Tag Archives: Healing

“The Opposite of Loneliness”: positivity is real strength

A friend at work lent me Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories and I devoured it! I found Keegan’s writing entertaining and at times she actually had me feeling feelings.


Source: https://www.amazon.com/Opposite-Loneliness-Essays-Stories/dp/147675361X

The essay about Keegan’s mom obsessing over Keegan’s Celiac disease, baking and calling manufacturers, actually made me cry. My Mom does everything she can to make sure that I’m not sick. And often, she’ll talk about the past and make comments that she was poisoning me. I can’t imagine what she feels that she would beat herself up for not knowing better. She didn’t know and I wouldn’t ever think of holding her accountable for my childhood illnesses. We didn’t know. That’s why I cried reading Keegan’s essay “Against the Grain.” I know that my mom does everything possible to help me, even when I don’t ask for the help. That level of love is something I’ve never experienced. Thanks, Mom.

I think this is why I devoured Keegan’s writing; I connected with her voice and with her subject matter. It was a voice similar to my own. I can’t find the passage again, yet I think in one of her fiction pieces she describes a woman feeling almost helpless in her anxiety, not wanting to leave her bed or wander in the mall with her mom. I get that. I also really enjoyed her essay “Why We Care About Whales.” In this piece she asks the question of why humans got to such extremes to save animals, yet we don’t save each other. That’s a heavy question and one worth digging into deeper.


Source: http://wwf.panda.org/?229330/Peoples-Climate-March-to-put-leaders-on-notice

When my friend lent me this book, she said that her Mom, how is also a writer, didn’t like Keegan’s writing. I suppose I can see that. Keegan’s voice is unique and I think a little young, yet with clarity into some dark sides of humanity. I suppose I liked her writing because part of me still holds on to my idealism, some days more passionately and fiercely than others. In all honesty, I hope that I am as honest and hopeful as Keegan: she doesn’t candy-coat life, yet she has the energy and the newness to not give in to pessimism and doubt. Fresh and ideal, yet willing to take on life’s hard questions.


Source: http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/idealism-and-realism-quote/

We all know that it is easier to be negative and see the mistakes and the failures. Yet it takes someone who is strong and hopeful to see the negative and make the choice to think, see, act, and talk in the positive. I’ve been learning a lot about growth mindset this year at work and I can see how it helps students grow beyond what they, and others, thought was possible.

How do we hold onto our hope and positive thinking when life is hard and people are mean and cruel and the reality of the earth dying overwhelms us. I believe that positive people are not unaware; they know full well how the world truly is because they see it. The strength of the positive person is that they are able to muster up positivity and light and they are willing to share that with others. That takes real strength. And I find that the people who have had a hard life and are still positive are the people who have healed.


Source: http://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/scar.html

So thank you to my friend, and a big thank you to Marina Keegan and her family and friends who published her work.


“Milk and Honey”: loving yourself

I love that a book of poetry is a best seller.  I love that a book of poetry that is so empowering to women is a best seller.  Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is the best birthday gifts I got this year.  For a moment at my family birthday party it got a bit awkward because my two-year-old nephew kept flipping through the pages.  He liked that it had pictures and black pages (too funny!).  I’m grateful that no one else really tried to flip through it because sometimes there’s a time and a place for conversations about sexuality.


Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Milk-Honey-rupi-kaur/dp/1502784270

I quickly realized that Kaur’s collection was not a one-time read; I knew that I would need to read this a few times in order to let the honesty and the power of the words sink in.  I applaud Rupi Kaur for her bravery and honesty, yet I also understand her compulsion to write the collection, as written in her foreword:

my heart woke me crying last night

how can i help i begged

my heart said

write the book

This foreword set the tone for the entire collection.  It’s about revealing and healing from past hurt.  It’s about finding and regaining control and power over heart and body.  It is a journey of realization and surviving.  Mostly, it is about healing.


