One of the beauties of growing older is that there is such a full cauldron of memories inside me that can float up to the surface upon my awakening in the morning.
This morning, I woke up with a poignant, sweet memory of my second visit to Australia.
I had been invited to give a Living in Process workshop and speech in Armidale, New South Wales.
I had requested that those inviting me arrange a meeting with a few local Koori (Aboriginal) elders upon my arrival before the workshop started.
I, myself, was not quite clear why I needed to do this and I was responding to a clear impulse inside myself that it was necessary.
The meeting was arranged at a “gathering place” for the local native people. When I arrived, straight from the plane, there was a small group of native elders waiting for me.
I could tell at a glance that they were a bit uneasy and anxious with this, as they saw me, as a “white woman.” And, they were also cautiously open to see what was coming.
We all sat down together in a circle. The people who were “hosting” me hung back and were also invited into the circle.
I started out with a short prayer of gratitude, as I had been taught as a child, and then told them who I was and that I had been invited to do the workshop there in their land and I wanted to ask their permission to be there as it was their land and their place. My words hung in the air as I waited. Then, very quietly and sacredly, every native elder reached out and slipped their hands into those of the person’s next to them. I clung to those hands as we silently sat and quietly cried together (as I am doing now).
Then, one of the elder women said, “No one has ever asked permission to come on our land before.”
Bonds were formed that moment which have transcended death.
That memory, that chose to grace me as I returned from the land of sleep this morning lay so precious in my being.
Then, as memories are want to do in their random fashion, I returned to an earlier time (how wonderful it is that memories know that time does not have to be linear!) and I was graced with a seeping memory of my first visit to Australia.
I had always wanted to go to Australia, indeed, I had felt called to go there and I really had no rational reason for going except I felt “called.”
I had planned to go a year before I went and an emergency appendectomy stopped me. A year after that operation I was “invited” to come by a group of Kooris who were going to meet together. This time felt more right for me to go. I usually don’t like to travel as a “tourist.”
When I arrived, my host and his wife, who would drive me around and be the only white people I would meet on this trip except those who ran the motels and waited on us in the restaurants, met me and took me to the meeting.
When we walked in, the group of Koori people were already meeting. They motioned for me to sit down in the circle and began to grill me.
“Why are you here?” they queried.
“Because I was invited,” I responded.
“Yes, but why are you here?” they repeated with emphasis.
“I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess I will find out,” I said. That seemed to be an okay answer.
“Are you here to study us?” they asked.
I sat a moment.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “I am here to see why I am here and hopefully to learn.”
“Are you here to get some doctorate or something?” they pushed deeper.
“No!” I replied. I already have two. I don’t need anymore.
By this time my “host” was beginning to feel uncomfortable (I wasn’t) and he said, “This is a very important woman in America.”
Upon that statement, I was sure I heard several people sniff.
“That’s neither here or there,” I said. “I came because I was invited. I have no idea why I am here and I am sure that I will find out as we go along.”
With that, the group completely ignored me and my presence and went on about their business.
As I listened to them, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. These trickling tears turned into a steady stream and this stream turned into deep sobs as they ignored me and focused on the issues of their people trying to live their lives with integrity while surrounded by a violent, hostile, confusing and difficult to understand, invading culture.
I could not stop weeping as I sat there.
I realized that I was having the privilege of listening to a people that had had fewer centuries of colonization of any I had met and, therefore, still maintained more of their wisdom, values, assumptions, and beliefs than any I had known. And, they were letting me see and be a part of this wisdom, these “knowings.”
I did not know then that I was Cherokee and my culture too had been colonized.
I did not know that my ancestors also had been colonized further back than they had and some of our cultural memories were fainter.
All I knew was that whatever they were saying and how they were saying it was resonating in me at a level far deeper than my consciousness and vibrating strings of memory that had no words yet and could only present themselves in sobs of holy relief.
I was beginning the journey of “remembering” what I did not know and there were no words to speak.
They seemed to understand my wordless state. On that trip, I heard my first Australian bellbird.
I can hear it now as I write.
Anne Wilson Schaef Ph.D