Some went fishing, others cried out from the rubble

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 16, 2006

Morley artist Roland Rollinmud came by the house on the weekend and gave me a lesson in one of his Stoney Nakoda values that's among the heart's deepest longings.

He brought with him a commissioned painting he's been working on. The large oil-on-canvas depicts a moment in the life of his grandfather's family about a century ago when they were fishing in the Bow River not far from where it emerges from the mountains.

It's a summer day a couple of hours after sunrise. The women are setting up day camp along the shore. Several of the men, fishing spears in hand, are already wading in the clear, cold water from which the river takes its name in Stoney Nakoda: Mînî Thnî Wapta – "Cold Water River." High on the escarpment across the river, two mounted scouts keep watch.

It's a happy moment. As Roland explained to me, it's about nîhenâges (roughly pronounced nee-hay-NUNG-gaysh) – about life when all is comfortable, secure and free from fear.

"Those were days when work and happiness mingled, days when caring for each other was embraced as the way of the Creator," he said. "Over the past century, so much art on aboriginal themes has focused on war and conflict. But it's good also to remember the relaxing part of life – the times of comfort, security and freedom from fear."

I guess Roland must have been quite inspired by sharing his painting with me. After he returned home, he grabbed his own fishing tackle, rounded up two of his kids, and went down to the river. His son and daughter each caught a trout, and Roland caught two graylings. He later made my mouth water with a description of how good supper tasted that evening.

"...people taking care of each other for no other reason than it's the right thing to do." —a character from Oliver Stone's latest movie, World Trade Center

Life isn't always about comfortable moments by the old fishing hole, however. Sometimes it explodes in our faces with the force of two planes smashing into skyscrapers and thrusting ordinary people into the roles of victims and heroes.

Last week I took in Oliver Stone's latest film, World Trade Center. His take on 9/11 is not a rehash of interminable images of planes and flames, but the story of two police officers trapped in the rubble, struggling to sustain each other's will to live, while their families and rescuers cope with the confusion around them and point to the beauty of the human spirit in times of great ugliness.

Two things stood out vividly to me. The first was the experience I had part way through the film of forgetting I was viewing events that took place in New York City five years ago, and instead thinking this was about the summer of 2006, and the victims were buried under the rubble of buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, and Haifa, Israel, their families in anguish, their rescuers exhausted.

The second was in the concluding words of the film. One unassuming hero describes his actions as merely "people taking care of each other for no other reason than it's the right thing to do."

On a related note, I'd like to share an email from our Mumbai, India, coffee companion, Raj Patwardhan. He was responding to last week's column which featured a letter from social development expert Glen Eyford on the role of performance art in bringing healing to a slum district in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Raj wrote:

"It was very nice of Glen to share a real life experience which is testimony to how a simple human gesture can impact the lives of many. Having rolled this story over and over in my mind, I think what really made this possible was:

"a) Feeling touched and compassionate about fellow human beings;

"b) Accepting the fundamental responsibility that we are social creatures, and there can't be sufficient wholesomeness to one's life if we don't understand that we are a part of the whole and not a whole in one's own self; and

"c) Having the will to light up the lives of others.

"It would be wonderful if more of such simple acts are emulated. It would certainly do a world of good for this world where life is riddled with so many complexities, obscuring simple solutions."

Thank you, coffee companions, for your wisdom for the journey.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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