Sometimes it’s the smallest things that answer the biggest questions. Maybe that’s why, even when they’re right in front of us, they can often be overlooked, seem too simplistic, even frivolous. And, sometimes, those answers can even come before the questions. Such a time happened just recently on wilderness walks with my grandchildren—something we hadn’t been able to do since the pandemic hit. First was with my five–year–old grandson I affectionately call One Sock.
“Grandma! Let’s go look for treasures!” he said bounding down the slope of our wilderness camp with his special treasure bag close in hand. “Look at all these acorns Grandma! Can we put them on the mantel?” The fireplace mantel has become our designated place for all those special objects found on the land.
“Of course, One Sock,” I answered and then bent down to whisper softly in his ear, “But, did you remember to ask permission?” His wide bright eyes shot up at me and with a voice filled with such sweet tenderness, full of expectation, looked down at those acorns, waiting still and silent in this small hand, and said, “Do you want to come with us acorns? Do you want to be on the mantel?” And in less than half a second, “Yes! Grandma! They said yes!” And off we went again in search of the next treasure, and the next, always repeating the same ritual we’d done so many times in the wonderful wilds of his own back yard. And, soon, he was struggling to haul his small bag filled with all those treasures.
A little later, my eight–year–old granddaughter, whom I call Sweetness, and I were walking down our steep winding wilderness driveway. She wanted to hold hands as we walked and just the feeling of her small hand in mine was enough to make me blink back tears. It had been so long. We strolled slowly as she just chatted about this and that. Didn’t matter to me. I just wanted time to stand still.
Then, suddenly, “Look at all these pine cones, Grandma! Can we bring some to the mantel?”
“Should we ask permission, Sweetness?”
My dear granddaughter, now a little older and more wise to the ritual, said with much assurance, “Grandma! I’ve already asked all the pine cones around this whole place and they’ve all already said ‘yes!’”
“How wonderful,” I said smiling and on we went. And, then suddenly . . .
“Look Grandma! There’s a big heart rock!” I strained to see it but, sure enough, off to the side, partially hidden under leaves and moss, was a large—well, somewhat, heart shaped large rock just waiting for one with–the–eyes–to–see. “Let’s sit Grandma! It’s too big for the mantel,” she said matter–of–factly, “but, don’t worry, we can still sit here. I know it’s okay. I’ve already asked for permission.” And, so we did.
And, once again, graciously, time stood still to hold the brief moment of sweet chatter.
And, sometimes, those answers come even before the questions. Native American spirituality as well as the Shamans, medicine men and women across cultures since the beginning of time, have known about the great web of life within which we all live. They have taught that everything in this great web is alive, interconnected and that we humans are just another part of this great web. Today we are witnessing a great resurgence in these ancient teachings because, I believe, our blessed earth is crying out for us to remember our ancient roots, our innate connectedness with all of life. But I know for me, just imagining what I may be able to do to address our current climate–earth crisis has felt almost too overwhelming even to ponder. But then an answer came on those walks—something so small, simple, playful, childlike that it was almost overlooked. I could simply ask:
Did you remember to ask permission?
Pause. Remember. Imagine how it might shift our relationship with our Great Mother earth if we were to suddenly see, hear, taste, touch, smell every living thing as alive, worthy of our respect, worthy of our asking permission. Imagine what we could learn, as the great George Washington Carver discovered, if we too could love enough—from each acorn, pinecone, stone. What if we could suddenly sense the Great Spirit growing the tree, cooing the mourning dove, budding the dandelion, stirring the waters, raising the fire? What if we too could hear the voice of the wind whispering important messages to our hearts? What if we too could suddenly see that everything around us is a treasure worthy of a special place on the mantel?
And what if, as a result, feeling so deeply connected to each treasure it would become naturally impossible to harm it for, like hurting anything to which we’re deeply connected, we’d be the first to feel it.
And, how could such a deep connection to our Mother Earth begin to change not just our relationship to our mineral, plant and animal friends but to our fellow human friends as well? Perhaps it would bring us to rest, more often, in simple stillness and presence, like on that heart shaped rock, to truly feel tenderly the small hand holding ours and to sense the deep joy of connection running deep beneath the sweet chatter. Could we then begin to imagine what might happen if we could practice bringing such presence to a stranger, a member of our human family in this great web of life?
Perhaps, if so, we too could then know the love Carver knew. For this love is no ordinary love—at least not the kind we’re used to thinking about. No! This love is so unconditional, so free of circumstance, so eternally neutral that it is capable of binding us to all of life—freeing us in ways we’ve yet to imagine to love and care for the stones, flowers, animals and for all of our dear loved ones in our human family.
Yes, my friends. Far beyond any teachings I may offer, degrees I may have, books I may write, I have graciously been given an answer to how I may make a difference to the web of life in my lifetime.
Did you remember to ask permission?
So, perhaps, just perhaps, one day, long after I am gone, one of my dear grandchildren, grown and walking with their own children or grandchildren, might say, “Let’s go look for treasures! But, remember it’s important to ask if they want to come with us.”
If so, I will know I have done one thing well—perhaps the most important thing I could offer—I’ll have helped my dear grandchildren to remember that they are a part of all that is—that everything is a treasure if we have the eyes to see—that everything can teach us if we have the ears to hear—and that we are each a glorious, unique and necessary part of the great web of life woven most graciously by the Great Spirit . . .
And, if so, I know I will have lived well.