Ionce thought I had very vivid memories. Now I know I have flashbacks, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Usually caused by trauma, flashbacks transport you back to another time and place, complete with all the scents, sounds and emotions of the original experience.
The good part is that once you understand what’s happening and begin addressing the original issues, you can enjoy the flashbacks that aren’t traumatic. The only problem is that you can’t plan them, can’t avoid them and have no clue what will trigger them until the trigger’s been pulled.
Last week I was enjoying a sunny afternoon when a cricket transported me to a field surrounded by spruce trees during the opening ceremonies of the Siletz powwow.
Thousands of people stood and sat around the dance field in a moment of sacred silence before the entry of the first veterans. In that silence, a single cricket prayed aloud. I smelled fry bread and tacos and felt the warm breeze on my face.
Powwow. The word originally translated as “wise speaker” and referred to the men whose wisdom and healing powers served their tribe. Powwows drove away sickness, strengthened the young men for battle and thanked the Great Spirit for good harvests.
Within the ceremonies, the powwow used dancing, singing, drums and prayers. Like all village people, tribes feasted, visited and traded when they gathered, and eventually the gatherings themselves came to be called powwows.
Today indigenous tribes are increasingly turning to the healing potential of powwow. They realize that to save their children they must honor their ancestors, their elders and their traditions.
The flashback ended and I remembered the following day. Feeling the pulse of a huge drum from the soles of my feet to the base of my skull, I watched four little girls in the passageway between surging tides of people. Bright flowers dressed in the regalia of the jingle dancer, they twirled and glittered, chattering excitedly. Suddenly one of the girls noticed me. She stepped back out of the aisle, flinging her hands out toward her friends in a pushing motion.
“Move!” she said commandingly, “An elder wants through.” Her little face, turned to mine, had a look of respect. I smiled and thanked her, then walked with an unfamiliar dignity through the passage they cleared for me.
Tribal life is very different from the youth-oriented culture of the American mainstream, in which to be old is to be irrelevant. Within the tribal cultures gray hair and wrinkles are the the hallmarks of wisdom, of the teachers, the healers and the spiritual leaders. For the old of other cultures, it is a heady experience to be recognized as an elder, a tribal treasure.
There are rites of passage in every life, often presided over by religious leaders or other dignitaries. We have bar mitzvahs and weddings. My ceremony of transition from adult to elder was conducted by four little girls in bright regalia at the Siletz powwow.