Source: http://femmagazine.com/2015/02/24/rupi-kaur-the-poetess-behind-milk-honey/

One of the things I loved most about this poetry collection is her overall positive message about being women.  Women are constantly being stripped of power and dignity through media and through patriarchal systems, yet she reminds her readers that women are strong and resilient:  “collectively, we’ve seen the worst of humankind and lived.  we have a piece of god in us… we are soft even when the roughness comes and breaks our skin–we live.  we fall and get up and keep living. we live through it all.  so every part of us is worth celebrating.” (From “Rupi Kaur: The Poetess Behind Milk & Honey” by Sabrina Estrella from “UCLA Feminist Magazine“)  I love that line, “every part of us is worth celebrating,” because it is one thing to say this/ write this, but is an entirely different to believe it and honour it.


Source: https://thebookwars.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/review-milk-and-honey-by-rupi-kaur/

Having just broken up with my boyfriend, I think that my sister, who gifted me this book, knew that I needed it.  I needed to see my relationship as a gift, as moments to treasure and moments to learn from.  I needed to feel confident in myself again, to love myself first.  I do see my past relationship as a gift, and I always did.  Yet now I needed a reminder that I am enough.  I needed to remember that I am beautiful the way I am.  I needed to remember that I am a whole person and I don’t need someone to complete me.  I can find a partner, yet if I can’t love myself I will never be truly happy.


Source: http://rebloggy.com/post/relationships-poetry-poem-living-relatable-milk-and-honey-rupi-kaur-woc-writers/138170724635

Ever since my grade 13 English class, I have known that poetry is powerful.  Poetry can heal.  I am so grateful for Rupi Kaur for writing Milk and Honey and the healing it has allowed me to find.

rupi kaur

Source: http://www.hercampus.com/school/cincinnati/book-changed-my-life

“if you were born with /  the weakness to fall / you were born with / the strength to rise” (Kaur, Pg 156)

“So God created humans in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

6358166986456201501592463801_rupi kaur 4.jpg

Source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-rupi-kaur-quotes-girl-read

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html

“The Outside Circle”: hope for healing

Two items came across my Facebook creeping this week. Both are timely and important.

The first: a video of Wab Kinew talking about common stereotypes Canadians have about Aboriginal people.

The second: an article from the Toronto Star by Noah Richler called “The hard, important truths of Indigenous literature: The “truth” in Truth and Reconciliation is not a surprise to readers of Canadian and First Nations stories.”

Maybe I am more aware of these videos and articles because I have chosen to be aware, or maybe all of Canada is becoming more aware. Reconciliation. That is a heavy word and it requires action, not just reports and acknowledgement. Even in Calgary, there is talk about renaming the Langevin Bridge (Langevin was one of the men who spearheaded the residential schools). Action and awareness.

Perry Bellegarde, Murray Sinclair
Source: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/for-the-record-political-leaders-on-residential-schools/

I have had the graphic novel The Outside Circle sitting on my ‘to-read’ pile for a while. Wow. What a powerful, emotional, important story!

Source: http://houseofanansi.com/products/the-outside-circle

The Outside Circle tells the story of an Aboriginal man in Alberta who goes through stages of healing after a rough beginning. Issues of residential schools, the 60s Scoop (where children were put into foster care), disturbing stats on Aboriginal youth in Alberta and Canada, number of Aboriginal people in prisons, and also the power of walking the Red Road (a conscious decision to live the right path of life).

This is a novel I hope every Canadian reads. It truly gives some perspective into the pain, anger, and shame some Aboriginal people feel and the effects these emotions have on their lives, their families, and their communities. Throughout the novel, the images by Kelly Mellings are powerful and staggering.

For more information on the graphic novel, here is a great interview with Patti LaBoucane-Benson (author of the graphic novel) and a woman who has beat the odds and is a graduate of the Spirit of the Warrior Program, run by Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

In the interview, Patti LaBoucane-Benson states that today’s First Nations people are bleeding colonial history. There is a direct connection and is a historic trauma response. She also says that this generation needs to learn: we need education on who our first people are and the relationship we have.

