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An ABC of INTERCULTURAL IDENTITY

JOY

Interrupting The ABC of Intercultural Identity to bring you my column, "Joy," first published in the Gallup Independent's "Spiritual Perspectives" on December 25, 2021. The day after it was published, Desmond Tutu, who is such an important part of this piece, passed on. With people around the world, I mourn our loss of his joyful, wise presence on this plane.

 

 

 

"Joy to the World" is my favorite Christmas carol, but it wasn't originally written for Christmas. The nonconformist clergyman, Isaac Watts, wrote the words based on Psalm 98. He saw it as being more about Christ's second coming than Jesus's first one––his birth. The exuberant tune was developed by Lowell Mason, using musical phrases from George Frederic Handel's The Messiah. I also love Three Dog Night's completely different, though equally high-spirited pop song of the same title. In their words, joy is for all the world, all the boys and girls, the fishes in the deep blue sea, and for you and me. These songs affect me like the Jewish Passover song, "Dayenu," which is an explosion of gratitude, where we sing that whatever God did for us––opening the Red Sea, for one––it would have been enough! I have a rabbi friend who likes to add more verses, like, "If God had only found me a parking place, it would've been enough!" Gratitude for the smallest things and the biggest things.
 
The quality of joy in all three of these songs is one of excitement and great good cheer. Joy can embody those things—exuberance and excitement––but it is also more and deeper than that. I read a quote not long ago that said something like, "It's easy to forget that I am made for joy." I resonated with that quote. I so easily default to what is wrong in a given circumstance. I forget, or don't even believe, that I am created for joy. I decided if I am to live like I'm made for joy, I would need to consciously cultivate it. If I didn't form the intention to be joyful, it might only happen randomly.
 
I started looking for resources that might help me, and I found The Book of Joy, which is based on a week of interviews with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both of these men have been through experiences filled with anguish; yet both of them exude joy. All you have to do is look at their faces or listen to them laugh and even giggle to know it's true.
 
I've started reflecting each morning on what the two men call the eight pillars of joy––ways of looking at life that can help us nurture joy. The first is perspective––having a point of view that is wider than me and enables me to reframe a difficult situation positively. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl often said that our perspective or attitude toward life is our final and ultimate freedom. With the freedom to choose how we respond to the things that happen to us, comes joy.
 
The second pillar is humility, which brings us down to Earth and reminds us that we are just one among many, and whatever our abilities may be, they are pure gifts. We don't have these gifts because we are better than anyone else.
 
Third is humor. The Dalai Lama made a connection between wholehearted laughter and a warm heart. A warm heart is intimately connected with happiness. Both men emphasized how important it is to be able to laugh at ourselves, which of course, is related to humility.
 

Acceptance is the fourth pillar––being able to accept reality as it comes to us, not to fight against the way things are. From the Dalai Lama again: "Stress and anxiety come from our expectations of how life should be," instead of accepting life as it is.
 
Forgiveness, the fifth pillar, is the path to freeing ourselves from our past. It is a way to heal ourselves, so we are free to experience joy.
 
Sixth is gratitude. Thankfulness helps us celebrate and rejoice in each day that we have and in all the small and great gifts that come to us. Gratitude is allowing life to delight us.
 
Compassion is the seventh pillar. When we say, "How can I help?" even in the midst of our own anguish, our pain is transformed. Both the archbishop and the Dalai Lama emphasized again and again that as humans we are wired to be caring for others. We experience more joy when we are thinking of others than when we are focused on ourselves.
 
Generosity is the final pillar of joy. It can be encapsulated in a phrase from a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assissi: "It is in giving that we receive." What we receive when we give to others is joy.
 
It is wonderful when joy comes to us spontaneously, but we can also choose joy as a spiritual practice. We can choose to live the joy we were made for. 

 

 

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ALICE WHITEGOAT

Rehoboth Mission Hospital where the doctor gave his advice

I want to introduce you to my friend Alice. Alice Whitegoat. That's not her real name because she asked me not to use her real one in these stories. "Name me Alice," she said. "After Alice Walker." I wanted to give her a surname, too. I've known people with the last name Blackgoat or Many Goats, but no one called Whitegoat, which doesn't mean there aren't any. I decided to name my friend Alice Whitegoat to hold onto Alice Walker's initials.
 
