I stand at the sink washing dishes. It’s one of the things that I do around our home that always feels like a ceremony. I can get meditative staring out the window at the lake and the mountain behind it and feeling the pull of the land all around me.
It’s a centering thing really, and something that’s come to be important to me. Right after we eat I get to it, putting things away, squaring things and washing everything up. It’s a pleasure that I like to do alone.
There’s something special about taking care of things. I wipe the counters and the stove, clean the floor, get the morning’s coffee ready and make sure the dog has food and water. They’re all very small acts but they mean something big. It’s the man taking care of his home.
Sure, it doesn’t sound very manly or very warrior-like but it is to me. I can stand and look out the window at the land around me and feel very good. I can feel very productive and engaged in the process of my home. Plus, it spares my wife the effort and there’s a satisfaction in turning away from a chore well done and knowing that things are set. It’s as essential an act in our scheme of things as chopping wood.
Sometimes, when there are friends around and the house is filled with talk and laughter and energy, I still retreat to the sink to take care of the duty. Oh sure, they volunteer to help and the talk is always good when they do and I enjoy the shared work but a part of me really loves the solitary feel of taking care of things.
There’s a tactile pleasure in the feel of soapy water on the wrists and forearms and small joys to be found in the clink of glasses, the clunk of pots and the rattle of utensils.
And it’s not just the dishes. I take care of the flower beds, saw and chop and stack the wood, tend to the fire, shovel snow, clean the gutters, vacuum, dust, mop and make sure the trash gets taken to the dump.
Manly? Maybe, maybe not, but I never really think about it. Instead, I go about the process of taking care of my home without gender issues or the feeling of being emasculated or being cast into male slavery. They’ve just become the things I do and I enjoy them.
Someone said to me once when I described some of the things I do around my home, “That’s not a very Native thing to do?” I wondered about that. I wondered whether when they laid out the plan for Native people whether they thought about life in 2012 and beyond. Here in our mountain community there’s not a lot of call for trapping, gill netting, hide scraping or even rock painting.
Instead, I took up photography a few years back. Compared to skinning a moose that’s not very Indian either. I’m capturing scenes and objects and shadow and light instead of game. I’m developing prints instead of following them. I press a shutter instead of a trigger and the shots I take leave everything I encounter alive and energized. But the act of taking pictures makes me feel empowered, creative and engaged with my life and my world.
Oh, and I learned to play a little piano too. Whoever said that there’s nothing black and white about First Nations reality never spent much time learning to play scales on a keyboard. For most Native people a key signature is what you have to do to get into the washroom at the Indian Affairs office. I worked at collage too for a while and loved the feel of working in visual art. Neither of those are very hunter-gatherer kinds of things but it doesn’t matter a whit to me.
See, what I’ve discovered is that when I do something that moves my spirit, when I feel alive when I do it, when it makes me feel good — it becomes an Indian thing to do by virtue of the Indian doing it. I feel creative, productive and human. I feel engaged in the process of discovering my own unique identity and when I do that I become a better man, a better person and better Ojibway in the process.
So I’ll keep on doing dishes and cleaning house. I’ll keep on doing the things that move my spirit because that’s the real working definition of being spiritual. Doing what moves your spirit. When you find those things and do them you discover that you make everything a ceremony replete with all the small joyous rituals that are a part of it. A ceremony isn’t necessarily something you go to — it’s what you carry in you.