven Fires Prophecy.”

“ … 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.” (Wikipedia)

“The Seven Fires Prophecy is an Ojibwe prophecy that encourages the union of all four 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.” (http://ojibweresources.weebly.com/prophecy.html)

I’m sharing these memories and musings today because the times foretold by Ojibwe ancestors have arrived. As I said in the ending of a play I recently wrote (You Wouldn’t Want to Hear My Story),

“The waters have been poisoned by our disrespect for the earth and each other.”

Kids_for_Peace_logo

Image: Kids for Peace

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to do what we can to help our communities and world, no matter which spiritual codes of right-living we follow. It’s in our power to reach across the illusory divisions that keep us from living in peace with each other and in balance with the earth we share. The well-being of all children and the health of our world depends on each of us to use the skills and knowledge we’ve gained to create a peaceful future even though the times ahead may be difficult.

Work Cited: 

Basil Johnson (1976), Ojibway heritage (p. 93). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

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 Soft Hands and Laughter

Carol A. Hand

Does one need to know deep suffering and cruelty
To learn the importance of being kind?
What is the secret of the transformative alchemy?
Is it found in one’s heart or one’s mind?

Does it come from silent prayer or ancestors walking near?
Is it ever-present potential within all of us or only a few?
Does it come when one feels lost or only when the path is clear
Like gentle rain to ease the drought, starting our life anew?

compassion greatergood dot berkeley dot edu

Photo: Compassion (Greater Good – Berkeley.edu)

Can we learn to hold the presence of love when darkness descends
Remembering to live with soft hands and laughter,
With kindness that never ends?

touch

Photo: Compassion (Greater Good, Berkeley.edu)

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