I just got back from a couple of weeks in Germany where I’ve been teaching for the last 20 years. This experience always leaves me feeling like I’ve learned more than I’ve taught.
Germany is my ancestral homeland; until their escape from the Holocaust, both sides of my family lived there for hundreds of years. I am the firstborn son of survivors, and my feelings of distrust, anger, and frank hatred of all things German was instilled from an early age.
It was only after I came to work in Indian country, where I was judged badly for being a white man that, I understood I was doing the same thing to Germans. I wanted to come to peace with my hostility, because it became clear to me I couldn’t be a healer walking around with that much resentment and anger.
I went to Germany for the first time when I was in my forties (which gives you some idea how long you can enslave yourself with your old judgments), and slowly learned how to write a new ending to that old story. Every time I return, I let go more of my reflexive hostilities.
This year I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony that took place one evening under three feet of freshly fallen snow. Surrounded by this fairytale setting, we held hands around the fire, and in the glow of shared community, more of the stain of my preconceptions was washed away in the ethereal, moonlit whiteness.
On my return, I took my grandkids to see the movie “The Boy in Striped Pajamas,” a devastating Holocaust story originally written as a chapter book for adolescents. It’s about two eight-year-old boys, one a Jewish prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and the other, the son of its Nazi commandant. It’s a poignantly sad story about children who struggle to understand the prejudices and propaganda that separates them. And, it’s a magical fairytale about two innocents who, at the end, face the banality of evil holding each other’s hands.
On Thanksgiving, we held hands with friends and relatives and said thank you for our togetherness. Thanksgiving is the time to remember that, in a world of explosive intolerance, our only hope is to hold each others hands as relatives.
Mi Takuye Oyacin,
For All My Relations,