It’s another rainy day in St. John’s; something we are used to here in the rainiest and snowiest major city in Canada (but, yes, Bergen does get almost 20-25% more rain than we do so, yes, Mjölnir, you get to keep bragging rights on that one). It’s quiet here in the living room. The only sounds are the ticking of the clock in the kitchen and the gentle whir of the fan in the laptop. No wind, not yet at least. But we did have wind, a gale, and rain, lots of it. For now we get a reprieve; time to mend what needs mending in preparation for what is ahead.
Fall here is mostly beautiful. How could it be otherwise in this largely unspoiled interface between land and sea?
Fall brings hope. Yes, plants and animals are shutting down, preparing to get through the winter as best they can, but the place comes to life in so many ways as those preparations are made, the fall fishery commences, as harvests are reaped.
OH got up early this morning and went out to join a large group of friends from work. Today, is the day of the “Run for the Cure,” an event designed to raise both research funds and awareness of breast cancer. It got me thinking of my blogger friend Tracy and her recent battle with it—it’s a hydra: chop off one head and another appears.
But she’s okay, in as much as one can be that way, after multiple rounds of FEC Chemo, Taxotere, Herceptin, Steroids and, of course, surgery. She beat the beast.
Right now she may be physically weakened but hope is strong within her.
Hope: the thing that sustains us when life throws its worst at us.
Just this past Friday I got to share lunch with my friend Val. She was already at the café when I arrived and greeted me, as always, with that radiant smile. We talked. Each time we talk I come away reaffirmed of what’s good in this world. It’s her gift. We spoke a bit about work—we’re both retired from the same job—but mostly about the other things in our lives that matter.
We had both seen the iconic image of Chief Simeon Tshakapesh, sitting in peaceful protest on the floor of Confederation Building, demanding a meeting with our province’s premier. His community, Natuashish, has been plagued by social issues since its inception. With reports of widespread gas sniffing among children as young as seven the situation has become critical. The community lacks the resources to cope with this ever growing problem and, so, the chief has come here with a final desperate plea for help.
The Mushuau Innu who live there are no strangers to social issues related to the externally (Government) imposed relocation to a single community. Traditionally the people were of the land, living nomadically as hunter-gatherers. It was thought—not by them—that settling in a single community would lessen their burdens and give them better lives. That has proven to be profoundly not the case. The original settlement at Davis Inlet attracted worldwide attention in the latter part of the twentieth century as reports of rampant alcoholism among adults and gas sniffing among youth made international headlines. The response to this was Government-Funded relocation, around 2002, to a planned community around 15 km away. The result, however, is not much better, if at all.
Fall, a time of harvest.
Just that morning two people on a local radio station were discussing this. Fred Hutton and Brian O’Connel talked about the history and of the current status. Many, many events led to the current situation and both were careful not to play the blame game. They did wonder, though, if this were some sort of dark harvest.
Indeed. Now the question is what do we do? Look to the events that led to this and, what… assign blame? Ignore it? Fix it?
It always seems to come down to a couple of points of view. There are some who insist that the whole situation is all of the Mushuau Innus’ own doing. After all, they point out, they got themselves in a big mess in the first place over at Davis Inlet and ‘we’ helped them out with a $200+ million relocation to the much better Natuashish. And now, look at what they have done with all ‘we’ have done for them—put themselves right back in the same situation again. This time, they assert, “we” should just leave “them” to their own devices.
I have no idea what proportion of the population feels that way. I do know, though, that most people I interact with do not share that opinion. Most do not comprehend the situation at all. All feel regret that it has come to this but mainly feel extreme discomfort. This is not the sort of situation that has clear causes and answers. After all, “They” are “Us”, just in a different place and with different histories than those of the so-called majority. Many would like to “fix” the situation, to make it such that this would all go away…
But it does not work like that. The Mushuau Innu are people, they are us; Intelligent, Resourceful and Complex. There can, therefore, be no simple fixes. This cannot be made to go away.
But what, then?
Time plays tricks with memory. Over time, especially if we embellish our stories in the re-telling, our version of events can depart significantly from the one supported by the facts. The best we can do, if truth matters, is to try and recount stories as accurately as possible. But it isn’t always possible, is it? Emotions, values, pressures and interactions with others—all help to change the story. Here, nonetheless, is one as I recall it.
It was grade two, in religion class. I can see it all—at least I think I can. I was seated on the right side of the class facing the front, about halfway down the row. There would have been close to thirty people in my class. Miss Lake (now Ms. Watts, and she’s retired) wrote, neatly, three items on the board. Three prayers: the Act of Faith, the Act of Hope and the Act of Love, in that order. Neither was very long; just a few lines each. The act of hope was maybe one line longer than the rest. As was my fashion I memorized all three.
In those days my sister and I had a morning ritual. Just after we woke up we would go to Mom and Dad’s room and kneel by the bed to say morning prayers. We had learned them off by heart and, I suppose, often recited them on full auto, not always thinking of the meaning behind the words.
After I had learned the three Acts I had told Dad and he had insisted that we incorporate them into the morning prayers. Of course my 7-year-old heart had fallen. I’d just lengthened this externally-imposed ritual by just a little more. Because, though, the words came from me, they were always recited mindfully. I thought about each word.
When you are a child prayer is something you only do, in the absence of external influence, if there is something you want. You pray for things: a pass on a test, a win in a game, an item you want to possess. In time, though, you start to see things differently. Praying for a win in a game, for example, makes no sense if you assume that the opponents are doing the same thing! In the end the outcome is decided mainly on skill and teamwork and the best you can do is perfect both and not look for any external intervention. In time you see that prayer can have an effect but that it tends to be indirect. The act of focusing your thoughts in a very skillful and disciplined way—and prayer can be a way of doing that—can lead to the outcomes you seek.
Through countless repetitions of the words in the Three Acts the three words came to mean different things to me:
Faith no longer means suspending belief and acting based on blind trust. It means, rather, putting in place the best structures and supports and expecting them to function in the way intended. It also means having the confidence to proceed with plans and ask for help when necessary.
Love is the opposite of Apathy (and not the opposite of Hate). Showing love means acting in the general service of what we believe to be the right thing under the circumstances.
Hope, perhaps the most intangible, is the thing that keeps us going when the future is most uncertain.
Where is the hope, then? People can see their own lives and what they see is often truly horrible. It took a lot to get where we all are and we cannot be moved easily. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of time. It also takes faith to muster the confidence to get started, love to act, but most importantly it takes hope to sustain it all for the journey is not just long, it is unending.
Perhaps, then, that should be the starting point—to find reasons and ways to find and restore hope. Not an easy job, surely. It requires those unused to listening and to seeing to change their ways, to not act based on their own preexisting beliefs but, instead, to be open to the fact that better ways can be found.
The rain will stop and preparations can begin anew for a new, better harvest. Breast cancer can be defeated and better days can lie ahead for the Mushuau Innu.
As long as there is faith, love, and most importantly, hope.