Source: http://thewalrus.ca/a-hard-road-to-walk/

Although fictional, this graphic novel, the story of Peter Carver, is a similar story for hundreds of First Nations people in Canada. This novel also shows the importance of programming within the prison system and especially before people end up in prison. There is a potential for change in Canada. I hope that there is a change in how Canadians see Aboriginal people and how Aboriginal people see themselves. Our entire country needs healing.

“My goal in this book was to tell the truth, whether it was an ex-gang member that picked it up or someone from the government who’s in charge of policy.” (Patti LaBoucane-Benson)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

Source: http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/first-nations-take-their-last-march-canada-s-dystopian-tar-sands

“Faith and Feminism”: authentic living

My thoughts on someone else’s thoughts about writers’ thoughts.

I picked up Helen LaKelly Hunt’s book Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance because of the last tag line in the title: “Five Spirited and Spiritual Women Throughout History.” Spirited women!

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Feminism-A-Holy-Alliance/dp/0743483723

On the back of the book, the synopsis asks the question, “Why do so many women of faith have such a strong aversion to feminism? And why do so many feminists have an ardent mistrust of religion?” I resound with that second question. I do believe that my faith enriches my feminism. Helen LaKelly Hunt, through her thoughts on five females figures, is offering a challenge for a life of wholeness, to live a life that finds strength in vulnerability.

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ March 4, 2004

Stained Glass Depicting Jesus Christ March 4, 2004

Source: http://www.living-consciously.com/2013/08/jesus-is-a-feminist.html

Throughout the book, Hunt looks at five different women and the contributions they have made to faith and feminism. She looks at five different areas of life and how these women provide insight into these five areas: pain, shadow, voice, action, communion.

I found the book inspiring and engaging, but I mostly enjoyed, or rather needed, the chapters on pain and shadow.

1.) Pain: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
At some point in school or in life, everyone has read or seen one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. She was a transcendental poet. In it’s simplest form, transcendental poetry sought to show the good in humanity and in nature and the corruption of institutions. Some speculate that Dickinson had some horrible emotional experience at school that drove her to stay home, and some speculate that she lived with the crippling pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Either way, her pain was very real and stayed with her constantly. So why is it that Dickinson and her poetry is chosen by Hunt to show the pain of life? Hunt states that “Emily Dickinson’s life teaches us that embracing the pain in our lives can be the doorway to deeper meaning and purpose” (24). Furthermore, Hunt writes that “Emily did not allow . . . hopelessness to deaden her feelings. Instead, she used it to deepened her experience of grief . . . her poems become a celebration of feeling … Emily understood that pain and joy are eternally mixed–and that each can be access through the other” (34).

This paradox of joy and pain is true. Her poetry is able to see through the every-day busyness and see life for what it truly is, whether it be a dark, lonely night or a bird bathing in a puddle. As Hunt says, “Emily’s poetry charts an evolution from avoiding pain to claiming and being defined by it. Pain shapes us, breaking us open so that we can reconfigure ourselves in a way that more deeply mirrors our authentic self” (36). Pain allows us to cut away all of the trim and masks that we wear and to be our authentic, true selves. Pain cuts to the core, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. By having Dickinson as an example, women, and all humans, can see an example of how pain allows us to not only see ourselves more clearly, but to also see those around us more clearly. Pain creates empathy and understanding, something that Jesus was famous for during his time on earth.

I think that if Dickinson was alive today, she would appreciate the song “The Valley Song” by Jars of Clay: “I will sing of your mercy that leads me through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy.”
Source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/emily-dickinson

2.) Shadow: Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Ever since I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark, I have had a new appreciation for shadows and darkness as a part of life. While in a Spanish convent, Teresa struggled with the desire to have a social life (something that was common in nunneries at the time because of the wealth and power of the church) and the desire to truly love God completely, away from distractions. In her struggles, she revolutionized how people pray and is still taught as a Doctor of the Catholic Church. The struggles she encountered trying to accept herself and then figuring out how to live a fulfilling life caused her to explore her shadows. She never shied away from admitting her flaws and owning her darkness. As Hunt writes, “Shadow characteristics can become detriments or assets. It depends on whether they remain hidden and examined or are accepted with vulnerability. Teresa’s story illuminates the path of courageous self-acceptance that leads to the open heart” (53).

