Wind beneath wings sustains longtime friend

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 18, 2002

My longtime friend Gerald Kaquitts chatted with me outside a Northwest Calgary funeral home the other day. He was reminiscing over his parents, both taken from this life in such a short time. By their example they had taught him– and through Gerald, had taught me, too – a secret of life that speaks to the very heart of our shared humanity.

Just three weeks ago in this column we celebrated the life of his father, Stoney Nakoda Grand Chief Frank Kaquitts – Ganutha Îge, "Sitting Wind" – of Morley, artist and actor, who died Nov. 19 at the age of 77.

Now Gerald's mother was gone, too. After a lengthy illness, Stoney Nakoda elder Kathleen Kaquitts – Wîkoske Wathte, "Beautiful Maiden"– passed away Dec. 12 at Canmore Hospital with her family by her side. She was 73.

As Gerald and I stood among the cars in the funeral home parking lot, a gentle spring-like breeze played with our hair, even though Christmas was only days away. "Are you familiar with The Wind Beneath My Wings?" he asked me. "This is how I feel about my parents."

He was referring to Bette Midler's 1989 Grammy Award-winning hit song written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar. It's a tribute to a person of strength who "always walked a step behind" in order that another might have the glory – "a beautiful face without a name," the beloved who is "the wind beneath my wings."

Like her ever-happy husband, Kathleen, too, rejected bitterness as a way of life, choosing instead an attitude of gratitude.

True, history had certainly given her every reason to be bitter, if she had so chosen. She was the great-granddaughter of Chief John Chiniquay, who signed Treaty 7 with the Queen's representatives in 1877. This was supposed to have been an honorable agreement for the honorable sharing of New World land for "as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows."

It was soon clear, however, that Kathleen's great-grandfather and his fellow chiefs had been deceived, made prisoners in their own land by newcomers who ignored the difference between sharing and stealing, respect and contempt.

Nevertheless, the lesson she taught her family in word and deed remained unspoiled: "To see the world every day for how beautiful it is, and to be thankful for it," as Gerald once told me.

This was the way human beings could best enjoy "n”bi pten‰ ne," this short journey called life. It was a lesson Kathleen's parents had taught her and their parents had taught them.

"When my grandparents got up in the morning and saw the rising sun, they said a prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful day just begun," Gerald told me. "And when the sun set and they lay down for another night's rest, they said a prayer of thanksgiving for the beautiful day just ended.

"They saw the world for how beautiful it was," Gerald said, and instead of grumbling about the ugliness, they rejoiced in its beauty.

This attitude of gratitude is, I think, one of the reasons Gerald and his family have shown strength during this time of loss.

Let me illustrate the importance of his parents' example with another metaphor Gerald shared with me some years ago when I was going through a difficult time of my own:

Life is best enjoyed from the perspective of an eagle, Gerald explained back then by way of a photograph he had taken. What can appear from only a hand's breadth away as impassable chasms in the landscape, may in fact be nothing more than insignificantly small cracks in dried mud as seen by an eagle soaring above the mountains. Hope replaces despair as we look at life with the right attitude and touch the sky on eagle's wings.

What a wonderful legacy Frank and Kathleen Kaquitts leave behind. I guess that's why Gerald finds such comfort in Bette Midler's song:

Did you ever know that you're my hero,
and ev'rything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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