“You can do it Gramma,” they yelled as I climbed the first step, then the next and the next…” What a difference eighteen years can make.
In the story I wrote for Passwords: Passing on Words of Wisdom and Hope Vol 1, entitled Creator, Either Change Me or Take Me, I described how on August 16th, 1991, at the age of 53, I went on a life-altering Vision Quest in Temagami, Ontario, At that time, the purpose of this Quest was to completely surrender myself to Creator, asking that She/He either change me or take me. My story began with the words, “Hang on, Heather, hang on,” I told myself while dangling fifty feet above the ground…” Now, eighteen years later, and almost to the day, I heard these words of encouragement from a group of youth ages fourteen to seventeen, “You can do it Gramma, you can do it.”
From August 24th to 28th of this year (last week), I was asked to be Grandmother for an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Aboriginal Youth Camp. The camp was held here at Mink Lake, near Eganville, Ontario. The program to be followed for this camp was entitled, “Niigan Mosewak” which means, “Moving Forward.
In Temagami, I was 53 years old and terrified. Yesterday, at 71, I was fearless but “older.” As each youth arrived, I sensed their apprehension – much like what we had experienced. The first day, was a “getting to know you” type of day. Each youth was assigned to a cabin with two adult supervisors. Team building was about to begin.
In 1991 I participated in my very first Sweat Lodge, this time I was the pourer of the Lodge. In other words, I conducted the Sweat Lodge ceremony for approximately twenty youth–most of whom experienced the ceremony for the first time.
On Thursday, the youth participated in a “rope course.” For the past eighteen years–especially the last five or so, I’ve often wondered whether or not I could do the rope course again. Although this obstacle course was set up quite different then the one I experienced in Temagami, it offered a greater challenge. This time instead of easing up a plank bridge to the highest point of the course, there was a 6-foot ladder leaning against a tree. After climbing to the top of the ladder you were to then climb up a tree and stand on a wire thirty feet above the ground and shimmy to the opposite tree approximately 30 feet away. My support for these youth couldn’t have been more genuine. As each youth attempted the course, all the excitement and joy of having completed one myself embraced me. I was yelling and shouting and trying as hard as I could to encourage them to go further–if only a little. Then, after the majority of our group had completed the course, I knew I had to try it myself–knowing full well that it was unlikely I would complete it. I say this not because of fear but because I’m fifty pounds heavier, out of shape, and seventy-one years old. I harnessed up, put my helmet on and approached the ladder. Three teenage “spotters” were assigned to me to ensure I didn’t fall off the ladder. Their smiles and encouragement touched me deeply.
No one knew that the only goal I had in mind was to climb to the top of the six-foot ladder and NOT to complete the course. This would be a lesson in “acceptance” or “letting go” or both. As I stepped on the firs step I was amazed that there was no fear of moving up higher. In fact, I reached the top of the ladder and was determined to climb at least a few of the spikes (steps) up the tree. After managing to climb six steps, my hands were very weak and very sore. I carry my weight mostly below the waist and this proved to be quite a strain on my upper body. I stopped, looked around, knew that what I had experienced in 1991 was so very real as I had no fear at all. After praying quietly to myself and thanking Creator once again for this opportunity, I looked down and told the young man guiding me “I guess this is it.” “Are you sure Gramma?” he asked. “Yep, I’m sure.”
As I write this I’m teared up. Getting older sucks in a lot of ways. However, overcoming fears that had absolutely paralyzed me is such a wonderful reward. I’m not saying I’ll never try a rope obstacle course again because if I manage to lose the weight and get in shape–you never know what this Gramma will do.