Bear Heart Williams is a respected Road Man, holy man, and teacher among the Creek nation. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I met Bear Heart years ago and learned to call him “Uncle.” It is with great respect for him that I share his personal story of respect.
As a young boy Bear Heart experienced the deep and abiding love between his grandfather and his grandmother. He still remembers the great sadness and loneliness his Grandfather experienced when his grandmother died. Many months after losing his wife and life partner, Bear Heart’s grandfather heard a knock on the front door. He opened the door to find the old town drunk unsteadily standing before him, dressed in a crumpled Sunday suit. The old drunk had sobered up as much as he could, gone to the Salvation Army to get an old suit. He had cleaned up as best he could and came to visit with Bear Heart’s grandfather.
Years before, Bear Heart's grandfather had adopted the old man as his brother. At the time the man was not a drunk. However, life had been hard for him, especially when he lost his wife and kids in an accident. He grieved for long years before losing his job. He lost his home and car. He became homeless and roamed the streets begging food and money for cheap wine. Bear Heart’s grandfather had always been a brother friend to the old man, even after he became the town drunk. On this day the old drunk returned the kindness.
As he stood before Bear Heart’s grandfather, he said, “Brother, I have come to sit with you. You see I know what it is like to return home after a hard day at work and be greeted at the door by the same smiling woman who married me years before. Now you return home to silence. I know what it is like to sit in my favorite chair and glance into the kitchen to see my wife of many years cooking me my favorite meal, and now you stare into an empty room. I know what it is like to awaken from a deep sleep in the middle of the night with my arms around the same woman who has warmed me for a lifetime, and now you reach and feel only emptiness. I know about your loss my brother. I am here to sit with you.”
In that moment Bear Heart saw his grandfather make the gesture of deepest respect; he knelt down, touched the feet of the old drunk brother and said, “Thank you, my Brother. Come and sit with me.”
Most of us feel most comfortable when we are understood. The old timers tell us that understanding is possible when others have traveled our road or had similar experiences. In this way they can “stand under us” to steady us and support us through change.
Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely.” We must remember that what we criticize in others is often a reflection of something in ourselves that we have yet to accept. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better so that I might understand him.”
Respect comes from understanding. Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” When we don’t take the time to understand a person we tend to regard them as less than ourselves and we miss the opportunity to know ourselves better. Perhaps if we would walk for a while in the shoes of others and they in ours, we could have deep and meaningful talk and respect for each other would come as natural as the dawning of every day.