Day 14, Friday, March 17th
I have two pictures for you tonight: one you can very obviously see, but another that I can only paint for you with words.
Today on our walk to Maxton, NC we had lunch beside a field of solar arrays. This was the second or third large solar installation that we've seen on the walk and it cheered us immensely. As we sat eating and talking in the warm sunshine, we didn't worry about the panels blowing up. They weren't going to poison the water or the air. They weren't dangerous and they didn't release heat trapping chemicals into the atmosphere.Their only downside so far as I could tell was the incredible noise that they produced as they made electricity from the sun.
No, sorry, I'm just yanking your chain. The panels did their job in total silence. Solar technology isn't perfect, of course, but compared to burning fossil fuels it's just a no brainer given the fact that it's ready now, today, and we can deploy it on a scale that will provide us with clean energy, good paying jobs, and a competitive, prosperous economy.
So now for the “invisible picture”. Cameras and filming were out of bounds tonight when our walkers were invited into the sacred space of a spring equinox ceremony here at the Lumbee cultural center. Sitting outside the circle's ceremonial fire, we gave our attention to the elders as they entered the circle and offered prayers to the Creator in each of the four directions. Later our own elders entered the circle, too, to offer prayers and burn tobacco. Yours truly, having received an AARP letter in the mail last fall, in this moment embraced his newly won elder status for the first time ever. Facing north, east, south, and west in turn, I prayed for compassion, courage, steadfastness, and boldness as I work to protect and preserve our Mother, the earth. I also prayed for new companions to join us in this struggle.
The Lumbee are amazing people. In quiet conversation later with Reggie, a Lumbee ceremonial leader, I learned about the history of a people pushed into the swamps in the last century, who survived subtle and not so subtle attempts to exterminate them, and who at one point only taught their children that they "were Indians" lest through identification with a particular tribe they expose themselves to further marginalization and repression. The revival of religious ceremonies like the equinox observances have been a crucial part of overcoming damage inflicted on the Lumbee people through those years.
In closing, let me just tell you that I witnessed something important here. There is something we lack that we most desperately need. There's nothing cryptic or mysterious or esoteric about it. In a straightforward religious ceremony, I watched a small community of people acknowledge and affirm their fundamental kinship with the earth and her winds, waters, plants, and animals. They spoke honestly and intimately with one another and to the Creator. When they were finished, they ended, as they explained, by "hugging each others necks".
Only the Lumbee are the Lumbee. The rest of us by definition are something else. But that doesn't mean that we can't learn from each other. We ought to learn from these folks about the honor and respect due our earth home and the essential personhood of her rivers, mountains, seas, and forests. Our ignorance of such matters is killing us. But if we find our way to the circle, and if we can do it in time, life awaits.