Saturday, November 12, 2011

Piping Ceremony

Today, I did something good. Not good for the environment, or good for the economy, or even for the good of my fellow human beings. I did something good for me. Thanks to the support and encouragement of my wonderful friend Laura, and to the help and assistance of my good friend Gary, I attended my first Native Piping Ceremony today.

My day began early. Crazy early. 7:30 am early. You may not think that particularly early, but I normally get up at noon, so for me, it was early. I prepared for the day, and left the house bundled up in layers, ready for any weather. I literally had no idea as to the nature of the event what I was about to attend, and wanted to be prepared.

I arrived at Gary and Laura's promptly at 8 am. I met up with Gary and Laura, their son Dax, and our friends Chris and Alex. Our two car caravan was off, stopping only to pick up one more friend of Laura's along the way. We didn't have time to stop for coffee, so as you can imagine, my mood was one of hopeful anticipation mixed with ... well, whatever that feeling is you get when you hadn't had your morning coffee. Ah well, I thought. I wanted a Tim Hortons coffee, but sometimes you just don't get what you want.

We arrived at the lodge, which I can best describe as a really large tent. But instead of interlocking plastic poles and nylon strings, the frame was constructed of hand-hewn wood. The walls of the structure were made of tarp, overlapping to keep out most of the weather, yet open at the top, and with the occasional gap to keep the air fresh and pleasant.

Almost immediately, I was made welcome by our hosts, and offered a cup of .... Tim Hortons coffee. The universe provides. That first sip was bliss. We were made welcome and took our seats on a bench along the southern-most wall. I know it was the southern-most wall because Gary informed me that the entrance to a lodge always faces east.

A fire was burning in the center of the lodge, housed carefully in a deep circular pit. Despite the early-morning November chill the lodge was comfortably warm, yet the air circulated well and was never stuffy, smokey or uncomfortable. I noticed at the edge of the pit closest to the entrance there was what appeared to be a small shrine, consisting of a small stone, a hand-carved horse and a small sprinkling of tobacco.

There's no point in trying to describe the ceremony itself. I'm not that clever, and it's something to be experienced, not described. I have written and deleted this same sentence seventeen times in a row, trying to capture the essence of the ceremony, but it's pointless. All I can do is record my impressions.

The people. The people were welcoming, gracious, kind, polite, loving, caring, and above all - at least to me - exhibited a gentle yet irresistible sense of humour. There were a few moments of natural levity during the ceremony, culminating in a slight "slip" towards the end, that had everyone in tears of laughter. Even the gentleman beating the drum and leading the singing skipped a beat or two as he joined in. No one was embarrassed. No one was upset. The moment was accepted for what it was - a part of the natural flow of the ceremony.

The inspirational Josephine Mandamin
The lodge had a special guest that day, a beautiful, self-effacing woman named Josephine Mandamin. I had no idea who she was. I had no idea how incredible she was. I had no idea I should feel privileged to hear her speak. Once she began to speak, I very quickly learned how lucky I was to be there at the same time as Josephine. I won't go into detail as to who she is - as you can learn that at - but I will say I was totally enchanted and taken by her wisdom and humility, her gentle humour, and her strength.

After the ceremony was over, we walked across the street to a local recreation center for more information about Josephine and her works. There, I discovered that there would be a man from a reptile conservation center with a wide selection of animals to display; snakes, geckos, tarantulas, and even a large tortoise.

It was one of those days where things kept getting better and better. After enjoying Josephine's stories, and watching the kids handle constrictors and monitor lizards (and even checking out a few myself - having a tarantula in your hands is cool!) I discovered that they were going to feed us lunch. Soup, sandwiches, wraps, very delicious!

Then there were door prizes. Wait ... what? Door prizes? You invite me to attend your sacred ceremonies, you teach me, you entertain me, you feed me, and now you're giving away prizes? For FREE? This doesn't seem like a viable business model!

Because it's not. It wasn't about business. I'm still not 100% sure what it was about, but to me, the day was about unity over strife. Friendship over distrust. Shared laughter over shame. Sharing what you can, taking what you need, giving that which is needed.

It was a good day for me.

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