Alice is one of my close friends. She is a wise woman, a painter, a poet, a storyteller, a joker, an activist, an educator, and a consummate networker. She knows famous people—indigenous and not—like Francis Ford Coppola and the late Diné artist and writer Carl Gorman and his even more famous son, the late RC Gorman. She brings a contemporary woman's sensibilities to traditional images in her visual and written art.
 
Alice is also a survivor of boarding schools—both personally and generationally. In fact, she and her mother attended the same mission school that I did, but Alice is ten years older than I am, and though she might have been a student at the high school when I arrived in fourth grade, I didn't meet her then. Nevertheless, the Rehoboth Mission experience is something we talk about sometimes, often with dark humor.
 
Alice also exemplifies heritage language reclamation. When she was three, her parents brought her to the hospital at the same mission where she would eventually go to school. They were concerned because she still wasn't talking. This can happen for lots of reasons, including sometimes when a child is acquiring language for the first time while being exposed to more than one language. That's a perfect setting for them to become bilingual, even though the process may be slower than usual. But the doctor who saw Alice, told her parents to use one language at home. It didn't matter which one. They chose English, thinking it would ultimately make Alice's life easier.
 
And it did. In some ways. Her native brilliance and her facility with English meant that she gobbled up books when she worked as the student librarian at Rehoboth. She eventually got a master's degree from the Harvard School of Education. She was awarded prestigious fellowships and directed several indigenous programs that made a difference in the Navajo Nation. That's how I got to know her. She was my boss in a Native education publishing house. And what a time that was; we were at the forefront of an exciting bilingual education movement. I told Alice once that I feel like the publishing house is where I grew up. She said she feels that too, which surprised me.
 
After working together, we lost touch for a good many years, as I sought to find and establish an identity apart from my roots within the Nation, which I've begun to realize may not be possible. We reconnected at a reunion of the publishing house staff. We've grown closer as friends over the years, visiting in one another's homes, working on projects together, sharing our writing now and then, taking short trips to visit mutual friends, attending her art shows, me having a reading in her home, and phone calls full of laughter.
 
Alice Whitegoat will show up now and then in these posts, so I wanted to introduce her early on. The advice from that missionary doctor made her life easier in one world but more difficult and painful in another. When we worked together back in the 1970s, I saw how painful it was for this ebullient, creative, cutting-edge thinker not to own her own language. She had a high profile in both worlds, but there was always this loss, which she says affected her credibility in the world that was most important to her.
 
Then a while back, I witnessed something that seemed almost miraculous to me. Alice and I had met up with an elderly cousin of hers, who spoke English but not so fluently or easily. I heard Alice speak Diné with her, more Diné than I'd ever heard from Alice. Some of the time it clearly wasn't necessary for her cousin's comprehension, but it was essential for something else. Something we might call meta-communication. Not words or even meaning, but feeling. Something bigger and deeper. Alice had reclaimed her lost language. Later she told me the story of how that began, which isn't my story to tell.
 
In a sort of aside, or perhaps it's a central question, I wonder how the two worlds
Alice had to negotiate––the two worlds even I have had to negotiate––how it may be possible to join them while retaining their distinctiveness.

 

 


Thank you so much to everyone who commented here on the blog in response to my last post. If this post speaks to you in any way, please do share your thoughts here. You can always share anonymously, if that's more comfortable

I'd like the readership to grow, so if you know people who would enjoy reading and thinking with me, please do share the link to the post or to the subscription page. Or both!

They can subscribe at: https://www.annaredsand.com/newsletter.htm 

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ATCK

When we are children, our lives are just our lives. We think whatever surrounds us is normal, usual. We have no control over where or how we are raised or who raises us. In my case, it was Dutch-American, conservative, Christian Reformed missionary parents, who brought me to the Navajo Nation when I was three, almost four. I was richly surrounded and gifted by Diné (Navajo) ways. Some of those ways had already been heavily impacted by colonialism. In my previous post, "ANETH", I wrote about the Christmas story and bags of treats brought to the BIA school there. Christmas had already been established then, in the Nation and had its own Diné name, Keshmish.

 

I took it as natural that Christmas was celebrated there. I had no idea that it had been brought by the settlers, of whom I was a representative. In my BIA school classroom at Teec Nos Pos, I learned to sing a secular Christmas song, "Up on the Housetop." I came home singing it in what some linguists have called "Dummitawry English," a Diné accented creole. I thought that was the right way to sing it because it's how my classmates sang it. Lustily. My mother could be counted on to correct my English, just as she corrected my father's Dutch, which she called "farmer Dutch."

