I had a revelation this morning.
I was bundled up against the cold high desert morning — hooded sweatshirt tied tight over a Hardcore Choppers baseball cap, hands pulled into jacket sleeves, headphones on.
I was listening to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast as I often do. Check it out if you get the chance.
As I walked through the subdivision-that-never-was, Nathan’s all-beef hot dog pieces in my left jacket pocket to make sure off-leash Roan didn’t stray too far chasing jack rabbits, MP3 player in my right, it suddenly hit me.
Krista’s guests were Natasha Trethewey and Eboo Patel, neither person I knew. The subject: How to Live Beyond this Election. I was dubious. I tend to avoid politics thinking them just a Big Game that I no longer wish to play.
Anyway, as I walked and listened, periodically giving Roan a beefy morsel, something that Natasha or Eboo said triggered a sudden insight. I don’t recall exactly what it was or who said it. Perhaps it was just the tenor of their discussion. But that moment, something clicked.
I realized as I walked and listened that it was wrong — or maybe unenlightened or unloving or insensitive are better words — for me to ask the woman at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota that blustery afternoon what she wanted to be called — “Native American” or “Indian” (Blame it on the wind). She was right. The discussion was “common” and not at all helpful.
My question created separation. Labeling people in any way — be it by skin color or ethnicity or nationality or religion or gender preference or anything else — divides us. It reminds me of the race question. Last I checked, we’re all the human race.
- How are you today?
- Do you live nearby?
- Do you have any children? Grandchildren?
- What do you think about what’s going on?
- How can I help?
After 25 years of interviews, Oprah once said that what people really want is to be seen and heard.
I could have asked the woman something to let her know that I really saw her, that I really heard her, that I saw deeper than her skin. I could have made a heart connection. But I didn’t and for this I am sorry.
I sent a mental apology to that woman. And I thanked her for the lesson. It wasn’t the lesson I thought I learned that day — its subtlety escaped me for over a month — but it was a lesson I needed to learn.