“We have a choice in life – we can choose how we are going to behave. We can determine whether we reflect the good around us or lose ourselves in the darkness”.
The Reason You Walk is a memoir written by Wab Kinew which describes the time he spent with his father reflecting on their relationship, his childhood and forgiveness. The story is told in the shadow of his father’s traumatic experience in a residential school where he was physically and sexually abused by members of the Catholic church. Wab reflects on the time he spent with his father following his diagnosis with cancer as he imparted learnings of their culture, their language and strengthened their relationship.
Wab’s father was torn between traditional teachings and the Catholic Church. The damage from the residential school impacted his parenting and his ability to show love and affection. He focussed on education and worked hard to regain his culture through language, sun dances and traditional teachings.
Growing up in the shadow of this residential school experience, Wab had a troubled relationship with his father. He experienced his own challenges with his identify and began following a self-destructive path of drugs and alcohol. The family was rocked by the suicide of his brother and a cousin, followed by the accidental loss of a second brother.
After his father’s cancer diagnosis, Wab focused on spending time with his father. As his father fought the disease, with chemotherapy killing both cancer cells and healthy cells, the father and son began to reconcile their relationship. As they accepted each other, as his Ndede passed on his teachings and shared the experiences of sweats, sun dances and pipe smoking, his father’s cancer progressed. His father lived the end of his life on his own terms until he passed into the next world. It was a time of sharing, of teaching and learning, of passing on traditions and of a son and father reconciling and loving each other.
“They left him walking forward, not looking back. This is how our ancestors tell us to leave. Their last words to him were not about closure or finality, but simply about love, in the deep familial sense, and then showing their love for him with a simple act”.
The story is poignant and thought-provoking. Limited details are given of his father’s time in residential school but the aftermath, the impact of the abuse on his relationships with his children, told the tale of the lasting effects of being ripped from his family and forced to forget his traditional ways. Wab’s beloved Ndede can be proud of his life, his contribution to the truth and reconciliation, his relationships with the Canadian government and the Catholic church and with passing down traditions and knowledge that will help his family make the world a better place.
“The divisions we obsess over – money, politics, race – were stripped away first. They did not matter in the end. Then the travelling was taken away, followed by the independence of the individual, the ego. They did not matter either.
Then you got down to what really mattered.
But then you can’t eat.
But then you can’t drink.
But then you stop breathing.
Finally, all he had left was the final resource that all of us will exhaust – time.
But then his time was up.
And then he was gone.
What’s left behind?
All that remains in the end is love.
The love he had for us.
The love we still have for him.
And true love never dies”.
This January, I am participating in the January Resolution Reads Non-Fiction challenge which I am trying to fulfill by reading books off my TBR shelf. The Reason You Walk is a great memoir which deals with the serious topics of residential school, the loss of culture, abuse, dying and loss. It is about strength, family, learning, acceptance and forgiveness. In Kinew’s acknowledgements, he took ownership for his past mistakes, for those that he hurt as an angry young man and for the misogynistic rap lyrics he had performed. He learned from his own errors and is a stronger man for trying to improve the world!
“The underlying message of my father’s life, and especially his final year, is one that wise women and men have know for millennia: when we are wronged it is better to respond with love, courage and grace than with anger bitterness and rage. WE are made whole by living up to the best part of human nature – the part willing to forgive the aggressor, the part that never loses sight of the humanity of those on the other side of the relationship, and the part that embraces the person with whom we have every right to be angry and accepts him or her as a brother or sister”.