“Give me knowledge that I might have compassion for all.”
After spending several days going around in circles in my head over what to write this week, I’m going to take a different approach.
As some of you know, I serve as Head Elder of the Chickamauga Nation. One of my duties is to gather and develop the stories that identify who we are as a People and what we believe. The stories carry our traditions, our ways and our history.
The Native approach to storytelling is pretty much the opposite of what I typically do in this space. The expectation of writing in the dominant American culture revolves around spelling all things out: You have a point to make. You make your point. You support your point. You give people what is hopefully a helpful perspective to take away with them. You use a whole lot of words and fill in the blanks.
That is not the way of the various Native American peoples on this land. In fact, spelling everything out and assuming what someone “should” get from a story is considered a little rude. Using too many words is also disrespectful, as it clutters up the space where the person receiving the story would interact with it in their own minds. (See my blog about the “ii” for more information.)
The stories are for people of all ages. No one is left out.
I decided that today I’m just going to give you a story.
A Bear, an Owl, and some Rats: Heart Trouble
A long, long time ago, (about last Thursday,) there was a bear. Now, this bear wasn’t big and he wasn’t strong. In fact, he was kind of scrappy. But he was quick, and he was determined.
When he was still pretty young, the other bears called him Peanut. They weren’t trying to be mean. He was just… little. But the bear, he didn’t like anyone noticing that he was small. Every time somebody said anything about his size, he got madder and madder and meaner and meaner. And then, he started getting sneaky. He would go up behind a bear who had said something about him the day before, when the other bear wasn’t thinking about it at all, and that little bear would whack the other bear in the head with a sharp rock!
One night when that little bear went to bed he couldn’t stop hearing the other bears calling him Peanut in his head. The sound rolled and around in there and tumbled through his whole body, “Peeaannnutt… Peeeaannuttt… Pppeeaannuttt…”
Bear started to feel his heart breaking inside. It scared him so much that he decided to take his heart out from his insides and keep it safe on his outsides. He took one of his sharp claws and sliced down his chest, took out his heart and put it in a special pouch. He tucked it away where no one would touch it or hurt it.
A funny thing happened after that. Anytime anybody said anything about him now, he didn’t feel any kind of sad! He thought this was great! Now, when somebody called him Peanut, or asked him when he was going to grow some real arms, he had no problem just throwing rocks at their heads when they weren’t looking.
After a while, people stopped trying to joke around with him. Instead, they started telling the truth about how mean he was, and how sneaky. They weren’t teasing now; They didn’t like him, and they didn’t trust him. Bear kind of liked people thinking he was mean. That meant they wouldn’t mess with him.
Way back in Bear’s cave, a funny thing was happening. Every time Bear got mean on someone, that heart all tucked away in its pouch? It would get harder, and drier, and harder and drier, with every single rock Bear threw.
Bear didn’t know that though. He was scared to look at it. Looking at that heart was pretty much the only thing he was scared of these days. He didn’t want it to start feeling things again. So he didn’t.
Days and years went by, and the Bear grew up. Or at least, he got older. He stayed kind of small. He stayed very mean.
He didn’t like the other animals much, but he especially didn’t like animals who told him what he was really like. He found some rats who liked to hang around him. The rats figured that if they told him things he liked to hear, he’d use those rocks to protect them from the bigger animals. And they were right! Bear liked being with the rats, not only because they said good things about him, but because next to them, he was HUGE!
“Oh Bear! You are so fast with those rocks!” they’d say. “Bear, you are SO smart!” they’d tell him in their squeaky little voices. Bear started walking with his chest puffed out farther and farther, scar and all. In fact, he thought that scar made him look even stronger, even smarter.
Well that bear, he felt like he was really somebody now! He decided he was better than all of the other animals! He was the best, the smartest, the strongest!
At least, while the rats were telling him he was.
When he went home to his cave at night all alone, he wasn’t so sure. One time he even went and checked on his heart over there in the pouch. Sure enough, it was starting to feel again. He ran outside of his cave and found some of the rats. He woke them up and yelled, “Tell me rat! Tell me how strong I am right now! Or I’ll KILL you!”
