One week in Mish left me with a heart undone. I have only to close my eyes and little Tabitha is sitting beside me in the front seat of my car with her laughing, dark, almond eyes. She is smart and funny and makes me laugh when she tells me that someone wanted to buy her puppy from her. "Give me the money first and I'll give you the puppy," she said she told the potential buyer. She still had the puppy, so I guess the money didn't materialize.
As we drove into the parking lot of the community centre on Sunday, our first day on the reserve, some children ran up to our cars, recognizing members of the team from earlier visits. Christina, a spunky little girl with a serious expression and hair falling to one side over her eyes, knocked on my car window and motioned to me to wind it down. Her sharp eyes had spotted something of interest. Pointing to the almost empty bag of chips on the car seat, she said, "Chippies! Can I have some?"
The children of Mish were a subculture, a tribe that ran together and free as wild ponies. Sometimes pushing boundaries and listening when they chose, they were captivated and calmed, for the most part, by the fun activities that Christy had organized.
Jamie loved the children and was determined that we pick up as many
as possible. He went from house to house letting them know of the week of activities, and he urged me to pick up Marita's three grandchildren at her house on the way to deliver the lunch.
One of the children Jamie discovered going door to door was a girl with autism named Bobby. Her parents were happy when we picked her up and she stayed as long as she wanted, included in the fun.
There was another child with autism; young Joey; who Susan kept a watchful eye on, and Micah, who Jamie at first thought couldn't speak, but then realized that he couldn't hear.
From then on he stood facing him when he spoke so that Micah could read his lips. Micah's face was covered in a severe skin rash--excema, and he hid it by wearing a hoodie even in the 29 degree heat. It was wonderful on the last day at the beach to see Micah take off his hoodie, and splash in the water with the others, with the sun and wind on his upturned face, a visible sign of the acceptance and love that had melted his shame away.
Later that day the mother of one of the children, who had come to join us on the beach, said quietly to me, "Micah has had a rough couple of months since his mother died."
I looked at her questioningly, and she said, "Brain damage."
My heart plummeted with sadness at the hidden burdens that some of the children carried among their carefree peers. One of the elders said to Paul, "It's good that you give so much love to the kids. We don't get that at home." While I know that isn't true of everyone because I saw love for myself--I also saw brokenness; a remnant of generations of relationships torn apart and a culture shamed through the residential school system.
On the last day there were hugs and sad farewells, but there was no doubt in anyone's heart. We would come back...