As one who writes I seek to convey meaning and hopefully have something useful to say from time to time. So it was then that I recently heard a story told by Anna, a Native (Indian) woman, who provided me and about 20 others various instruction and training. This woman has been in the field of wellness for years and years and was one of the first qualified in trauma work and has been all over the world learning, teaching and helping. A few years ago she and few others traveled to isolated communities in Central and East Africa that had been ravaged by war, sickness and brutality of every description. They came trained and prepared to do work in trauma and grief as many had seen family killed right before their eyes by military and tribal authorities and henchmen. Anna reported to us that one day they entered a village and were introduced to survivors and when the interpreter explained that the woman was Native and from North America, a great clamor arose. Anna was puzzled because upon the introduction and explanation of who she was, the group grew very anxious and excited but it was unclear what the nature of this excitement was about. Several villagers even ran off. As the helpers began explaining what they were there to do 2 elderly women were brought forward by those who had run away and they seemed desperate for Anna’s attention. They wanted to know, specifically, if it was true that Anna came from where they said. “Are you truly from North America? Are you really a Native person from there?” The elderly women were very emotional and it took some time though the interpreter to explain the validity of my friend’s words about her origins. When my friend confirmed through nods and affirmative signs that what they were hearing was so, the women began to wail and one actually fell to the ground. The 2 women then summoned the courage and asked if they could touch Anna, that is, they wanted to place their hands on her. Now Anna’s been to a lot of places, experienced many things and is an elder herself but even she was unprepared for what this gesture was about but she permitted it without question. As the women moved forward and gently placed their hands on Anna, her head, shoulders, her arms and so on, the woman began sobbing again uncontrollably as did the whole group of assembled villagers. It was explained to Anna later that for many years the people were brutalized repeatedly by authorities and terrorized with a very specific threat. They were told: do as we say for if you do not, when the Americans arrive, we’ll have them do to you what they did to the Indians there - they will exterminate you and you will cease to exist. These people lived under the idea that there were no longer indigenous people in North America, that they (we) were all dead. The people of the village were awed by the sight of my friend Anna who told them that Indians are living and that there are many in many places all over the continent. It began to emerge during her time there that the tyrants used this threat to get their compliance and to instill in them the fear of annihilation. It was explained that the elderly ladies had been under this fearful impression so long that only the placing of their hands upon Anna could prove to them that she was real and that there was truth in her words that she was who she said she was. To actually touch someone they thought never existed filled them with overwhelming gratitude and most precious of all…hope. The old women cried and cried and cried because they had forgotten what it felt like to have hope. Anna embodied the hope that their people might survive. As they explained it, if Indians, living under the most powerful nation on earth with the mightiest army and the mightiest weapons could survive and flourish then might they also? They were told we were all dead and how were they supposed they know otherwise? - when living and dying is in the balance day in day out your entire life - when loved ones were arbitrarily beaten or killed in front of you or simply taken away never to return. Anna reports how heart-wrenching it was to leave because the idea of safety is so precarious for these people that naturally they were afraid and didn’t want her to go.
I am the type of person deeply affected by stories like this. It is a powerful thing to feel connected somehow to people I will likely never meet but who I honor in one of the only ways I know how. The simple fact that I exist and that my being alive can be so deeply important to a group of gentle Africans a world away speaks to what I refer to as the immensity and potency of the soft power we carry.
I love this life.
© 2010 Champsteen Publishing