Not Living for Ourselves

Hi friends. The following is an excerpt from a book I’m writing called “Fallen”, about four of the aboriginal members of our movement in Vancouver who were killed: Bingo, Harry, William and Ricky. I know you’d all relate:

One night a year after Harry Wilson had died I was speaking to a gathering of stricken people in Liverpool. After the meeting one of them approached me. She was a woman my age but seemingly older, a local resident who’d hung on my every word. She had been visibly moved when I spoke about my persecuted and imprisoned free-thinker ancestor Peter Annett who was Liverpool-born and raised.

She and I chatted over coffee as people came and went, and she kept staring at me like one draws the best water from the deepest part of the well. Finally the woman said to me quietly,

“I’ve been trying to figure you out for years. Now I think I finally understand you”

“Oh yeah?” I replied, feeling awkward.

She nodded, wide-eyed, and said,

“You were sent here to uproot and tear down the old so the new can grow. You’re a Systems Smasher.”

I smiled at the simple truth she had so precisely nailed.

“Thank you” I answered.”Thank you for seeing me”

She took my hand and whispered tearfully,

“And your Indian mates, they saw that in you too. That’s why they stood by you”

At that moment, a flood of appreciation for my fallen friends filled me, and a profound gratitude for who they really were. All five of us had together stumbled over the secret: that our lives are ultimately not our own.

Another survivor put it this way,

“The true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his psyche. For being human always points and is directed to something or someone other than oneself. The more a man forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or to others to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. Self-actualization is not attainable in itself, but is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

People not privy to the secret continually ask me why I don’t worry about myself more, admonishing me with the cure-all incantation “Stay safe!”. The same kind of people used to relate to my four friends as broken objects to be fixed rather than a work in progress.

Bingo and Harry and the others certainly never spent any time fretting about their own personal “healing”: that’s a Pale watchword, not one of theirs. Like me, their days were directed towards who we had to help and what we had to overcome in a world trying to stomp us into nothing. Forgetting about ourselves, we ended up moving mountains. Narcissists never move anything.

Smashing whole systems is the prerogative of those who are no longer the center of their own universe, but revolve around a higher fixed point.

One of Bingo’s buddies was Maggie, an older Nishga woman who seemed like any other stumbling and struggling street resident. But one night I saw her single handedly drag a police barrier to block off Main street as part of a spontaneous protest to free a homeless guy named Trevor who was being worked over in the cop shop. Maggie was completely unmindful of the risk to herself, even though twenty fully-armed riot cops were but a dozen paces away. She turned and started screaming at the goons who could break her head in an instant. Maggie was fearless in that moment, because her mind was on Trevor and her spirit had risen above herself.

The riot cops didn’t seem to know what to do when faced down by Maggie. And barely a half hour later, Trevor was released.

I always remember that night and Maggie’s stand whenever fear starts tugging at me and I forget myself by collapsing back into self-concern. For her selfless courage is a microcosm of the power we hold in our hands once we depart from ourselves and live for a new society and a new humanity. Being thus consecrated allows our souls to soar and makes the obstacles we face surmountable, and what we are birthing indestructible.

Image result for kevin annett and native friends

Harry Wilson and Kevin Annett, Vancouver, spring 1997