There was a time when a majority of Americans felt reverence for the same deity, revered the same holidays and even esteemed the same musicians.
But that candle’s gone out now.
We live in a mix-and-match society that can be both confusing and enlightening.
We tailor life to fit ourselves now.
We no longer revere the same things. But we can, if we’re wise, learn to appreciate the feelings of reverence that others have inside.
Years ago, when Utah’s 2002 Olympic efforts were gearing up, a dear friend of mine, a Shoshone beader, was asked to participate. His beadwork was renowned and, as a tribal elder, the Olympic committee wanted him to play a part in the opening ceremony.
He was to ride a pony into the arena, then join one of the five Native American drum circles that would form the five Olympic rings and showcase the Olympic colors scheme.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
He passed on it.
When I asked him why, what he said stayed with me.
He said, for him, the drum circle wasn’t a spectacle, it was a sacred ceremony. It was a prayer circle.
In the drum circle, people shared their hearts and made connections that fed the soul. And my friend was all about connecting — connecting with nature, with other people, with God.
A drum circle was the royal road to all that mattered.
He refused to say anything negative about the tribal members who did participate in the Olympic ceremony.
And he didn’t wag his finger at the Olympic committee and complain.
For him, whining was a character flaw.
He simply chose to follow something else in life, something deeper.
His whole life he’d been told how colorful his bead work was, how colorful the Shoshone tribe was.
But being colorful was all on the surface. He wanted to be a living, palpitating soul in the eyes of his maker and the eyes of other people.
Like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit, what he cared about was being “real,” being sincere, being fully alive and authentic.
Today, 18 years after the Utah Olympics, he is still that way. He remains as grounded as the spike at the center of a whirling compass. And because I always know who he is and where I can find him, more than once he has helped me find myself.
I’ll likely never hold sacred all the things that he does. I love the shade “Shoshone blue” and I’m fascinated by eagle feathers, but they’ll never trigger the same sense of holiness inside of me that they do inside of him.
The best I can do is honor the special feelings he has for such things. And hope he’ll honor the sacred things and feelings I have.
I know he does.
Before the virus, I’d see my friend at least once a week. But our paths haven’t crossed for some time now.
I miss, in a word, our special “connection.”
He taught me well.
And I know, when most people lie on their death beds, personal connections will be all that matter. We’ll rejoice in the ones we’ve made and lament the ones that got away.
Connections, as a theme, fills our songs and poetry, our rituals and our aspirations.
The world we live in is changing at jaguar speed.
What isn’t changing is how much connecting with our family and friends means to us.
Bright, colorful, Olympic drum circles aren’t the stuff of real life.
But the connections made inside those drum circles are.
That was what my friend was quietly saying to the world back in 2002.
It’s what he continues to say to the world today.