Love, Honor, and Compassion

Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor that we may heal the earth and heal each other.

~ Native American Ojibwa Prayer

raindrops on plantsPerhaps growing up poor gave me a natural affinity for Native Americans and other people who were left out as the gears of “progress” rolled over them. When I was young, I read a book about a Native American tribe who called themselves “The People”. I was drawn to their profound spiritualism, love and care for each member of their tribe–including the white women and children they incorporated into their group–as well as their deep reverence for the land and the animals they relied on to support their way of life.


Photo: Kurt Weiss

When I read about this tribe, I was envious of their connectedness to the natural world, their ancestors, and to each other. When I saw the above quote recently, I remembered the book I read as a child and decided to do a Google search to see which tribe of Native Americans referred to themselves as “The People”. Surprisingly I found that a large number of tribes–the Sioux, Arapaho, Navajo, Kirat, Inuit, and the Ojibwa, among many others–referred to themselves as the people or as human beings and used derogatory terms for outsiders who they saw as subhuman.

Of course, I had read that most white Europeans believed that Native Americans were inhuman savages, but I did not realize that so many Native American tribes believed only their group was human and that outsiders were not.

Nordhausen-Gardelegen-Buuchenwald Concentration Camp

Nordhausen-Gardelegen-Buchenwald Concentration Camp

How ironic that in Latin homo sapiens, the scientific name for human beings, means “wise man”, and yet as a species we have certainly not lived up to that name. We have killed billions of our own kind; maimed each other; raped and tortured; burned one another’s homes and crops; enslaved one another as objects; sacrificed each other in the name of our religions; and soiled the only planet we know for sure can support human life. We have sunk one another’s ships, shot each other with projectiles, bombed each other’s homes and cities, beheaded one other, starved one another, besieged one another, and fed each other by the millions into gas chambers.

Buchenwald survivors when the U.S. Third Army liberated the camp in 1945.

Buchenwald survivors when the U.S. Third Army liberated the camp in 1945.

If exterrestrials visited our planet, they would be unable to understand why “The People” of Earth devalue one another’s basic humanity based on superficial and subtle differences such as skin color, language, belief in a higher power, the country of one’s birth, whether a person is born a woman or a man, or who one chooses to love.

After the multitide of horrors called World War II, America enacted the Marshall Plan, a seemingly very successful effort to provide money and know-how to rebuild its former enemies Germany and Japan. This plan–wise, altruistic, and also self-serving–was carried out to foster a lasting peace so the Axis nation’s survivors would flourish and not again go down the path to war.

The Confederate dead at Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1863.

The Confederate dead at Marye’s Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1863.

In 1861, only 85 years after its founding, a horrific Civil War divided the United States and the rift between Americans opened 155 years ago has never healed, but has festered into the wounds that remain to this day. Having grown up in Republican-leaning East Tennessee– forced out of the union when the other two-thirds of Tennessee voted to join the Confederacy–I have a peculiar window to the strife that led brother to take up arms against brother. Tennessee was divided as the nation was divided, and hopes of a wise “Marshall Plan” to rebuild the South after the Civil War, probably died along with President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre.

Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward. --Jacques Lusseyran

Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward. –Jacques Lusseyran

In the poverty, starvation, and economic ruin after America’s Civil War, resentments and hatred grew and inhuman scapegoats, “the others”, were always easy enough to find, whether they were former African-American slaves, the starving Irish fleeing their country’s potato famine, the Chinese who helped build our railroads, European Jews running from the pogroms seeking to wipe them out in their home countries, or Native Americans who were hunted and killed nearly to extinction.

All of this madness brings us far afield from the simple call for love, compassion, and honor in the Ojibwa prayer quoted above.

Frightened World War II evacuees waiting to see who will choose to give them shelter.

Frightened World War II evacuees waiting to see who will choose to give them shelter.

Tomorrow our nation will hold an election to decide who becomes President of these divided states. It would not be such an important matter if the United States was not the one remaining superpower–the country that, since 1945, has acted as traffic cop, policeman, physician, and bread-basket to troubled countries and peoples throughout the world.

Our higher selves: the Statue of Liberty, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free”, the shining beacon on the hill, the land of opportunity. Our lower selves: immigrants seeking work and refuge are unwelcome, opportunity for people that look like me–not so much for people that look like you.

An untitled photo--and one of my favorites. John Maloof/Vivian Maier

John Maloof/Photo by Vivian Maier

It seems that love and honor are much easier to find in this world than compassion because it is much easier to love and honor those who are like us, but compassion and empathy are required to value those who are not like us at all.

Yes, I am concerned for the world and my country, but my sadness, apprehension, and loss are personal as well this election eve–for my father is dying. I could qualify that a bit, and say he is probably dying, but the signs are pretty obvious: he is not eating much, moves with great effort, and has contracted an opportunistic infection. It may be a few months, a few weeks, or perhaps a few days, but Daddy’s death will come sooner rather than later.

Daddy on his grandmother's lap, early 1936.

Daddy on his grandmother’s lap, early 1936. Note his tiny sailor cap on the lower left.

Our local election commission folks came to Daddy’s assisted living facility on October 28 to allow its residents to vote in the upcoming election. When I joined him at the dinner table that evening, he proudly showed me the “I Voted” sticker on his shirt. He was very excited that he was able to vote for her, the woman who he felt strongly was “smarter than the man that is running”. He didn’t remember the names of the candidates at this point, but Daddy’s judgment on the matter was clear: he thought she would make the best president, and he was proud that he had voted. Although so many of Daddy’s capabilities and power over his body are lost to him now, his right and ability to vote was still his.

I am not sure what tomorrow will bring, but with the Objiwa people I pray for love, compassion, and honor–to heal the earth and to heal each other. For certainly we will need all three: love, compassion, and honor, in the coming days and years.

~ Anna – 11/7/2016

About aamontgomery

Seeing new possibilities in everyday things
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