On Finding Faith

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Dear Son,

Hi boo! I finally broke down and bought some stationary for myself. Cards were getting pretty expensive. It’s really hard to find stationary anymore! Everyone is so used to texting and emailing – but there’s something about sitting down to write a letter that is so special. After all, this is how we’ve communicated as a species for thousands of years! Now we’re reduced to emojis to convey our thoughts, and I think it’s definitely made us dumber and less articulate. 😆 🍕 🦄 Okay, I may cheat a little. You know mama – anything for a laugh.

I do hope that you get the “writing gene” from me. Otherwise, you will allow others to define who you are and what you stand for. In my experience, those “others” usually get it wrong. They’ve gotten me wrong for years, and I write!

I suppose that by now you’ve heard how Trump (my generation finds it hard to say “President Trump”) tweeted out to North Korea about how he can “push his big nuclear button“ and.. well, kill us all. The entire world is now freaking out over our giant, orange, idiotic blob-in-chief, and expect nuclear war to break out at any time. I was a “Cold War Kid”, and we were constantly threatened with our eminent extinction. My advice is to not worry about such matters until something actually happens.

All governments rule on fear. If we weren’t so afraid all the time, we might actually start organizing ourselves, and get rid of the whole wretched lot of these tyrants. It comforts me to see so many on social media refuse to give in to fear, even when they have so much to lose.

I especially find inspiration from the Native Americans. I learned so much from them about keeping your cool and maintaining the focus on love of our mother earth. I hope that when you get older, you get to go spend some time with them. Help them, but always let them take the lead. If they don’t want your help, they will tell you – and you’d better listen! Take “no” for an answer the first time, and thank your lucky stars if you get a “yes”! Your life will never be the same.

Your mama has a very special connection with the Western Shoshone. I almost named you “Corbin” after Corbin Harney, their spiritual leader, who passed away two years after you were born. He was the person who told me, “Speak your truth. Always!“

Easier said than done, of course. Sometimes, especially when you’re a woman, people get really, really mad when you speak your truth. Sometimes you get punished for it! But when I learned how so many with far fewer privileges then I have straight-up lost their lives for simply saying things like, “We should protect our planet”, I knew I could never go back to a life of silence.

Corbin also taught me about gratitude and appreciation. I know I told you this story many times, but now you get to read it!

 

One of my favorite memories was getting up before dawn with dozens of activists at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site to attend Corbin’s “Sunrise Ceremony”. I had been walking in Utah, and met some people who were heading out to a “Mother’s Day Action Camp”, and they invited me to come along. Never one to turn down such an offer, I piled into someone’s Winnebago with a bunch of Salt Lake City activists, and headed West.

When we pulled into the camp, there were signs everywhere reminding us to keep our shoes on at all times, on account of the radiation. The ground water at the camp was polluted, too, so there were jugs of water everywhere with signs that read “Hydrate or Die, Yo!” It was the desert, after all.

The fire tender would make a huge and sacred bonfire before any of us were even awake, and as we straggled in, there was Corbin with his sage smudge stick – blessing all of the directions with a song. He beat his drum and we all joined hands and shuffled in a circle around the fire… before we even had coffee! You can imagine how tough that was for me at first. It seemed to go on for hours and I even started to get annoyed. Now, of course, I’d give anything for even a minute back in time to experience that again. I was so blind back then!

Corbin blessed the water, rocks, air, and all the creatures who still managed to somehow survive here – the most heavily bombed place on earth. It was still Western Shoshone land, of course. The government never got permission to use it from the tribe, but they bombed the beejeezus out of it anyway. The camp I was at was there to protest the possible loss of their most sacred mountain, Yucca Mountain, which the government wanted to use as a nuclear waste dump.

I remember watching Corbin blessing the rocks and scorpions and such, and I felt so terrible for him and his people. How could blessing rocks ever stop the government from taking whatever they wanted?

But the longer I was there, talking to other tribal members, the more I realized that none of one of them had even a doubt that the dump would never be built there. To them, there was no other option. It just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t know that faith could look like that… that it could be so strong in the face of such impossible odds. Why should I doubt them?

They welcomed us white folks, and lots of the white people got arrested for “crossing the line” onto the military base, which was pretty meaningless, but made the white people feel good. Like that “Arrested development” episode where Lindsay gets put into the “free-speech cage”.

One hippie ran right past the guards, and we cheered as he kept running down the long, windy road through a canyon. After a few minutes, the cheering got awkward. We expected that one of the many military police at the gate would take off after him. Maybe he thought so, too. What do you do? Keep running, I guess. That’s what he did. That hippie must’ve run 5 miles down that desert road, until he finally disappeared into a mirage.

The Shoshone and other tribal members opted to do a prayerful walk around the gigantic test site, drumming and singing and praying. I saw them go by, and was really struck by how different it was compared to my own walk, which was pretty much just me and Sherpa trying not to get hit by trucks.

Something changed for me after that day. I tried – and sometimes succeeded in – having that same determination and gratitude when we walked after that. I let go of the constant panic about where I would get funding and press contacts, and learned to be OK with the fact that I may never get any attention or recognition or “fame”. That stuff didn’t matter so much to me after that. I was just grateful to have a body that could walk 10 to 12 miles a day (it sure can’t now!), and an awesome dog who adored me. Now I have you, and I am so very grateful for every second I get to spend with you!

Everyone at the time thought I was ridiculous to be walking for “democracy”. “We already have a democracy!”, they said. Haha.

I knew better. I was ahead of my time, you see! I don’t think anyone would tell me that we’re living in a democracy now.

The happy ending to my story is that they did stop the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. The official reason was “lack of funding”, but I knew it was the prayers of those peaceful warriors.

Unfortunately, the government is at it again. The funding may come now. All of the critters and the water will be poisoned for thousands of years, and our fate as a species for doing these horrible things to our planet will be sealed. But not if we fight! We easily have the capacity to fight all of these injustices if everyone pitched in. There’s so many more of us than there are of them, but it’s the very few who bother to fight. I see this as ridiculous, because I know that each and every person has something valuable to bring to the cause. I totally believe that.

 

It is for this reason that I know that I am doing the right thing by getting my college degree. I can learn how to do the research to help bring about change, and I’m certain to be heard (for once!) with a few letters after my name. “Jen Wallis, PhD”. That’s Doctor of Philosophy to you! Pretty cool, right?

I can do it. I know I can! Even when the entire world tells me I can’t do a thing, I do it anyway. It’s my super-power. The walk trained me for that more than anything. I never intended for the walk to be all I did. It was simply a small part of my vast and valuable education, and now I get to pass down all I’ve learned to my awesome son. I’ve made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to!

Like I told you before, use your time wisely! Learn all you can from as many sources as you can. Give encouragement to others placed in your path. I try to have the attitude that the person in front of me is the most important person I will ever meet. Wisdom and knowledge can be found from the most unlikely sources.

You may be a white male, and that privilege comes with great responsibility, but you were also born to working class people, and you won’t be able to rise above your class without a solid education. I don’t just mean diplomas and degrees! Learn from everyone. Don’t worry too much about what you’ll do “when you grow up”. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mission in life will find you. You’ll know it when you see it, I promise!

Well dang it my hand is cramping as usual, which means it’s time to stop for now. Love and miss you so much!

– Ma

 

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