Vulnerability yet determination to create change. Teresa was aware of herself, the bright and the dark. Knowing herself, she was able to find the confidence to create positive change while maintaining her belief that she should not forget her shadows and how they are a part of her true self.

Source: http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2015/03/saint-teresa-of-avila-at-500/

In the remaining chapters of the book, Hunt tells the story of Sojourner Truth, a former slave, who learned how to voice her opinions and sought equality for all people; Lucretia Mott, an influential leader within the Quakers and in the USA, who took action to ensure that women were treated equally, even down to her marriage which was a true partnership during a time when most wives were repressed; and Dorothy Day, whose relationship with God came through her humanitarian work, who valued community and communion with others. All of these women were heroes of faith and feminism who inspired Hunt and I appreciated reading Hunt’s own journey to wholeness by learning from amazing women who struggled before.

From Hunt’s book I am reminded that in our lives, we need to remember that we are complicated. We need to spend time listening to ourselves so that we can live a whole life. We have bright spots and dark shadows; we have chances to speak and to act; we have opportunities to join and live in community with those around us. In order to live a full life, we need to accept and love who we are and be inspired by those around us. Being open to an authentic life leads to authentic actions, as shown in the lives of these five amazing women.

Source: http://comicsalliance.com/wonder-woman-feminism-meredith-finch-david-finch-dc/

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“The point of telling our stories, even if only to ourselves, is to help us resurrect the parts we have buried. When we unearth them, even if it’s difficult, we can integrate them into our sense of who we are. Often in our buried self our true power lies.” (Helen LaKelly Hunt)

Source: http://sotospeakjournal.org/category/local-feminists/

“On Thin Ice”: ancient and modern

Recently I had the opportunity to take part in some Inuit culture traditions. Through a program called CONNECTIONS, attended through the school I work at, I was able to go out to see what the program was all about and the day I went was devoted to Canada’s first peoples: First Nations, Metis, Inuit. Zinour Fathoullin (pictured leading drumming and dancing below) lead us in several different Inuit arts. We learned how to drum using a Qilauti (a traditional Inuit drum). We learned how to dance some Inuit dances, including a walrus (where you lay on your back, fling your feet over your left shoulder, lay on your stomach, flip over, and start again). The dancing and the drumming allowed me to understand a lot more about Inuit culture. Seeing Inuit culture and traditions together allowed me to have a better appreciation for those who live up North. When I came home, I stumbled upon this fabulous video from the North West Territories with video and interviews.

Source: http://blackandlightimages.smugmug.com/Connections/Presenters/Zinor-Fanouth/i-Bfr7r9N/A

At this same presentation, Zinour Fathoullin got the students throat singing. I had already heard throat singing because of Tanya Tagaq coming onto my music radar during the Canadian Polaris Music prize. I found it so interesting to learn the history behind the singing: throat singing was a competition between women to see who could come up with the most animal noises. Also, Zinour shared with the students an ajai jaa (a personal song or chant that tells a person’s life story). As he sang, he drummed and danced and it was so powerful and beautiful.

While leaving school for Spring Break, I came across Jamie Bastedo’s book On Thin Ice at the school library and I knew I had to read it. Bastedo is, according to his publishing company, a biologist turned story teller. The novel centres around a teenager, Ashley, who lives in Canada’s North, and is the daughter of an Inuit man and a French/Irish mother. Bastedo’s novel tells the story of Ashley’s vivid dreams about polar bears, her artistic ability to draw polar bears, the polar bear hunts of her community, and the magical and mysterious connection she has to the polar bear. From the perspective of Ashley’s dream journal, the story of her every day life, and the perspective of a mystical polar bear, readers are able to get an amazing glimpse into a culture that is both beautiful and powerful.

