I opened a small box to find inside my turtle shell rattle and a feather from a certain bird which is held sacred in Native American circles. The feather was a gift from a tribal and clan kinsman who has now taken the long journey himself. He gathered it at the base of a tree wherein was a nest.
As do many Native people who still walk a traditional path, he cared for an area of forest, and for its creatures. He left gifts of fish and road kill at the base of the nesting tree, and over the years the birds had come to know him, and would sit quietly as he approached. He considered their dropped feathers their gift to him, and that gift he shared with me.
The rattle fits snugly in my hand, reminding me of the first time I ever saw what we called a "terrapin" as a child. Funny little animals. Infinitely patient. The owner of my shell had long since vacated it when I picked it up along an Arkansas creek bed. It was bleached of all color, the chalky white of bone, scribed with the irregular pattern of it's growth plates. It had a handle once (the rattle not the terrapin) but I found it awkward. I pulled it out and sealed the hole over. Now it lies in my hand in perfect ease, with a tail of beading and feathers. It whispers as I move my hand.
I took it from its wrappings and laid it on our altar between the Buddha and the prayer bowl. It is an emotional, if not a physical, link to ancestors who kept time primarily with rattles, in a homeland three thousand miles away. There is a dichotomy for you - a genetic dog's breakfast who (in blood quantum terms) is half Native American or as Canadians say "First Nations" and a Buddhist.
What is culture and what is its value? We had a rip-roaring, and at times loud discussion about culture and acceptance, or a lack thereof, at "Happy Hour" a couple of days ago. We are of a generation whose members often feel threatened by difference and diversity. Never mind the names the "others" were called. Behind it all is fear, fear and ignorance - though sometimes a willful ignorance.
If you want to see a face light up, smile at the turbaned gentleman and his wife in her sari, at the mall. Say, "Hello! How are you today? Isn't it a beautiful day?" Or greet them and tell them that their child is beautiful. I've seen tears come to the eyes of grown men, simply because they and their wife were greeted warmly. I think that's heartbreaking.
Every human life is a treasure beyond price. Every human has incredible potential for good. We are all a part of the great cycle of eternity and if we only knew so we would be filled with joy. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore expressed this idea, "The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers."
I cannot change the mind of the 70-year-old who announces that he "hates them people". His world is divided into "us" and "them". ("Them" being anyone different from himself.) However, I will not sit quietly by while he reviles "them" in my presence. I remind him that his people, his "us", the Irish, the Scot, the Pole, the German, was once the reviled immigrant.
Change must come from inside. It cannot be imposed. But the self-motivated and positive inner change of a single individual affects the larger web of life and results in the advancement of human society.
I cradle my turtle shell rattle. While I sometimes yearn for days that are gone, and songs that have been long stilled, I know that if we are to ever have peace in this world, we must renounce our tribes, the cult of "us" and "them", and simply become "us".