“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” – Chief Aupumut in 1725, Mohican.
The Chief Aupumut I’ve read about was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and fought in the Revolutionary War as an important ally against the British. He wrote an extraordinary letter to Thomas Jefferson asking for lands for a reservation in Wisconsin, so that his people wouldn’t have to keep moving further and further until they ran out of land. He was also known as Hendrick Aupaumut, the Chief of the Muhheconneck Nation. Given the date, the quote above may have derived from his father. I’m not really sure, I’m relying on a web site dedicated to quotes from Native Americans. But it took my breath away whomever the source was. There’s a fair amount of stoicism in Aupumut’s words, not unexpected, and he challenges all of us to live more boldly in pursuit of our own dreams. That’s a lot to live up to, living that we might die like a hero going home, but what else is this wild and precious life for if not to reach our potential?
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” – Crowfoot, Chief of the Siksika First Nation, Blackfoot warrior, peacemaker
Crowfoot died relatively young at 60 from tuberculosis, so there’s wisdom in this quote reminding us of the briefness of life. We’re all here for a short time, whether 60 years or 100, it’s all just the flash of a firefly in the night. So why do we waste time on the trivial when time is so precious? Because we don’t believe the truth before us. There’s always another tomorrow, always next year, always an I’ll get to it… until there isn’t. Do it now. If ever there was a consistent call from those who came before us its to make the most of this moment, not some future moment.
“All who have died are equal.” – Comanche or Navajo quote (source uncertain)
Google this quote and you’ll find multiple sources for it. But generally it comes down to either the Comanche or the Navajo. I wouldn’t be shocked if they both had a version of the same quote. All who have died are equal. And all who live are equal as well, even if treated differently. I was raised to treat everyone the same, no matter what their skin color or nationality or sexual identity or preference. But I’ve taken my own identity for granted, not seeing the struggles of those who fight unseen battles with those who weren’t raised the same way. The world is full of struggles for equality and the respect and dignity of all. But collectively we can make significant improvements in our lifetimes.
“When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard.” – Navajo Expression
There are a lot of hardened hearts in the world, removed from nature and seeing the world as asphalt and concrete and electricity. It’s easy to dismiss climate change and consumer waste as hoaxes when you’re not immersed in nature. How can you possibly see what you aren’t looking at? I have seen the plastic washed up on remote beaches, and the oil slicks from spills far away. I have noticed the shift in seasons and the haze over cities on busy commuter days. As with equality, we can make significant improvements in our lifetimes, but we can’t wait much longer. Perhaps a new President and Congress will prove to be the catalyst for change long overdue in the United States. Perhaps the pandemic has given the world enough of a breather to give us the time to make meaningful change in our collective behavior. But it always starts with us.
I linger on the edge of nature often. Gardening and observing the birds and bees and mammals attracted to the garden. Hiking and getting out on the water whenever possible. But I need to plunge deeper into the heart of it, to soften the hardness in my own heart. We’re all that firefly in the night, with so little time. How will we use our light? What are you waiting for?