47. One Story, One Song (Richard Wagamese)

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.43.03 AM“Stories build bridges to undiscovered countries – each other”.

Richard Wagamese was a huge loss to #CanLit but his beautiful stories will endure and resonate.  It is not surprising that Joseph Boyden described him as a “national treasure”.  One Story, One Song is a collection of his experiences and life lessons where the reader is treated to his honesty, insight and perspective which was inspired by his challenging life.

Written by Wagamese, at the age of 54, this is a terrific book to pick up and savour a couple of stories at a time.  It is divided into directions:

East – Humility which he described as the “ability to see yourself as part of something larger… as the great, grand clamour of our voices, our spirits raised together in song”.  In this section he spoke of the bears and the sacred places on the land which grounded him.  It was interesting to learn that he and his spouse bought and renovated a rooming house, removing the active addicts and supporting those that struggled who were “victims of life’s rampant unpredictability”.  He speaks of improving the building both through hard work and paint as well as by hearing the stories of the tenants and helping to make their lives more positive.

South – Trust which he defines as “the ability to open  yourself up for teachings” where he talks about his marriage and his experience learning about the land while living in a foster home.  Even thought the books was written in 2011, his message of not “deliberating on our differences” but using “language to unite us, not divide us”  is an essential message as we deal with current governments, both in the United States and even within Ontario that require lessons in inclusivity and the importance of diversity.

West – Introspection is described as a place of vision, of understanding how teachings can change lives and provide balance.  Highlights of this section include a traditional story of the loon who’s call is to remind us to pay attention and be aware of the teachings.  He shared some of his experience as a journalist covering First Nations issues and how, sadly, so little has changed.  He spoke of the importance of connection, silence (time to reflect) and indulged the reader in describing his writing place.

North – Wisdom is the culmination of teaching and the importance of sharing the learning with others.  He wrote about finding help to understand and worth through his feelings of “unworthiness” and described the love he has discovered with his wife, Debra.  The anecdotes described the care that they have for their tenants and how they try to touch their lives as well as important people along the way, like a teacher who gave him a picture of Martin Luther King when he was being bullied.  He ended with notes on suicide, truth and reconciliation, surviving the sixties scoop and knowing what is important – a simple life and appreciating Canada, “the greatest country on earth”.

The book is completed with the final words of “to be continued” and I hope that the legacy of his thoughts and words are continued through readers who are touched and impacted by his stories and life lessons.  Richard Wagamese lived a challenging life, with abuse, addiction and loss.  He lived the consequences of his parents experience of residential schools yet he shares powerful stories, lessons of hope and delves into healing and understanding what is important:  love, community, nature.

Both his fiction and non-fiction are beautifully written, powerful stories that Canadians need to read.  Not sure where to start?  I would suggest picking up Medicine Walk (my favourite book) or Indian Horse.  Not feeling like reading?  Watch the movie Indian Horse and share it with others, it is important that Canadians understand the brutal history that has impacted Indigenous Peoples and move forward in a way to celebrate connections and community so that history does not repeat itself.

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