I was reading about the Truth and Reconciliation gathering held recently here in Calgary. Aboriginal people find the courage to tell the story of what was done to them in the name of God, good order, socialization, whatever, and the devastating consequences to their lives. That made me think about my Floodcatcher Trees, holding onto the debris of past trauma, and my thoughts turned from the impulse to tell our story to knowing why we tell our story.
There is nothing incidental in the title of these gatherings: Truth and Reconciliation. It asks each speaker to tell their truth not so that people will be punished or shamed, but so that reconciliation becomes possible. We cannot reconcile with the people, if we do not reconcile with the truth of the consequences.
We live in a time when people often intone the call to “move on” and the need “to get past it”. We most often hear that as someone directing traffic around the consequences of their or someone else’s actions. And we are not always people who want to know the consequences, or want reconciliation. We want consequences to be invisible, and the story lost to amnesia. But that only makes the consequences haunt us, and the story keeps turning up like a bad penny. Moving on, and getting past it, happens when we know the consequences and the story that created them. Dazed, stricken, upset—however it all affects us—we find ourselves still standing, and strangely able to move on, step by step.
Once, many years ago, when my denomination was still not ready to makes its apology to First Nations people, I ended up in Saskatoon airport waiting for an early morning flight. An aboriginal man struck up a conversation with me right out of the blue as we waited to board. Very unexpectedly and suddenly we were talking about our work and our faith. He seemed to sense that I was at a low point and, unbidden, he told me of his community’s struggle to come to terms with the abuse of their children by a priest. He lived way up in the north part of the province. He told me how the community handled it, and how the cycle was stopped once the story could be told. As he spoke he drew a circle in the air with his finger and stopped just before he came round to his starting point. You have to break the circle, he said. And the circle is held by silence. Then he took my hands and looked into my eyes and told me it would be all right. He had no idea what my own trouble was, and he did not ask. But when he held my hands I felt like he held it with me, for a moment. I had this overwhelming sense that I had been blessed so utterly and thoroughly. And I knew I would keep going, after all.
The point of telling our story is only partly to take the debris off our lives, piece by piece. It is also so we can take another’s hands, and hold the burden of their debris with them for a moment, look into their eyes and tell them “it will be all right”. And they will know it can be true for them because it was true for us.
Truth and Reconciliation.