My Old Teacher, My Young Teacher

ImageIt’s my birthday today.

Valentine’s Day was extremely painful. When I wasn’t trying to function, I cried most of the day. Not because I missed my husband, specifically.  I missed being loved, I missed my parents, I missed my daughter, my emotionally confusing friendship, my sense of security, my idea about who I should/would have been, my optimism, my enthusiasm, my SELF.

I was so tired by 8 pm I went to bed. My younger daughter was here and we managed some television. I think she wanted to go to the movies, but I couldn’t get up off the couch.  I couldn’t.  I managed to choke down some food.  Poor thing.  She probably should stay with her dad.


My Old Teacher

I found out earlier in the day that one of my favorite clients, an older Native man, has liver cancer.

He and I somehow are a tremendously good therapeutic match. He is remarkably free of the understandable suspicion many Native folks have about majority culture helpers.  He is forthright, open and honest.  He has been through everything..Vietnam, PTSD related trauma, a divorce, the loss of a grandchild and several siblings, the wounding of a child. His culture was rolled over in the relentless “progress” of our county, the relentless march of “civilization” over Native Lands that began 300 years ago and now continues through the economic devastation of reservations that paralyze many Native people who are left there.

Every time he sees me, he thanks me.  For what, for what? I listen to him. That’s it.  The therapeutic techniques for managing his PTSD have been taken to heart and mostly those symptoms have gone.  I honestly think he just needed to tell someone about his war experience, to be forgiven by someone who has no jurisdiction, for an event he was trapped into.  I won’t say what happened there; even this much information presented anonymously is taking a bit of his privacy, and I had to think about it carefully before writing it here.

HIs bravery, his kindness, and his humor  teach me each time I see him (“Don’t think you can kill a buffalo with an arrow, Dr. ..those animals are BIG”). I hope selfishly he can hang on a bit longer. I will NOT desert this man, even if he is yet another person who leaves me through the natural process of life.

There’s a view from the other side of the couch..the therapist struggles with her own mood, and is deeply affected by clients. Deeply. Don’t doubt it.


My Young Teacher

Shortly after I saw my Old Teacher, my Young Teacher came into my office.  She is an emotional, heart filled young woman who is driven to care for others in their pain. In short, she has the soul of a therapist. She took one look at me and shut my door.

“Do you want to talk about this?”

Understand, I should be her helper. I supervise this young woman, and technically I have twenty years under my belt. I am the more experienced. I am also old enough to be her mother.

I shared my grief with this woman, oh, really not something I should do. Not in full detail…no, I continued to try to maintain some boundaries. I told her about my Old Teacher, and how the personal stresses of the last year and heavy load at work was weighing on me.  Despite myself, I was crying again.

“Let me tell you how the Native people let things go.”

This lovely young woman then told me about the Native Fire Ceremony, and how that ritual releases pain and suffering to our ancestors, or other ancestors involved in the pain. Again, I won’t go into detail..she did not say so, but I felt I was hearing a sacred ritual, and those aren’t for sharing on blogs.  She said something that I hadn’t thought of.

“Ancestors give us a lot of pain, too.  We inherit their traumas, their pain, and try to correct it. They can do something for us. We can ask this of them. They will hold our pain and take care of it so we can let it go.”

My rituals, my old rituals, have lost meaning.  I told her this as well. ” You must have changed,” she said.  “You need a new ritual. You are here with Natives, the Creator must mean that to be. Maybe this will help.”

Okay. At this point I will try anything. I feel as desperate as i ever have. I just want to stop hurting.


Today some friends will come over for my birthday. Maybe. At least one will, I don’t know who else is coming. I will try to enjoy the day. I don’t think the fire ritual is for me to do with others (it can be) but if not today, then certainly tomorrow on my own. What can I let go of?

The marriage, the enmeshed friendship, the pain, the sadness, the picture of myself. What will be left?

Perhaps I don’t have to do it all in one fire.

I have to begin this cleansing though. And I bow and thank my teachers, one old, one young.


4 comments on “My Old Teacher, My Young Teacher

  1. Dawn says:

    I have to admit…I think cleansing with fire sounds good. I might have to try that soon. Let some things go up in smoke.

  2. I am a little leery of it. I suspect there may be more power there than simple fire. I did get my cedar though, and I’m working up the courage.

  3. Great thought on cleansing. I think in the beginning we try to do it all at once and then discover years later we did not properly get to the hard-to-get places. Layer by layer takes longer but gives a more thorough cleansing.

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