Every Good Friday, I’m inevitably reminded of my Grandma Jessie Quick Bear. She was my father’s adopted aunt, but in Lakota kinship, because she helped raise him, she was his mother as well and was the closest person I had to a living grandmother.
When I was a child, my parents and I would go to the Stations of the Cross in Corn Creek Community on Good Friday. My Aunt Linda (his adopted sister) and my Uncle Francis were Episcopalian and for many years, we were active in that church, though I never took any sacraments – other than communion – in it. We would walk the gravel road from St. Paul’s just outside of Norris to St. Thomas in Corn Creek. Father Campbell led us as the young men of the community took turns carrying the cross, stopping 14 times to mark the path of Jesus to the Crucifixion.
Grandma Jessie, even in her 70s, would walk as far as she could with her cane, along the gravel road. Only one year do I remember her not being able to complete the whole walk and she was more than frustrated that she couldn’t. Most years, we’d help her into the van when she got tired and only when she was very worried would Aunt Linda start yelling at Grandma Jessie to get in the van and she’d start yelling right back at Aunt Linda.
Grandma Jessie’s favorite phrase to shout at her biological grandchildren was “nahun he” meaning “are you listening?” Inevitably, my cousins would stop whatever shenanigans they were up to and do as she instructed them in Lakota. Being yelled at by your elders in Lakota society was a prospect no Lakota child ever wants to face. Only disrespectful children refused to listen to what an elder tells them. It’s a value that serves me to this day.
It goes beyond the Western value of doing as you’re told because of some rigid, hierarchical expectations based on superiority or inferiority. It’s a value of genuinely respecting our elders because they had lived to an age of wisdom that some of us – who don’t listen – ever get to experience. So when an elder asks you if you’re listening, you listen.
On this Good Friday, I listened to what god had to say; not just in scripture or The Passion, but in where god guided my thoughts and my prayer. As we venerated the cross that represented how our savior died for us, even though He asked for it to pass Him by, we sang “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It was a profound experience that – as people of a certain faith – we shared in, attempting to (perhaps in vain) atone for our collective sin that led to such an event. We also shared in uplifting the cross, doing our best to remember that even though we share a collective responsibility in the death of our savior, we also are bound to listen to His teachings and enact them in the world around us.
In what wisdom we can glean from the gospels, we learn of how people (when gathered in groups) can submit absolutely to fear and anger. When human beings gather, we have the ability to condemn others to unjust death. In what wisdom we can glean from the gospels, we learn of how the artificial structures of power and office are meaningless in the presence of truth. In what wisdom we can glean from the gospels, we learn that even when we suffer at our own hands, we have the example of how to forgive and to trust and to commend our life to god’s care.
In all of this on Good Friday, I remembered my Grandma Jessie when she asks “nahun?!” and in what wisdom I can glean from her examples, my parents examples and my spiritual examples, that I and we – as human beings – are capable of tremendous injustice, but we are also capable of extraordinary love.