Source: http://www.amazon.ca/On-Thin-Ice-Jamie-Bastedo/dp/0889953376

Throughout the novel, Ashley is both terrified and memorized by the polar bear. Her dreams turn from nightmares into something more mystic and magical, leading her to develop a new relationships with her mysterious Great Uncle Jonah. As she dreams, she draws her visions of the polar bears and becomes known in the community for her art work. In fact, at the end of the novel, she is honored and respected by her community as they recognize the power of her artwork. She learned that her Great Uncle Jonah has carved several polar bears from the soap stone found under their town. She learns that her father is a gifted polar bear hunter. She learns that her Aana (Grandmother) is able to interpret her drawings. Ashley also finds meaning, healing, and belonging as she learns to drum, sing, and dance. At the end of the novel she realizes the importance of the stories and traditions of those who came before her and she allows herself to take on a role that at first, seems to not fit. At the beginning of the novel her mother and Aana find an old, fur, patchwork coat in the dump and continue to patch it and add on to it until at the end, the coat represents who she is: a mix-match of blood, generations, and cultures.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/marciamacd/aboriginal-art/

Overall, I loved Bastedo’s novel. I found the stories of the changing climate and its affect on the land (permafrost melting), the ice (the ice becoming unpredictable), and the animals (the seals and polar bears running out of traditional habitats) disturbing and I realize the passion with which Bastedo writes. He shows the dangers and the unpredictability of the future, yet he also ends with hope. He ends with the new generation of Inuits taking over from their elders and being able to blend science/technology and tradition in a way that celebrates and continues an ancient culture.

As with many First Nations, Metis, and Inuit tribes/nations, the hope rests in the people and in the youth.

Source: http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/65674photo_inuit_youth_take_their_message_to_durban/

“And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)

“For the first time visitor to the north, these first impressions imply that Inuit have thoroughly embraced the benefits of modern life. This is true but it is important to note that in doing so they have not left their complex and ancient culture behind.” (http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf)

Source: http://hamaariihindii.wikispaces.com/%E0%A4%85%E0%A4%B2%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B8%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%95%E0%A4%BE

“Big Bear” and “Indian Horse”: seeing beyond

Last week I read Penguin’s Extraordinary Canadians biography Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe. Penguin even put together a video about Big Bear’s time. I was born and grew up in the Treaty 6 area near the Battle River. Growing up, my Grandpa would take us to see the Ribstones near Viking. In the fields my Grandpa was given through the Veterans’ Land Act, over the years he found arrow heads and tools. I find it a bit ironic that years after the buffalo disappeared, destroying the way of life for the Cree and Blackfoot (and others), that the Government established a large National Park in Wainwright in 1907 full of buffalo purchased from Montana for visitors to see. My Grandma remembers going to see the last round up of the buffalo in 1939 before the park turned into an army base (Camp Wainwright which is still there today and even has a buffalo paddock) and the buffalo were sent up to Wood Buffalo Park. Although I never went to the area, Old Man Buffalo’s (the Iron Creek meteorite’s) original location was close by in Sedgewick/Hardisty. Yet, living near all of these Cree areas, I didn’t see a Native person until our family moved to Winnipeg.

Reading Wiebe’s account of Big Bear’s life was heartbreaking. According to Wiebe, Big Bear was a peaceful man. He worked hard to find peaceful solutions to problems and sought to talk first, act later. For years, Big Bear tried to talk with the Cree and Blackfoot and the government agents in order to help the bands in the Treaty 6 and 7 areas to start a new way of life after the buffalo disappeared. Yet over and over again, Big Bear was let down and betrayed. In an article from the Edmonton Bulletin from October 21, 1882, Big Bear is quoted as saying, “Although we trust to the law to help us, we never got the benefit of it, because our word is as the wind to the white man” (Pg. 120). Big Bear foresaw the blood and knew that things were changing, yet he could not get help in trying to lead his People into a new way of living. Yet Wiebe did not finish Big Bear’s story in despair. Wiebe finishes his story about Big Bear in a powerful way that honours Big Bear:

The buffalo and the bear might be fenced in, like his People, but they would not die out. What he had done, what he had tried to do but failed to: the Creator’s world remained and People belonged in it. His believed People would not vanish, no matter what Whites forced upon them. They knew the place given them by the Creator because they knew the stories of this place, and they would live, raise their beautiful children, and a hundred years from now the sun and the moon would still shine upon them, the rivers run. (Pg. 211)