The poor little rats didn’t really feel like dying tonight, so they started telling Bear about all of the times he made a great shot with one of those rocks, and did you see the look on the face of that skunk while he ran away? Bear smiled and slipped off to sleep right there!
Pretty soon Bear had to force the rats to tell him more and more and louder and louder, so he could keep his heart from softening up again. The rats still didn’t want to die, so they kept on telling him all the things he wanted to hear. They made up songs about Bear’s battles and sang them to him again and again.
Pretty soon even that wasn’t enough, so Bear had to find more rats to tell him great things about himself and to sing his songs to him. The rats were with him all day and all night. They even stood around him while he slept, singing songs about how clever he was; How powerful he was.
It worked for a little while, but then it just wasn’t enough. Bear sent the rats out to threaten anybody that wouldn’t sing his songs to him. Pretty soon all of the animals were expected to sing Bear’s songs all day long.
Everybody was miserable. The rats were miserable, the other animals were miserable. And really, when you get down to it, Bear wasn’t so happy either. It was never enough.
That bear he set out to figure out what was missing; Why wasn’t he ever happy?
He went to see Old Owl who lived up in the oak tree. Owl had been around a long, long time, and she’d seen it all. She would know what he needed to do.
“Hey, Owl!” Bear yelled, pounding on the oak tree, “Owl, get out here and tell me what I need to do! Right NOW!”
Owl slowly rolled her head on her neck and popped one eye open to see who was bothering her nap. Seeing it was that puny little loud obnoxious Bear, she closed her eye and went back to sleep.
Bear yelled louder and pounded on the tree with all his might. “OWL!” he screamed. “It is ME! It’s BEAR. You need to answer me!”
Owl grumpily opened both eyes and peered out over the edge of her hole. She was about to just go back to sleep when she noticed all of those tasty little rats all around Bear. “HHmm…” Owl thought to herself. “I could use a snack.”
At the sight of Owl’s enormous eyes, the rats scattered. This made Bear furious!! He was so busy yelling at the rats that he didn’t even notice that Owl had flown away.
Oh, Bear was mad now! He started throwing rocks at everything he saw. He threw them at the trees. He threw them at the animals. He threw them in the creek. Bear was MAD! He was going to find that owl. Who did she think she was anyway?? Didn’t she know who he was??
As it turns out, Owl had figured out exactly where those rats were headed, and she had flown over to Bear’s cave. She was going to have herself a feast!
Bear just kept stomping his way through the woods, throwing those rocks and yelling for Owl. “OWL! You better show yourself! OOOWWLLL!”
Owl heard Bear loud and clear, but she really didn’t care. She was happily flying into Bear’s cave for her snack when he finally caught up to her.
Bear tore into his cave after her, yelling and throwing those rocks, throwing those rocks, throwing those rocks. Owl, being an owl, knew that the second she flew in she was going to be able see everything in the cave, but it was going to take Bear a minute. She easily flew above or below each rock, eyeballing the rats to decide where supper was going to start.
Owl also saw the pouch in the corner over where Bear slept at night. She figured out right away what that was. She swooped down in front of the pouch and waited for Bear’s eyes to adjust.
Bear saw Owl and he was going to get her with that rock. Bear yelled. Bear threw that rock as hard as he could, trying to kill Owl for not seeing how important he was; how wrong she was for not obeying him.
Bear pulled his arm back as far as he could. He hurled that rock with all his might, straight and sure, right at Owl!
Owl gracefully fluttered upward out of the way, a little bored by Bear’s yelling and stomping and throwing. By the time that rock smashed into the pouch and broke that dried out heart into a million pieces, Owl was long gone with two tempting treats in her beak.
When that rock hit that heart and turned it into dust? Bear turned into dust too.
If you’re having trouble finding your heart, or dealing with someone who’s lost there’s, contact Tiffany today. Let’s figure it out.