“You must believe that what you are doing right now is the right thing.”
Hugh used to say that to me often, because I have a tendency to second-guess decisions. And I would say back, “What if it’s not the right thing?”
He would just shrug and walk away. Because he knew that ultimately he would make mistakes, then he would say, “Oopsi.” I would make mistakes, then I would descend into a funk. The world in general would make mistakes, then it would become front page news. I mean if we’re all just sitting around doing nothing, what’s the point?
I think I’ve figured out why this happens: we’re smarter tomorrow. Tomorrow, if you’re evolving as a human being, like we’ve all been doing for millennia as a species, you’ll be smarter than today.
Take, for instance, the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. How smart was it to believe that people’s “specters” – spirits – were afflicting others? My sister, Jana, along with some cousins, has traced our family through George Adkin Hartley, who came to Massachusetts from Newcastle, England in the 18th century, eventually marrying Abigail Estey, who’s great-great grandmother was Mary (Towne) Estey (spelled many ways, including Eastey if you wish to Wiki it), who was hung in those trials. I know, it explains a lot about my family! But, seriously, she was a “pious and respected citizen of Salem” who was condemned to die because Mercy Lewis said when Mary clasped her hands together, hers did too and she couldn’t release them until Mary released her own. When Mary inclined her head, afflicted girls accused her of trying to break their necks.
You can read Mary’s handwritten appeal online. It was not an attempt to save her own life, but a plea that “no more innocent blood be shed”. As there were no more hangings following her execution, along with several others, on September 22, 1692, it is felt that her moving document helped put a stop to the madness.
Although Mary was facing death, her ability with words, and her desire to help others by writing them down, is a distant fire that runs through my veins. But what if your family history is blank because some politician in 1920 thought he was doing the right thing?
Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs, wanted to get “rid of the Indian problem. Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department.”
Cringeworthy, isn’t it? But Scott thought he was doing his job. It’s superior-type thinking, isn’t it, to believe that one culture, or ethnic group, is better, more worthy than another? I don’t know what ethnic group I belong to, as I’ve come to the conclusion I’m Anglo-Saxon, based on my looks and name, which makes me a descendant of the Germanic tribes who migrated to Great Britain from continental Europe in the 5th century. We’re a pretty ordinary bunch, with our pale skin, hair and eyes and without a lot of angst.
Oh, if I could only have been a Jew! I thought once, hanging off of every life-or-death word spoken by writer Anne Michaels. What matters to her? That crucial moment before the glass falls from the table. Wow. I’m certain I’d be a better writer if I had to overcome thousands of years of persecution.
So, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report is a horrid account of abuses, calling Canada’s federally run residential schools “cultural genocide”. We know this now, because we are smarter today, and, besides the Holocaust, we also know of many other actual genocides, like Rwanda and Srebrenica. Even though we are smarter today than yesterday, there are currently five countries on the globe – Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Myanmar (Rachine, Kachin) and Nigeria – under a genocide emergency, meaning genocide is happening right now.
To coincide with the release of Justice Murray Sinclair’s recommendations in Ottawa this week, Maclean’s magazine published the accounts of “thirteen extraordinary Indigenous women”. They explain what it means to be abused, to be considered “disposable”, to be called “squaw”, to almost die at the hands of a man. I like how many of them refer to the “Creator” and call nature the witness. Says one: “I could never leave my kids, or the mountains: the ancient ones, the all-knowing. I look at them every day; I pray to them, and ask for the courage to keep fighting. Recovery is a lifelong battle, not without setbacks.”
Pray to the mountains, the forests, the seas and the skies. For the courage to keep fighting for peace. For equality for all. For no more innocent bloodshed. Surely, despite all of these setbacks, one day we’ll do the right thing?