Friday, June 18, 2010

Listen to the Story

Yesterday I realized that I had showed up at the Fifth North American Spirituality Conference on Spirituality in Social Work a full day early. It was all good though because it gave me some time to get a little rest and practice presenting my paper some more. I also spent a fair amount of time walking around in the rain with no umbrella. Rain is something I never seem prepared for, it's like I don't believe it exists until it's falling on me or something. This wasn't just rain, but cold, Canadian rain.

I did finally get my hands on an umbrella and some batteries I needed and got my handouts copied so was feeling quite victorious after awhile. I also started to meet some of the other conference attendees, a very interesting mix of people. Lots of Canadians of course with varying accents (my lack of a Boston accent became a topic of conversation at one point), some folks from Kansas, Virginia and Texas. I also ran into a rabbit the size of a dog, but I guess that's how they do rabbits up here. They're all over the University of Calgary campus.

I got into an interesting conversation with a student who sported a Mohawk and sang the praises of his Blackberry. We got to do some Blackberry bonding, but I had to admit with great embarrassment that I do very little texting. I suddenly felt very old for some reason. This young man had a lot of energy and kept pacing back and forth while he talked but his movements were kind of stiff. It was like he was doing the Robot the whole time (if you don't know what the Robot is, that's what Google is for). He said he might come to my presentation which made me smile.

Last night was the official kick-off of the conference and we were treated to a keynote speech by Richard Wagemese, a Native Canadian author of the Ojibwe Nation. Before he spoke, a prayer was offered in the Cree language. It was very beautiful. I love my mother tongue but there is something about hearing prayers in other languages that always gets me. Mr. Wagemese then started his talk which focused on the importance of telling and hearing stories. Much of it was the story of his own life and journey from an alienated young Ojibwe recovering from the trauma of Western colonialism to the successful author we witnessed last night. As an African American male, more than once it felt like he was telling my own story of alienation and redemption. He kept repeating how important it is to listen to people's stories and I found myself wondering how well I actually do that. Not as well as I should, I think. I also found myself feeling incredibly Western and materialistic listening to this man. It gave me a lot to think about, I'll tell you.