I think the first time I heard what gratitude was, was when I was sitting in an AA meeting when I was about 19. I heard a bunch of old guys talking about being grateful for sobriety.
My gratitude of sobriety was short lived, and I began drinking again for a few more years until age 22. Although at that time, I sobered up for about 9 months, I wasn’t really all that grateful. I hadn’t “done the work” like they say in AA (meaning my 4th and 5th steps) and eventually I began drinking again and ended up in Manitoba.
There was a life altering event that happened there, I ended up in jail for 10 months, and when I got out, I was angrier than ever, and I began drinking heavier than ever.
During the years of 24-28 was some desperate times. I took my drinking and drugging to the next level, and I landed on the streets many times. I am not proud of those years, and I’m not proud of the hurtful things that I have done to myself or to others that had to deal (or not deal with me) during those times.
Ironically though the spirit of Mno Bimaadziwin has always lingered around me and has always beckoned me to join it. I have met some incredible people on my paths of despair and destruction. Some of these people were down in the gutters with me, sharing in the colonial struggle whether on the streets, in jail, the mental wards, or the detox centres.
On one such journey I met a man named David, and I’ve known him for about 9 years now. I have lived with him a few times over the years and he can attest to having had to put up with my alcoholic behaviour. David is a non-native “Canadian” who carries his own spirituality and connection to God/Creator. He is literally one of the most kindest, gentlest, compassionate people that I have ever met. He seeks no recognition for any of the things he does. I asked him once many years ago, “Why do you do all the good things that you do?” And his reply was “It just feels like it is the right thing to do.” That was about 9 years ago, and I have never forgotten it.
In many of my writings, I am always praising all the Native folks that have helped me on to the Red Road, and never have I once acknowledged him. And the funny thing is, is not angry about. He has never once said a single peep about not being acknowledged or recognized for his contributions. (Very very contrary to what is the norm for a lighter skinned man.) David, is quite literally one of the greatest blessings that I have had in my life. David may not be Anishinabek, and he may not carry any of our teachings, but I recognize the true spirit of his being. He just is, what he is, and that is kind, forgiving and all around compassionate man. He has a lot of Deer attributes to him. (Those of you who know the clan system should understand what I am talking about).
If you know me personally now, and you think that I’m an alright dude, well imagine the exact opposite, the most hateful, spiteful, angry, abusive, discriminatory, egotistical, maniacal pieces of dirt you could imagine. That was me. And he chose to put up with me over the years. I pulled some pretty shitty stunts on him, and on several occasions he had to cut the strings from me, and do away with me full stop.
I remember one of the last times that I tried sobered up, I found myself waking up from a black out, at the corner of Queen and Church and I was partying with some street folk and I had spent all my money, and I had a suitcase with me. Somehow I had lost my guitar, and I had no recollection of how I went from being at David’s house to being kicked out on the street. I vaguely remember the Police escorting me out, and vaguely being told I was no longer welcome in his home.
A year later on the very last time that I had been drinking, I went from being at Davids house, to being taken away by the ambulance. It is very vague for me, what had happened next, but what I do recall was another trip to the mental ward, not being admitted, wandering around drunk then finally being accepted at CAMH for the last time.
By this time, I had nearly burnt all of my bridges, I had abused and accosted everyone for so long, that even my own family had cut ties with me. For the very first time in my life, I found myself at a rock bottom that I did not know existed. I was family-less, friend-less, penny-less, and love-less. My heart was broken, I was ashamed, and disgusted with myself.
I cried in my room at CAMH for several days begging to the Creator for forgiveness.
I called a few people, and let them know that I was back in treatment, and a lot of those people remained skeptical of how long my sobriety would last this time.
David came and visited me during my stay there, he even bought me a guitar, but he came with the news that I could no longer stay at his home. I thought that it might be some kind of joke that he was playing, but he told me that I had burnt him for the last time, and that he could face eviction if I screwed up at his house anymore, and that was a gamble he was not going to take.
I was shocked, and was a bit resentful, and I thought to myself, “How the hell am I going to sober up, if I’m homeless?”
I was in detox for 2 weeks, and was accepted once again into the Aboriginal program at CAMH (now closed) for a 3 week tenure. During my few weeks there, I applied to every housing place in Toronto, Na Me Res, Timivut, all these other half way houses, etc. And at every turn, I was turned down.
I turned to Uncle Vern and complained of my woe, and said “How the hell am I supposed to sober up, if I can’t even get off the street?” He sort of told me, “Well how desperate are you? If you want it bad enough, you’ll do what ever it takes to make it.”
I had met a good buddy of mine in detox whom for anonymity’s sake I’ll call Jeff. Jeff opened up his place to me, and told me I was welcome to stay with him. I ended up staying with him for almost 3 years. (Mind you Oshkimaadziig was born, and I had had only periodically stayed with him for 2 years).
The point that I am trying to make is my original point of gratitude. Looking back now almost 3 years later, I am grateful for the humiliation teaching that I had endured to discover how lonely and desperate that that path was and is. I am grateful for the people that I have encountered how have shown me both the light and the dark. And I am grateful for having known and seen both.
On multiple occasions I have questioned why David is the way that he is, and how he answered me that time I first asked him, “Because it feels like the right thing to do.”
If I had not known David in my life, I would never have known, kindness, forgiveness or humility the way that I have experienced it. I would not have had a living example of it, and therefore would not ever really have known first hand that it existed.
I am grateful to David, and all the other people White, Red, Black, Brown, Yellow, or any other variation of colours that have helped me along the way, and not just me, but collectively the Medicine wheel as a whole.
My experience on the path of the the Red Road of the Anishinabek is my own experience, and my reflection of how I live my life, through the prophecies or the anything else that strengthens the Medicine Wheel has been because of a teaching David has given me for the last 9 years, “Because it feels like the right thing to do.”
It is a good day to live and to be thankful.
Heya! Chi Miigwetch
All of my relations.