"Heal you, the self. You help to heal the family. The family helps to heal the community. The community helps to heal the nation. The nations help to heal the world."
- David Gehue
Day 96 - Tuesday, September 26, 1995 - Early in the day all of us –- the entire contingent of Sunbow 5 walkers and Grandfather Commanda –- arrived at the Cypress Junior High School in Memphis. We learned that two weeks ago a 15-year old student at the school had shot and killed a classmate.
According to police reports, Torenzo Maurice Bell and a friend jumped another 15-year old student in the school hallway at about 8:30 AM on September 12. They beat him. About a half hour later the beaten boy returned with a .38 revolver. He shot and killed Bell. The students in the school -- as at dozens of other schools where violence has erupted -- were still in shock two weeks later when we arrived, making a stop on our long pilgrimage West.
We gathered with the students in the school’s library. We set up a circle of chairs, and we all took places. I could see right away that our geometrical configuration – sitting in a circle – was having an impact on the students. They were all acutely aware of the energy shift.
In the circle there is no in, no out; no above, no below. All are equal – the walkers, the students, Grandfather, the teachers. The students in the library with us were noticing that viscerally. I could see it in them
Several of the walkers took turns introducing themselves to the students, and expressing a sense of who we are, and what we are doing on our long walk.
Then Grandfather Commanda walked to the center of the circle. He stood very straight. He spoke firmly but quietly. He told the students that when he was younger he had hate and confusion in him. He drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes.
Then when 1961 arrived, he said, he fell gravely ill with cancer. He felt he was going to die. That is when he began to pray. In his prayers, Grandfather said, he asked Creator to take him now if he the purpose of his life was over, or to heal him if there was more for him to do in this world.
At that time Grandfather dreamed of a Circle of all Nations, and he thought deeply about this. When he chose it, when he put his will with his vision, he recovered from his cancer.
From that point William Commanda began actively sharing a message of peace and reconciliation, not just between historic adversaries in North America, such as the Algonquin and Iroquois, but among all peoples.
When Grandfather spoke to the students at Cypress Junior High, he showed them the Seven Fires Wampum Belt, and he said: “The belt was put together by my ancestors, maybe 1,000 years ago. Each bead, each string has its own meaning...
"Regardless of skin color, we are one people. My ancestors taught respect as the way of life. And so it is good to be among all the colors and to be here in a Circle, and in respect."
Standing in the circle with his buffalo horn shaker in hand, Grandfather Commanda sang the Algonquin forgiveness song. He explained that it was a song his own grandfather had taught to him many years ago.
I had never head Grandfather sing before. It was soft yet steady. Strong in a quiet way and note perfect. He expressed the tones and the rhythms he wanted, and we all felt it. We were all moved to silence and meditation for long minutes after the forgiveness song had been sung. It was a moment of realization.
As the day went on we traveled as a group to the University of Memphis where we met with two separate class assemblies, and talked about our walk.
Later as we were strolling across campus toward the cafeteria, there was an ominous accident. As we walked we heard behind us a stutter then a dull whomp. It was the sound of a man’s head hitting the sidewalk. The man, who was not wearing a helmet, had fallen off his bicycle, and hurt himself seriously.
We responded immediately. Charlie Commando, a trained EMT, came directly to the man’s side, and began administering a series of interventions. The rest of us circled up and entered into prayer to support the fallen rider until an ambulance arrived.
Recap: As coordinator, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Sunbow 5 Foundation, I had been delegated to ask Tom a set of questions about his behavior over the first months of the walk, and also about his use of the money provided to the walk – about $500 or more a week.
When we finally got settled for lunch in the cafeteria at the University of Memphis, I took a seat at a table with Tom and Joe and some of the other walkers so we could talk. Well along into the lunch as our conversation was unfolding, I asked Tom if I could meet with him later in private to talk with him about the walk’s finances.
Tom exploded in anger, his neck veins bulging purple. Who the hell was I, he wanted to know, to ask him anything? Forget about it, he said, just shut up. He told me that he didn’t need to answer to any bean counter, and that I had no right to ask him questions about anything.
I protested. I told him that I was on the board just like him, and I was the coordinator with a job to do. Tom said he was head man for the walk and that he was firing me as coordinator, and also firing me from the Sunbow 5 Foundation board of directors. Right now. With his neck veins bulging, he told me that I had no standing whatsoever, and that he would not talk with me. He said it was an absolute outrage that anyone would deign to question him on his honesty or integrity.
As our confrontation went on, I also became furious. Joe Soto, who was sharing the table with us and intently watching the whole drama unfold, later told me that he thought my head was going to explode. He said he saw astral steam coming out of my ears.
Our furious argument went nowhere. Tom would not budge. He refused to answer any questions about his leadership or the walk’s finances, and he refused to even meet with me.
Late in the afternoon, the Memphis School of Massage threw open its doors to us, to condition and prepare the walkers for Thursday, when the walk will resume the journey west and cross over the Mississippi River into Arkansas.
Copyright 2006 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 97 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire