It was about a year ago when I sat as a guest in a Lakota healing ceremony. During that ceremony I listened as an elder talked to several young teenage men of his tribe. Among the things he said to them was that he, the elder, and others of his generation, would soon be gone and that the responsibility for the safety, caring and well-being of the young, the old, the disabled and the vulnerable would pass from him and his generation to them and theirs.
His soft, eloquent and powerful words brought tears to my eyes. In that moment I so wished I was one of those young men. I wanted to volunteer to be one of those people for that tribe. But, I couldn't. I was an outsider. I was deeply moved by the experience (as were others who witnessed that moment). We experienced young boys becoming men right before our eyes. Their chests seemed to swell with pride and purpose. They seemed to be immediately transformed from teenage kids to young men to warriors as demonstrated by the prayers they were asked to offer on behalf of the vulnerable members of their tribe.
In my culture I had never experienced a moment like that. A moment where a respected elder gave me wisdom and instructions of a man's responsibility to his world. I silently wondered how my life, and those of my family and "tribe" might have been different had I been given that opportunity. I let the sadness of that loss go, or so I thought.
This year, I found myself sitting in a similar ceremony, remembering last years’ experience and I was suddenly flooded with an understanding of something that had puzzled me over the last 9 months. I had an awareness that last year's words, spoken by that elder, to those young men, had been a message to me also. A message that hit home with such incredible power in early November 2016. The morning I awoke to the news of the people and their belief systems who would now rule our country (not just the president but also his millions of followers). I immediately felt an incredible sense of deep personal responsibility for the protection, safety, caring and well-being of the young, the old, disadvantaged and the vulnerable that had been so openly, gleefully and enthusiastically targeted and scapegoated at one time or another during the election campaign by the winning side.
I felt a deep sense of responsibility for and to them to a degree that I'd never experienced, and I wondered why. Why now? I had some thoughts that maybe I was just overreacting. Some of my associates insinuated the same thing. Until, that is, I saw the look on my wife's face. Until I heard from the women in my family and other members of the groups who had been targeted during the presidential campaigns.
As it has turned out so far, based on both actual events that have transpired as well as many things now proposed by our new rulers, the admonitions spoken to the young men at that ceremony by the elder a year ago, were (without me realizing it at the time) instructions to me. A call for me to show up and help.
As a straight, privileged, white (now elder) male of the dominate culture, I have been asked (and it is my responsibility) to do everything that I can for the safety, caring and well-being of the young, the old, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Since I am one of the privileged, I must speak up in a way and with a credibility that those who aren't privileged cannot. Though I can never ever truly understand, even a little bit, what is like to be a woman, a person of color, a targeted religious or ethnic minority, or to be physically or emotionally disabled, I understand it is my responsibility to do everything I can to protect them from those who would do them harm through action and/or neglect rather than defer that responsibility to some outside force, agency or government.
A grateful thank you from me to those representing the ancient cultures who are still willing to teach me what a man's responsibility is to his people. And a reminder that it is never too late to listen, show up, speak up and help.