For you working folks, it’s mostly a holiday and we’re still in transition as to what to name it and how to celebrate it. (My i-Phone calendar names it both Columbus Day and Indigenous People's Day). If you’re moving along with human evolution, you most definitely will want to stop celebrating Columbus. Or more importantly, find out what he actually did and said and what he represented and what untold destruction and suffering resulted, both in his lifetime and continuing on to today. (Check out the first chapter of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United Statesto get the story you most likely were not told in school.)
Then notice all the people who have chosen to continue his legacy of greed for gold, lust for violence, conviction that his God was the true one and the heathens deserved to have their land stolen, their bodies sold as property, their lives dismissed. Look no further than Wall Street, Hollywood blockbusters and just about the entire Republican Party to see millions of Columbus’ children still walking around wreaking havoc on this precious planet.
Yet millions more have chosen to defy Daddy Christopher and refuse to carry his legacy one step further. They are finally speaking out loud the land acknowledgments that remind us how we got here and beginning to pay attention, so late in the game, to the Native people’s wisdom in aligning themselves with the land, the plants, the animals, the rivers and thinking seven generations ahead in their cultivated lives of sustainability. No one need feel shame that their ancestors committed the crimes of genocide, systemic slavery and wanton destruction of precious ecosystems, but everyone who has refused to understand how these cultural choices led us inexorably to our present catastrophe, refused to consider and ultimately grieve for the devastation they caused, and most shamefully, done nothing to change that narrative, both in themselves and the next generation of children— well, that is indeed a cause for deep, deep shame. And though the clock is ticking, it’s not too late to use today to read your Howard Zinn, connect the dots and get up from your chair with a new conviction and vow— “I will not participate in the continuance of this legacy.”
And in honor of this country’s first inhabitants, get the book (from your local bookstore or Powell’s books, not Amazon!) Touch the Earth by T.C. McLuhan. Here’s one quote from that book by Parra-Wa-Samen, a Comanche chief, from a speech in 1867 when told by the government his people had to move to a reservation:
“I was born upon the prairie where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I lived in that country like my fathers before me and like them, I lived happily. So why do you ask us to leave the rivers and the sun and the wind and live in houses? The white man now has the country which we loved…”
Finally, top off your day listening to the extraordinary music of Thelonious Monk. It’s his birthday (he would have been 105 years old). Monk suffered greatly from the Columbus legacy, inheriting the trauma of his enslaved ancestors alongside the continued trauma of police beatings, arrests, cancellation of the cabaret card that he needed for work in the clubs. But he rose through all that mud and filth to create music of great beauty, power and purity. With every reason to feel bitter with the white folks continuing the legacy of white supremacy, he continued his quest to bring happiness to the world, writing:
“I know my music can help bring people together and that’s what is important. I think that jazz is the thing that has contributed the most to the idea that one day the word ‘friendship’ may really mean something in the United States.”
From the depravity of Columbus to the deep grief of the Comanches (and countless others) on reservations to the trials and triumph of Thelonious Monk— well, that feels like a good way to spend the day. And then consider what you are doing to protect the planet, to sow the seeds of friendship, to create something of beauty to pass down seven generations or more. That's how we turn a holiday into a Holy Day. Yes?
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