Violet Catches being greeted by Mother Bear. Photo by Suzanne Webber.

“Aussie Moss! Aussie Moss! Aus-sie! Moss Moss!”

“Stop singing.”

“That’s your theme song, Aussie. I love singing it when we walk or drive somewhere together, it’s how I show you how much I love you.”

“I don’t want to hear it. Not now!”

“So when? You’re nothing like Henry who jumps on my lap whenever possible, you don’t sleep in the bedroom and certainly not in my bed—”

“I should hope not!”

“So when can I express how much I love you, Auss?”

“Not in public, I’m embarrassed. Some things you do at home when nobody else can see us, but not here! Not in the street!”

“Come on, Auss. Why do we have to hide love from people?”

“Let’s pretend we don’t know each other, you stay on your side of the road and I’ll stay on mine.”

Every once in a while, I see how hard it is for me to accept love. How hard it is for me to acknowledge and accept bonds of friendship or even respect. It’s funny how self-conscious I can be.

Bernie used to introduce himself to a group by saying that he was an addict. He was addicted to his self and he would always be addicted to his self. Zen was his recovery program, only he knew he wouldn’t ever fully get over his addiction to the self.

There are times when I feel I can give myself fully to what is offered, and certain times I can’t; I lose connection. I’m talking of relationships with people I love, not with strangers. But I’ve noticed many times, even among long-standing couples, that one person beams at the partner, but the partner does not beam back.

I think back to the time when I met Violet Catches, an elder from Cheyenne River Reservation, when she and other Lakota members came to Barre to pick up Wounded Knee artifacts that belonged to their ancestors and which had been stored for many years, gathering dust, in the Barre Museum. As we sat in the big auditorium of the Barre school where the ceremony of return was going to take place, a small group of women, part of the Mashpee Wampanoag, from Cape Cod, approached to greet her.

They didn’t know her personally, but they had wanted to make some connection—actually, who knows why they came? They were led by Mother Bear, a relative of Slow Turtle, a revered medicine man, and of course Violet has her own deep family connection to Lakota medicine people, so their meeting may have had ramifications beyond my understanding. They shared that their particular clan, led by women, was not recognized as legally part of the Mashpee.

Mother Bear introduced herself and the others and presented gifts. Then she said: “We’d like to sing to you.”

In my culture that would have sounded a little odd, but Violet gave her blushing smile and said: “Okay.”

The women formed a circle in the front of the auditorium, but off to the corner, and asked Violet to come inside the circle. She did and they began to sing to her in their language.

I watched her. She’d never met these women before and didn’t know much about their tribe or history. But they sang to her in high, beautiful voices as she stood at the center, looking from one to the other, her hands clasped to her chest, eyes lit up, a humble smile on her face, taking in the respect and affection coming her away. No jokes to chase away unease, no comments or small social talk to minimize what they were communicating to her, no embarrassment (also a function of self-consciousness), certainly no offer to sing back. They wanted to give her something, and she received it completely.

Why this encounter took place in the way it did I don’t know, though, as I said before, this connection may have had other implications in realms I know nothing about. We’re all connected, but for some reason, when aspects of that connection are openly expressed—through love, through acknowledgment of how much someone means to me or me to him/her, through friendship—asking of us to forget ourselves and plunge into that connection expressed so openly, we hesitate, or feel uncomfortable or clumsy. As if we don’t deserve it, as if we’re not up for such an exchange. I find myself usually smiling with my lips shut, as if I’m holding back, marshaling my feelings, not ready to jump.

What Violet and the Mashpee women did together was ceremony, and you can say that’s very different from love because love is more spontaneous. But both require a readiness to leap out of self-consciousness and constant self-addiction, and into relationship, which, to the small self, feels risky and dangerous. Why? Maybe because there’s no bottom when it comes to connection. You go down deep, one layer after another after another, and never land anywhere because it’s infinite and deep. The greatest plunge in the world.

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