Where are the wise ones?
The Teachers? The Grandparents?
The Ones who would/could tell us
Who we are?
Where we came from?
What we stand for?
What is our family/tribal history?
Who are our people?
What is the meaning of our names?
What are our customs?
Where are our sacred places?
What is our path? Where does that path lead us?
What is our mission?
How do we forge a link to the future
for our children?
Who will become the teachers?
When I taught Journalism at the university, I used the first day to ask each person to stand up and tell us his/her name, where he/she was from, what he/she was studying, a bit about their family, something they felt strongly about, and something important about themselves. The time limit was just a little over one minute.
After the first few comments, I was distressed at how much personal information I was getting. No topic seemed too personal to comment on. There were multiple moms and dads and siblings as their parents seemed to destroy and create families every few years. Many moves were involved, many houses were lived in and moved away from. It was obvious that important information was gotten from friends, not parents (who were viewed with disdain). Nothing was mentioned about religion; much was made of cell phones and the beginnings of social media.
These students wanted to be someone the world would view as important – Divas, actors, musicians, sports figures, fashion experts, etc. No one wanted to be a Mom or Dad or minister or priest or doctor or lawyer or teacher. And no one mentioned having kids.
Except for the last student who spoke.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she stood up, saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” over and over.
What on earth could cause this reaction? I mean, I was upset – even angry – that these students had been shortchanged on the very most important parts of life as I knew it. But crying? No.
“Oh, Mrs. Baker, I live at the bottom of a big hill in a valley in the mountains. My people are all hill folk and they get married real early and they have lots of children. My grand daddy lives at the top of the hill with my grandma and every time one of their children grew up and got married, they helped them build a house just down the road that goes around and down the hill. And when it came time for them to have kids, the grand parents and the aunts and uncles and cousins all got together and helped build the newlyweds a house further down the hill.
My mom and dad and I live at the bottom of the hill and so far, there has been no more kids but me, so everyone’s been watching me. But when I decided to get educated instead of getting married, they held a family meeting. The minister came and we met out by the lake in back of our house, and he conducted the meeting.
“He asked me why I didn’t want to get married and I told him I hadn’t met any body I could give my whole heart to. He asked me if I wanted children when I did get married and I said I did because I wanted to give my love to my children the way my momma and daddy loved me, but that I didn’t think I could do that without first loving my husband. Then he asked me why being educated was so important. Obviously, he said, I could do the work that women did within the framework of the home – be a helpmeet to my husband, cook, clean, give time to my family, my community, and to my church – without being formally educated. Basically, he asked me ‘Why bother with education?'”
“I told the minister – and my family members – that I felt the pull of the Future on me. I had talents that marriage could not develop, nor could I learn them on my own. I had gone to one of my land cousin’s homes during the summer and she introduced me to the world of computers. I came to see that this was the way the world was headed. I then made a plan. Anything important that I would do with my life has to help me and others. I also have to get excited just thinking about it! Therefore, I figured if I was able to learn all about computers, I would be able to help my family members in many ways. And I got excited just thinking about it!”
The minister said “Yes, I see your point and I believe you are on to something of great value to your family and many other people who will benefit from your knowledge as well. But it bothers me that you don’t seem to view finding a husband as being equally important.”
“And I told the minister – and my family – that I had a test for that, too. And as soon as I met my life partner, and I got excited just thinking about him, I would pursue him just the way I was pursuing an education!”
The class broke out in laughter!
“But why are you so upset, crying and all,” I asked.
“Because I am apparently so different from everybody else,” she said. “No one has ever been divorced in my family. We marry for life. Everyone has the same momma and daddy that they started out with, and all the brothers and sisters belong to the same family. I didn’t hear anybody talk about prayer or going to church and that’s a big part of my family life. Whatever job I wind up with, after I get my degree in computers, won’t nearly be as important as my family will be.
“Our whole family has always supported each family member. In fact, my grandparents and aunts and uncles have all offered to help pay for my college expenses while I am in college so that I can graduate without any debt. They said they have faith in me. Do you know what that means to someone who has never even been away from home except to visit family members?
“I have so much to be thankful for but I didn’t hear anyone here say “Thank You,” and nobody sounded happy. Didn’t the Lord say we should be joyful? I just don’t know if I have what it takes to get along in today’s world.”
Thankfully, the class ended.
What else was there to say?