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Following the inner honesty

Like great wreckers that demolish whole city blocks, nuclear war sometimes seems just around the corner.How can I and my people survive?m many ask, while a few wise ones ask quietly, earnestly, insistently what will enable all of life to survive?m

He's wearing an Indian ribbon shirt, open-collared, with lavender satin ribbons zigzagging like lightning across a full chest. His black hair is streaked grey, swept into a ponytail that dangles to the back's middle. A sober voice emerges from deep within his set mouth. The voice, gentled by eyes that are like tiny brown wet pebbles, fills the room with solemnity. Bit by bit this Indian sage breaks your heart and then begins to put it back together again.

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''We're sitting in false security. A system of accumulation ultimately cannot survive, for excess and hoarding are against Natural Law.Secure us in our possessionsm , we say, afraid to leave our house with all its gold unprotected. Our neighbors are hungry and we have their gold, yet we seem surprised when they follow Natural Law to survive. Society runs by its heart and needs. You can't control it with will or weapons, big or small. Some imagine nuclear arms offer security. That is fantasy.''

He stands still as a late summer day when he talks. I watch him, a tall convincing man, backed by seven five-tier shelves of leatherbound lawbooks. This is an Indian Law conference at Harvard University, and the Indian is asking: ''What laws are you following? Laws made for the enhancement and enrichment of a small class of people? Laws created to benefit one country of people? Laws that favor people above other life forms? What about deeper laws that encircle and care for every living creature?'' The short, tapered forehead of this ribbon-shirted man furrows. His brows, bowed black clouds above the pebble eyes, lock together. ''The Great Law is nature and the unity of living beings. Nuclear weapons represent the ultimate and awful breaking apart of this Law. But if we wish to survive, as life was intended to do, the Great Law has to be followed, not defied. The development of nuclear arms is turning extraordinarily difficult times into foolhardy times.''

He talks on, and I discover what he believes in and how willing he is to fight for that. To him, fighting and destruction are not the same thing. ''A spiritual foundation and belief - that's what makes a true warrior. An Indian word for warrior means literally, 'he fights fair.' We fight for what we believe in, but fairly, not defiling nature or principles. For principles is why we're here,'' he says. Then comes a story, a tale of a man who followed Great Law. ''It's a true story,'' he begins, ''about an Onondaga trapper and his Dutch friend. Many years ago, when the Dutch were in New York, these two men were good friends. Strong companions. They did winter trapping together in beaver country. One day the Indian was at the Dutch man's door. He was early. 'It is a good season,' he said. 'Many furs, many pelts. Let's go.'

'' 'Fine,' said his friend.

'' 'You will come to my country.'

'' 'Fine.' They moved through Mohawk country, Oneida country. As they approached Onondaga territory, the young Indian said, 'Whatever I have is yours. Whatever happens, do not interfere.' Not long after, two men stepped from behind a tree. They were brothers of the young Onondaga's wife. 'Are you prepared?' they asked the Indian.

'' 'Yes.'

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''Then they finished him. His Dutch friend was sorely shaken: 'What happened? Why?'m

'' 'He killed our sister in a fit of passion, a jealous rage,' answered the two men. 'We held council and our family would not forgive him. It was decided to take his life in return. But at that time he requested another year to hunt with you, his friend. It was granted.'

''And now, a year later, the young Indian had returned to accept his fate. That is law.''

What about the law of forgiveness? I thought for a moment. But that was not the point here. This Onondaga was trying to tell me about fairness, honesty, the bold facing of one's mistakes.

One thing about times and talkers like these is that they make you face yourself. You find out what you are or aren't. You solicit the inner honesty about your own life and the life that surrounds you. And you begin to find out where you've been lying to yourself. Naively or intentionally I suppose we have all lied. We've fooled ourselves into believing the myth that billions of dollars spent on weapons and armed forces will protect us and our holdings from the hungry and angry hands of this world; the myth that financing such arsenals makes us safer than investing in areas that might reduce the causes of poverty, deprivation, anger and revolt.

The speaker's dark face, mapped with years of question and struggle, relaxes slightly, secure in what he knows, wary of what others don't know. ''We must respect Natural Law if we want to survive. My people once did that with their language, culture, traditions, ceremonies. Then, along came contrary people. Those things that we shared in common, they owned in private. 'Protect yourselves and your possessions,' they said. 'Own. . . . Acquire. . . .' they said. 'At all costs protect yourself and your possessions.' Now that is the general law and we are the few and contrary people. If you count just the Indian people, we are outnumbered; but if you count our other relatives - the birds, the trees, the water, and others who believe - we've got you; and we've got Natural Law.''

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