Source: http://www.canadahistoryproject.ca/1871-97/1871-05-big-bear.html

This weekend I read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, the story of Saul Indian Horse. Just like Big Bear, Saul Indian Horse is a peaceful person. Throughout the novel, Wagamese takes his readers through Saul’s life as Saul writes about his experiences while in a treatment facility for alcohol abuse. We learn that Saul’s parents abandon him because of their grief at having their eldest son, Saul’s older brother, stolen and put into a residential school, only for their son to come home and die. Saul survives with this Grandmother in the bush of Northern Ontario until winter hits. Saul is found at a railway station in the arms of his frozen and dead grandmother and taken to a residential school. The novel is Saul’s story of his experiences at the residential school and then his anger and hurt while trying to understand his place in the world.
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2013/02/canada-reads-2013-panelist-quotes.html

Just as I felt while reading Big Bear’s biography, my heart broke for the pain and suffering that so many people experienced because of a dichotomy and misunderstanding based on race and culture. In his novel, Wagamese writes so clearly about Saul’s experiences at the residential school: “When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us” (Pg. 81).

Saul’s only escape away from the pain is his love of hockey. Saul becomes an amazing hockey player who eventually plays for the Leafs’ farm team the Marlies. His ability to see the plays and understand the other team makes him a dynamic player because he can read the plays and make amazing passes. The ability to see life differently is a skill he remembers his grandfather having. Yet the crowds cannot accept Saul as a good player. He is constantly referred to by his race, not his skill, and the taunts and reviews make Saul so angry that he starts to spend most of his time in the penalty box. His rage makes him leave hockey, the game he loves, and become a drunk drifter. As Saul searches for answers and to figure out what actually happened to him as a child and the anger consumes him, he realizes he is not remembering the full story: “There was a part of me that desperately wanted to close the gap I felt between myself and people. But there was a bigger part that I could never understand. It was the part of me that sought separation. It was the part of me that simmered quietly with a rage I hadn’t ever lost, and a part of me that knew if the top ever came off of that, then I would be truly alone. Finally. Forever. That was the part that always won” (Pg 187).

Although Wagamese allows his character to go into dark places and to live a hard life of drifting, Wagamese also allows his character to find some healing. At the end of the novel, Saul begins to understand what happened to him and he is able to reconnect with the things that made him feel whole: hockey and family:”I want to get back to the joy of the game. That’s for sure. But if I learned anything while I was at the centre, it’s that you reclaim things the most when you give them away. I want to coach” (Pg. 218). Saul realizes that he can never be the player that he was. He realizes that he can never go back to life before his brother died. But he can move on and create new experiences within his community.

“I understood then that when you miss a thing it leaves a hole that only the thing you miss can fill” (Pg 219). Saul finds comfort in walking through the northern Ontario bush and in playing hockey. His ability to reflect and learn about himself is something that Big Bear understood better than those around him. As Big Bear was trying to negotiate and communicate with the government, he understood that his way of life and the way for life for all of the nations living on the prairies was over and that nothing could fill that void. I think that is why so many people respected Big Bear; he was able to look beyond his anger and see, just like Saul Indian Horse could see, that not everything is as it seems. The wisdom to look beyond the present must be frustrating to those who have that gift.

From reading about both Big Bear and Saul Indian Horse, one real and one fictional, I am left with a wonder for people who are able to be in a situation and look beyond it to the outcome at the same time. Healing needs to come from within. Healing is something that others can offer, support in, and encourage, yet as Wagamese reveals, healing can only come from within a person’s spirit and is therefore an individual experience. I wonder what Big Bear was thinking those days after he was released from prison before he died. Like Saul in Indian Horse, I hope that Big Bear was able to see beyond his suffering and pain and find healing.

“We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…” (Richard Wagamese).

“Love others as well as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Source: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2014/03/27/canadian-residential-school-survivors-share-their-stories