“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.”
- Thomas Merton
Day 130 - Monday, October 30, 1995 - The walkers awoke slowly from their tents to a gray, drizzly day on the land at Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast.
We brewed coffee and huddled by the fire. Last night as we sat and talked by this same continuously burning fire, Grandfather made a point about free will, the bombing of the Murrah federal building, and large, regimented groups, such as armies.
He said he felt there had probably been many factors that contributed to the deranged souls of the men who perpetrated the bombing. He speculated that the way many individuals abdicate their free will might have been a factor in the psyches of these men.
He said that, for example, in modern armies men are under orders. They follow without question the dictates of their commanders. In modern armies it is understood that there is a chain of command, and that you will do what you are told by soldiers who outrank you. You surrender your free will to the larger purpose.
That's not the native way of North America at all, Grandfather said. He explained that as he understood it, the warrior tradition on this continent—what he speaks of as Turtle Island—is that each individual is responsible for his own actions in life and in warfare.
He elaborated: “A leader in life or in battle can lead only to the extent that they are an example, or to the extent that they have the power of persuasion.
“No one does anything just because someone else says to do it. That would not be respecting the human attribute of free will. That's just making excuses for abdicating your own authority and responsibility.
“Each individual must make his or her own decisions,” Grandfather said, “and have his or her actions judged on that basis. We native people have always known that you are responsible for your own actions. Therefore, you must exercise free will and decide for yourself what your actions will be. The same in war as in all of life."
As we sat by the fire and talked, we wondered aloud whether the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing might have gone in another more honorable direction in life if they had been raised in a culture where free will was fully respected, and personal responsibility understood and expected. How could they, with any sense of responsibly, have taken so many lives and caused so much suffering?
After a breakfast of oatmeal, we drove Grandfather Commanda to the Oklahoma City airport for his flight back to Ottawa.
His last words to us before departing were to "stay together, solve the problems, and pray for healing each step you walk."
In the afternoon we visited the Norman campus of the University of Oklahoma, and formed a circle on the south oval.
Because of the cold, the rain, and the lack of publicity, few students came to join our circle. We carried on, singing our songs, and passing the talking stick. But no one had much of anything to say. It was penetratingly cold and wet, too harsh for long speeches, and so we cut the afternoon short and headed back to Whispering Pines to get into dry clothes and warm up with hot soup.
In camp there was tension. Tom, who has been staying not with us at Whispering Pines but instead at the home of Lauren Keahbone, showed up again.
Within minutes of arriving he confronted two young Oklahoma men—Eli Fischer and Jay Mitchell—and told them that they could not join the walk. He claimed the issue was that they had no money. They protested that other walkers had told them they could come on along on the pilgrimage anyway since no one had any money, and we were all pretty much subsisting on oatmeal, peanut butter, and occasional pot luck suppers.
The discussion became heated. Tom was fierce, determined, loud. Eli and Jay absorbed the energy and held their ground. They determined to walk on with us to the west.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 131 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire