Recently I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary with my husband. We decided to get tattoos that day, his fifth and my first. My design was by Chippewa/Potawatomi artist from Canada, Chief Lady Bird, and it’s a symbol of the seven fires of the Potawatomi tribe. As Kasey, our tattoo artist, began the work on my left arm, I felt my body go back to the same space I inhabited when I gave birth to my two sons without pain medication. I would take slow, steady breaths during those contractions, leaning into the pain as I went, and I took slow, steady breaths every time Kasey put the needles to my skin.
Pain is a thing we can’t go around.
I started therapy last month with a trauma counselor in my city, and I’m learning that when we begin the process of opening wounds to take a look inside, it hurts. It hurts for a long time, because at some point we begin to realize that putting bandages on those wounds doesn’t always do the healing.
We’ve got to ask how our wounds got there in the first place and what pain can teach us as a partner in the process.
In America in 2018, we’re all walking around, wounded. And as we begin to have conversations about how those wounds got there, engaging in collective dialogue about justice, reconciliation and reparations, people either lean into those conversations, or they run.
And on social media, those conversations can be entered into and left with the tap of a button. We are reactionary instead of compassionate.
We choose to harm each other instead of healing most of the time.
But if we truly listen, we’ll see that the only way is through.
This phrase, or a version of it, has been echoed by writers throughout time like Robert Frost, who said it in his poem, A Servant to Servants:
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
It’s becoming more clear as we look at the collective work of healing, that it’s going to take time, that it’s going to be painful, and that the only way out of it is through it.
But we have to first convince ourselves that our own healing is necessary.
First, we have to choose to love our own story enough to want healing within it. Are we willing?
I had to decide that the things I’ve experienced, the trauma that is a part of me every day, is worth recognizing, worth processing. And because I’ve seen my own life’s story through this lens, I’m more aware of the life stories of others who are working through their own trauma.
Are we willing to do the digging necessary to find ourselves here, in 2018, more loved and willing to love?
The tattoo on my left arm is a symbol of my own healing. It’s a symbol of the healing of a people. It carries a dream for all of us as indigenous people, but the only way to get there is through. So I light my tobacco, my sage and sweetgrass, and pray. I pray, Migwetch, Mamogosnan, thank you, Great Father, Great Spirit. And slowly but surely, I find my way back. Slowly but surely, I find a way to love.
We’ve got to walk through our healing as a people, and as a nation, we’ve got to talk about the wounds that we’ve carried from the beginning, wounds that stem from white supremacy and racism, hatred and misogyny. And we’ve got to recognize that healing must happen from every side, from every perspective, because we belong to each other.
America’s history told from the oppressed side is very different than the side of history we’ve actually been fed. Indigenous people and people of color have lived a history here that is covered up and ignored, a giant bandage with the words get over it scrawled across the top.
But to be people who create wholeness for ourselves and for others, we’ve got to open ourselves up and keep opening, removing those bandages to reveal the wounds we’ve carried for generations. We’ve got to choose to ask how our wounds got here in the first place, and then we’ve got to do the hard, uncomfortable, painful work of healing together.
For me, getting a tattoo was a choice. It was a choice to endure the pain, to mark my body with something significant that will be there for the rest of my life.
So it is with our communal pain. We must choose together to lean into it, and to stick with it, so that we can see what becomes of us on the other side.
Because, dear friends, the only way is through.