I WAS LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT WORDS, BUT MY MIND WAS EMPTY AND ECHOING LIKE AN ABANDONED HOUSE…
Edison was angry when he walked into my office. He paced back and forth searching for his own right words. His story began in mad dashes, then he’d pause, and once again sprinting off in a furious torrent:
He and his family had been on a shopping trip the previous day. As they returned to the reservation through the small farming community, Edison made a mistake, cutting off a car in traffic. Brakes were jammed on and tires squealed. Fortunately, there was no accident. Both vehicles pulled to the side of the road.
“You #%&^%@# Indians, you’re all the same,” the other driver yelled, language growing louder and more harsh.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” one of his kids asked from the back seat.
Doing ‘something‘ would have been an easy thing. Edison is tall, strong and physically fit. This former professional rodeo cowboy makes a living as a maintenance man on the local reservation and runs his own cattle ranch.
“No, it’s not worth it,” he said, fists clenched in frustration.
The stranger spewed angry words for a few more moments. Then, hostility spent, he sped off from the scene of the confrontation. But the damage was done: a family’s shopping holiday ruined and Edison was left with a huge knot in his gut.
The next day when he showed up in my office, emotions chased each other across his face…sadness, anger, disbelief, shame….each flashing in his dark brown eyes. He paced back and forth in his emotional whirlwind, blurting his still livid frustration:
“…he’s a blue collar worker, same as me…driving a beat-up car, both of us…looked like he just got off work…my wife and family were there, what was I going to do?…why would he do that?…we probably have more in common than we are different.”
There was the crux of it, the indigestible lump in Edison’s stomach…he was Indian and the other guy was white. In this town, natives and whites have been living next door for almost a century and a half. In many cases, the cultural divide has been crossed. However, there are still moments where racism resurfaces, snarling and ugly.
“I feel like I oughta let him know, oughta tell him that,” Edison said.
“Is that a good idea?” I asked.
“Maybe I could tell him in the newspaper, write a letter or something,” he said, walking off.
A couple of months later Edison walked back into my office. He was excited. His family was making beaded commemorative key chains for the local girls’ basketball team. They were gifts to competitors at a tournament in the Midwest….kind of a ‘Hello’ from Indian Country.
It’s a pleasure being around a person who’s excited about what he’s doing, much like standing near a warm campfire on a chilly winter night. I enjoyed his enthusiasm. When he was done, I brought up harsh memories:
“Did you ever write that letter to the local newspaper?”
“No and I don’t think I will,” he said, “there are a lot more good people in that town than bad, they’re the ones I’m going to think about.”
There was my moment, something important had happened. By listening to his heart, Edison had risen above his tormentor. He’d had every reason to strike back; still he walked a higher path and left his adversary in the dust along the low road.
My mind was blank as I rummaged inside looking for something to say…an affirmation, a kindness, a simple pat on the back…..NOTHING CAME TO ME...I was empty.
Watching my opportunity walk out the door, I nodded and smiled as he hurried back to his family beading project.
For me, sometimes the right words take time. Much like a pot of beans, they need to simmer for awhile. Finally, I have the words that honor his actions on that tough day…I wish I’d said them at the time:
“Thank you, Edison. That man will never have the pleasure of knowing you or hearing your stories. The world is a better place for you taking that high road. You were, by far, the better man.”
Sleep well, we’ll talk again…
The author would like to thank Edison, once again, for letting him use this story.