Becky Beaver, woman of vision and serenity

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 5, 2003

"Now, though I have struggles, I feel that I have help. I feel we shouldn't be sorry for what we are."
—Becky Beaver

A Stoney Nakoda elder I referred to briefly in last week's column as an example of respectfulness was also a shining example of the "Serenity Prayer." That prayer, helpful to so many in their struggles with adversity, goes as follows:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Though the late Becky Beaver, of Morley, may not have been familiar with the actual words of that prayer, she most certainly lived by its spirit – something several of you who knew her personally pointed out to me over the past week. Allow me to tell you more of the story of this wonderful woman.

Becky was born in 1908, the granddaughter of the famous Stoney Nakoda chief, Hector Crawler, for whom the YMCA's Camp Chief Hector, near Seebe, was named. She was a traditional First Nations woman. Her respect for the ways of her ancestors helped her face the many hardships in her life.

One of those hardships was that, of the thirteen children she had borne, only one had survived to the time when we first met Becky on a snowy February day in 1966.

She was sitting in her living room beading a necklace when we were introduced. Becky took an immediate liking to my wife, Mary Anna and, as I mentioned last week, "adopted" her into the family and soon began teaching her traditional skills, such as preparing a moose hide for tanning.

Often when we arrived for a visit with Becky, we'd find her sitting among yards and yards of canvas, doing the many hours of precision stitching needed to create a perfectly shaped tepee.

Autumn memories were especially wonderful, as Becky traveled with us up the Forestry Trunk Road to a place near Yaha Tinda where she showed us how to pick some of the finest wild cranberries you ever did see. Working close to the ground, she carefully indicated which berries were safe to eat, and which were not. Then, in the time it took Mary Anna and me to fill just a small pan, she filled whole buckets.

These and many other delightful moments were part of Becky's "parenting" Mary Anna in the Stoney way, acts of love to help fill the void left by the loss of Becky's children.

That loss was certainly not the only hardship she faced in life, however. The magnitude of another loss is stunning, in view of her skill in beading, tanning, sewing, and berry picking. As I said last week, ever since she was a young woman, Becky had been totally blind.

She would often tell how, when she first lost her sight, she was in such despair that she didn't want to live any longer, and how one day she threw herself on the ground in tears.

"Suddenly there was a voice from somewhere that gave me a word," she said. "'Your life isn't over! Get up and walk in the new path I've given you!' (I believe it was the Lord Jesus who spoke to me.)

"So I changed my mind. Something had come back to me, and I knew I had to face this world regardless of what troubles I had. Now, though I have struggles, I feel that I have help. I feel we shouldn't be sorry for what we are," she said. "We are to live the life God has given us."

Toward the end of her life she wanted to tell this story often. It troubled her that so many young people in her community were giving up on life – young people with eyes and strength. She wanted to do what she could to give them hope, to show them they didn't have to give in to despair.

Becky passed away not long before Christmas 1992 at the age of 84. How fitting it was to hear the words of one of her favorite hymns at her wake:

"I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see."

Like an eagle soaring high in an invisible updraft, Becky soared above her adversities to see life on a grander scale. She rose above her losses with a new vision: to accept with serenity the things she could not change, and to do what she could with what she had, to make a happier world.

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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