 

That was the in-between world that made me part of who I am today, an ATCK. There are famous ATCKs. Barack Obama is probably the most renowned ATCK. Pulitzer Prize authors Pearl Buck and John Hersey were Adult Third Culture Kids. Freddie Mercury, Kobe Bryant, Yo-Y o Ma, Uma Thurmond, Madeleine Albright, Viggo Mortenson, Colin Firth, and Audrey Hepburn were all Third Culture Kids, and when they grew up, they became ATCKs. The list of famous and non-famous ATCKs is large, varied, and growing, thanks to an increasingly global society.

 

A Third Culture Kid, a TCK, who grows up to be an ATCK, is defined as someone who spent a significant number of their developmental years in a culture that was not their parents' culture. It is an enriching life, although as children, it is simply our life; we don't know anything different. At some point, when awareness of its in-between nature dawns on us, it becomes confusing. I found it hard to know just who I was and where I belonged. It's in the nature of being a TCK to not have full ownership in either or any culture. The third culture is the in-between culture, and those of us who live it, recognize it in each other. We share characteristics of having grown up in-between.

 

A few years ago, I was asked to make a presentation at a week-long, mountain-top gathering above Teec Nos Pos. The camp was attended by a mix of Diné, Anglo, and other ethnicities, by medical professionals and artisans and educators. My presentation was to be about TCK-ness. As I prepared, it dawned on me that the Diné who would be present also fit the definition of TCKs, though in a profoundly different way from how the literature generally describes us. Usually we are described as having been brought into the host culture by our parents because of their employment. But my Diné peers were also raised in a culture different from that of their parents' culture—boarding school culture––a culture that was determined to erase their home culture and language. Although I did attend boarding school more than once, my home culture was very much supported there.

 

When I recognized my Diné friends as ATCKs, I remembered a conversation I'd had years earlier with one of my colleagues at the Native American Materials Development Center, an indigenous educational publishing house. Lily talked about how difficult it was for college educated Diné to find their place in their different worlds. Somewhere in our conversation I said something about how, if I was in a group with Diné, I often hid what I knew of the language and ways. "I don't want to overstep or act like I think I know more than I do."

 

I am still moved by the gift of grace Lily extended to me in that moment. "You have an identity crisis just like we do," she said. "We don't know who we are, and neither do you." I was so grateful to be seen by her, even though I knew it wasn't exactly the same. I might question where I fit in, just as Lily did, but I was still white. I could avail myself anytime of all the privileges that came with my skin. But what she said confirmed my later realization: we were all TCKs.

 

TCKs, when we find each other, also find our commonalities. It is not just that we struggle to know where we fit, or that we are often restless, even rootless. We also share a richness of gifts. We see the world from a vantage point that may make us adept at bridging differences in a world torn by deep division, though we may be hesitant to offer that skill, not sure of its welcome. We are often expert observers, able to see patterns in the bigger picture as they occur. From our observations, we may quickly recognize how a new culture works, at least on the surface, so we are not prone to giving offence; we observe before we speak or act. We know how to be a guest in a someone else's land, though we're unsure of where home is. Although some life changes may upend us, we are adroit at finding resources in a new setting. We relate easily at initial meetings and appear to adjust quickly to a new culture, but we may have difficulty establishing deeper relationships and truly putting down roots. On the other hand, we tend to have friendships the world over.

 

My ability to observe manifested one day as I sat in a hotel lounge in San Francisco with two other travelers—one from New Zealand and one from France, both white. I watched them have an animated discussion and began to see that they were completely bypassing each other, going blithely along with what amounted to two separate conversations. Finally I said, "Wait, you guys!" They stopped and looked at me. "You're having two completely unrelated conversations. This is what Glen's saying," I summarized. "And here's what Chantal is saying." They looked at me and then at each other, aghast. "Really?" Now, for the first time, with that "Really?" they were on the same page. They looked at each other for confirmation that I was right. And both nodded at each other. We laughed together, and they began anew.

 

TCKs observe. We can bridge. We have an opportunity to bring together, to repair differences. 


 
Please share your thoughts in the Comments. Are you an ATCK? I'd love to hear about your experience, whether or not you are. Please feel free to share this website with others who might be interested. If you haven't read my previous post, "ANETH," you might enjoy reading it, too.

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