Last night Dad and I went to an event for the Little Miami Conservancy. I will not share with you the scientific summary from the EPA (very long), nor will I share with you the awards (none to anyone I knew). I will not share with you the meal (typical and uninteresting) or the election of officers for next year (ditto).
I must, however, tell you about Fred Neeake Albert Shaw, the Shawnee storyteller.
Let me start by saying that I cannot possibly do justice to what I heard, and I apologize to you and to him for that. The only way that would be possible would be for me to not type a word and instead insert a video. But he’s not on YouTube (I checked) and I didn’t have the foresight to bring a good video camera with me. Not that it would have mattered. Two seconds in and I’d have abandoned the camera just to listen to him—and you’d be stuck watching a video tape of hotel ballroom carpet.
The other thing I did badly was take notes. And by “did badly” I mean not at all. Which means this blog is totally dependent on my ability to remember what I heard. And that’s problematic because I listened more with my soul than with my brain. Which is to say I listened for the essence of the stories rather than to try to remember as much as possible.
Here’s are some of the most important parts I remember. Neeake (which means “He-Talks-as-He- Flies” or the Canada Goose) talked about all his names. His very first name is “I am” (except in Shawnee). In Shawnee, every creature, every plant, every mineral (“The rocks are alive. They move slow, but they are alive.”), every everything has the same first name: I am. It’s incredibly powerful to think that we’re all connected by our names…
Fred told us that bears get headaches. Bad headaches. And if you watch a bear shake her head back and forth and growl, you know she has a headache and you should leave her alone (ditto with mothers). And if you keep watching, she will walk through the forest (slowly, because she has a headache) and find a willow tree. And she will chew some of the bark and swallow the liquid. And her headache will go away.
Do you know what is in willow bark? Aspirin. That’s why it’s called Bear Aspirin (Fred’s joke, not mine and it works better if you don’t see it spelled out.) The most important part of the story was (if I understood correctly) that plants provide healing for all disease and that nature provides what we need if we would only take the time to understand and learn. I read an article recently about some of the side effects of modern day drugs, and I’m tempted to go buy a willow tree to gnaw on.
Fred also talked about seeing everyone as a gift. I wish I could remember his words exactly, but the general idea is that something gets broken if you don’t accept a gift (which is why you always say “thank you” and take the Cheerio offered to you by a toddler even if you don’t really want it—have I mentioned the number of Cheerios you once fed to Grandpa?). Everyone in your life is a gift. It just takes longer to unwrap some of them, says Fred. And you learn from everyone, even if it’s just the gift of patience when opening a present.
A wise young man recently shared with me his philosophy for getting through difficult situations. “It could be worse” he told me. In many ways he was talking about mental toughness and being mentally strong enough to get through physical difficulties. But in some ways he was talking about looking at the bright side of life (song cue—serious extra points if you get the reference). I think that ability to see the good, to find the parts to laugh at, to realize that smudged lipstick is not the end of the world and “this too shall pass” is an important life lesson.
Hoping you have no need for willow trees or extreme mental toughness today.
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is from Spamalot. Video (which was on YouTube) for your viewing pleasure.