Traveling all day on the road, we pass through much much space. So far we awoke to find ourselves near Mount Hood, OR; Bumblebee Campground along the Coeur D’alene River in Idaho; and among the melodies of birdsong in West Glacier, Montana. The landscape varied from densely green shadowed forest to open meadowland and lilypad-coated swamp to a series of vast lakes to dry desert hills speckled with blue brush.
Many thoughts amount to wonderment at all the open space, seemingly endless sprawl between any sign of human development. As two who hail from urban life, the feeling of such relatively remote residence leaves us curious. What does it feel like to know everyone who lives in a community, or to have eternal green fields rather than shuffling human bodies and vehicles dominate one’s homescape?
I consider that a) a rural residence does not imply ignorance of contemporary culture or current events, b) rural v. urban life certainly seem very different, but we cannot claim one as superior, and c) to live remotely from any concentrated human cluster does not necessitate lack of meaningful social connection…those of us in cities, constantly surrounded by other humans, may easily find ourselves leading lives as distant from our neighbors as are the Montana glaciers from foggy California hills.
This spatial meditation led me to question how it is possible for us to experience varying degrees of space from ourselves. What is our level of awareness of ourselves and each other? Do we understand where we come from, what qualities we wish to manifest in the world and how to do so, how we feel, what creates our perception? In the context of Shelter to Shelter, I wondered how close must we be to violence in order for it to affect us?
We will find answers to these questions throughout this journey. Yesterday, I happened upon some as we rested in Montana. We picked up some copies of National Geographic from Caroline’s sister after staying our first night together in Mount Hood. Leafing through one magazine for collage material, I realized the August 2012 edition I held included a story about a Native American reservation in South Dakota adjacent to one we will visit in the coming days. The article detailed life on Pine Ridge, the reservation which includes the site of 1890’s Massacre at Wounded Knee. On December 28 of that year, about 150 people of the Oglala Sioux tribe were murdered by members of the US 7th Cavalry. The massacre occurred in the aftermath of an arrest-turned-shootout two weeks earlier when US Indian police apprehended a group of Sioux as they attempted to hold a spiritual ceremony. Six policemen and eight Sioux died in that initial fight, including Sioux leader Sitting Bull.
Interviewees in the article commented on the pain this event (mounted on innumerable other offenses Indigenous peoples withstood and withstand within this country) continues to evoke in their community. One woman, Olowan Thunder Hawk Martinez, described the experience of contemporary life on their reservation: “We’re all in constant danger of losing ourselves, losing our identities. It’s a daily struggle for each and every one of us to be fully Lakota, and sometimes we lose the struggle, and the men take out their feelings of worthlessness on the women, the women take out their feelings of worthlessness on themselves, and everyone takes their feelings of worthlessness out on the children” (Fuller, 49).
Her articulation brought me back to space. It sounded like her community could be saved much suffering and find great fulfillment rather than worthlessness if they had space to express their culture with pride, authenticity, and respect. Violence thrives off of the stress and pain that result when we feel unsafe to express who we truly are and how we truly feel, or when such expression is met with indifference, opposition, and/or ridicule rather than love, validation, support, and empathy.
Martinez’s thought also speaks to how one disempowered individual goes on to negatively affect those s/he contacts, helping to answer my question about how violence influences those near and far from its origin. The reality is that all actions we engage in as individuals have rippling effects and continuously influence the larger scales of our existence. In other words, what you do matters. All the time, even if no one’s looking, even if you’re not famous.
Anyway, let us think: how do we give each other and ourselves permission to take up space, to embody whatever space we feel honestly expresses us? We can practice honoring each others’ space rather than expecting people to mold to a shape we define for them. We can enact peace by occupying a space together where a diversity of self-expressions are celebrated and a multiplicity of realities are included.
To inspire us toward this end, I share a quotation from a small but profoundly important exhibit inside the visitor center at the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. Said exhibit shares information about the culture and history of the peoples indigenous to the area now occupied by the park. Members of the Kootenai tribe wrote the following: “Human beings were the last of all beings to be created and so we are the youngest brothers in all creation. The traditional Kootenai would have this realization in mind as they walked through life and would carry themselves as one would when walking among elders.”
Fuller, Alexandra. ”In the Shadow of Wounded Knee.” National Geographic. Aug 2012: 30-67. Print.