Street Tales: Residential school and beyond

Many have been our conversations about choices we make in life, (both good and bad), but none of these discussions were as poignant and real as the choices made by the man sitting across the table from me. This silver haired senior from Yellowknife along with his beautiful wife are in Red Deer visiting and were brought to my attention through one of our most faithful volunteers.

What made me want to speak with this gentleman was comments he had made to our volunteer; comments like how he had been raised in a residential school and how he had been able to overcome the difficulties associated with that upbringing.

“Sure there was abuse,” he stated emphatically, “mental, physical, and emotional abuse were common, but I was never sexually abused.” In a voice that was soft but very intense he went on, “but the one most important abuse was the one of the omission of love and compassion. There was never a comforting arm around my shoulder, or a pat on the back for doing a good job on anything, or even a gentle touch to dry my tears when I was sad.”

“All forms of abuse leave some type of scars,” he said, rubbing his face with both hands, “and I took the typical escape route of drinking and such; it’s almost as if it was expected of me.” His tone gathered more intensity as he talked about coming face to face with what the alcohol was doing to him. The main reason was that he did not know how to love or even properly respond to loving care until he met his wife, whose caring patience and love brought him to the point of making the decision to quit drinking and to draw strength he needed from his faith and the faith of those around him.

He refused to take on the identity of being just another drunken bum so he started facing all the different issues that were plaguing him. “But”, he said in a voice that demanded attention, “the greatest breakthrough was when I learned to forgive all others who had hurt me in any way, and then to learn to love myself; you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself.”

He spoke of stopping to listen to the concerns of others who were going through some of the same difficulties. “The best way to do that is to sit in a circle and listen, but most of all to let those who open up know that they are believed in what they say. Only then can they begin to make more positive choices and begin the process of healing. Forgiveness first, then reconciliation and learning once again to love and care.”

As you know through my articles, I am always looking for reasons why people’s different actions often lead to disastrous results. Here in speaking to this senior citizen, who actually went on to become the Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, (like our Lieutenant Governor in Alberta), I am slowly beginning to understand that we cannot bring about any healing or any other form of help if first we don’t listen and believe what we are being told.

“Helping others while sitting on the other side of an official desk is no different, as a matter of fact, it’s the same treatment as a Residential School. A circle puts everyone on the same level.”

We had the opportunity to talk for only about a half hour as suppertime was drawing near. Then he made an offer to hold a circle here if we wanted, which grabbed my attention. Coming from a man of great faith and courage, I believe it is worth the consideration.

Perhaps there can be a light at the end of the ‘hurting’ tunnel!

Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potter’s Hands in Red Deer.

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