Monday, January 28, 2013

Walk Two Moons

I am an avid reader. From the time I could reach a bookshelf, I was snatching books off of them. One of the best books I remember reading was Sharon Creech's "Walk Two Moons" about a young girl trying to find herself in the aftermath of her mother's death. It is one of my favorite books for many reasons, including the quotes that can be gleaned from the pages.

One in particular that stood out to me was an Indian proverb: “Don't judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”Sharon Creech herself has said that she took the title of the book from that proverb, which could be a reason that it resonates so deeply with me. It's a good thing to remember too. You shouldn't judge a man unless you know all the details of what is going on in their life. If someone is having a bad day, it might be because of something happening at home, or another personal matter. Should you rightfully judge someone when you don't understand the circumstances behind what they are doing or saying?

I think that I have been pondering this quote more lately because I am here on the Navajo Nation and I am experiencing so many things that I could never have comprehended unless I was here. I heard stories about poverty and alcoholism and abuse. And, to be honest, you see it out here. But when you meet the people here and you can put a face to what happens, the horror stories go to the back of your mind and you embrace your life and those around you. I was prepared to believe all the stereotypes I was told, maybe not in such detail, but I was still coming with the idea that I was going to encounter bad things.The bad has been minimal. The outpouring of love has been so much greater. 

Another quote that stands out in my mind is: “In a course of a lifetime, what does it matter?” Throughout life, we are all going to encounter different things, some good some bad. In the course of a lifetime, are some of those things really going to matter?

The other week, two of my friends and I went to Taco Bell to get dinner. While we are sitting and waiting for our food, an obviously intoxicated man comes up to us and asks us to buy him food. When we walked in, he was sitting there eating a meal, so he had eaten recently. We declined to buy him food, stating, truthfully, that we didn't have any additional money to give him. The man became angry and raised his voice, calling us racist and discriminatory. He said we denied him food because we were white and he was Navajo and told us that we weren't welcome and kept repeating, "Welcome to Navajoland" over and over in his rants. One of my friends went to get the manager and he walked away. He returned about thirty seconds later, holding his belongings and slammed a can down on the table and told us he was going to leave his stuff there until we bought him food. I told him that he needed to leave or I would call the police, and my friend returned with the manager who had to physically escort him out.

I think what was hardest about this situation was there was a group of young Navajo men sitting at the table behind us who watched the entire proceedings and did nothing to help us or stop the man. I wasn't scared of the man, more angry that he was so invasive of my area and so nasty in his manner. But, I was really disappointed that there was a group of people who sat by and watched us get harassed without stepping up to stop it. 

This is uncommon, let me assure you. This was the first time I had such a direct encounter with a drunk man, and the first time I had really been accused of something based off of my race. (Another minor incident not of importance happened a few months back.)

The point I am trying to make is that the man who was drunk and accused my friends and I of being racist has not walked two moons in my moccasins (or ballet flats). He doesn't know who I am or why I am here. He saw a part of a picture and made assumptions that were not only false but hurtful. It hurt to be spotlighted because of my race. I have no more choice in being white than he has of being Navajo. But, the bigger thing is that in the course of a lifetime, will this really matter? Probably not. Yes, his words stung, and yes, they were false, but I know that I am not racist and neither are my friends. I know that I have as much right to go to that Taco Bell as anyone else, and that if I cannot or chose not to give someone money, that does not make me a bad person.

But it is certainly an interesting concept to think about. In my remaining time here, I am going to try and walk in the moccasins of the people surrounding me, and learn who they are as individuals, not as a collective group.

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